Deciding to become a parent is no easy decision. Whether you are contemplating parenthood or are already pregnant, you know the responsibility is enormous so you want to take all appropriate steps to ensure your child is happy and healthy. The exciting news is, your influence begins the moment your little bundle of joy is conceived.
Moms want to be on their "A+ game" while pregnant as this is the most rapid growth rate period in the human life cycle. Your little tot depends on your good habits, so while it may seem like being a good mom doesn't happen till after birth, your habits directly impact your baby while pregnant in a grand way.
The first, and probably most obvious, way moms influence the health of their baby is by way of diet. There is tons of information floating around concerning diet, so it is easy to get confused about what you should or shouldn't be ingesting, generally speaking, much less during pregnancy. It might be a good idea to consult with a registered dietician or nutritionist who specialize in prenatal nutrition. Another really great practice is to check out current books on optimal food choices while pregnant. One very important consideration when making dietary choices is to consider that the caloric guidelines differ depending on how many babies you are expecting. For instance, a mother who is pregnant with twins is expected to ingest more daily calories than that of a singleton pregnancy.
Additionally, beyond considering caloric allowance, you don't want to be filling up on highly processed, unhealthy foods. You will ideally get adequate amounts of healthy fats, fibers, proteins, etc. Now, more than ever, new moms should play close attention to their diet to ensure she is providing the best nutrients for her little one.
Reason number two (my most favorite) is exercise. Not only is exercise great for mom, it also positively impacts baby too. There is a lot of fear around exercising while pregnant, but ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) recommends pregnant women engage in regular exercise, even if they have never participated in an exercise program before; it is safe and recommended as long as you have clearance from your doctor.
Exercise helps with varicose veins, swelling, morning sickness, and helps mom maintain good posture throughout pregnancy. Additionally, exercising women have larger placentas than non-exercising women; bigger placentas are more efficient at delivering oxygen and nutrients to your baby. Babies born from exercising women are also calmer. These are only a few of the effects exercise during pregnancy has on mom and baby.
Research done on pre/postnatal women shows us how clearly beneficial engaging in regular activity is on mom and baby. It is a very exciting time not only to influence the health of your baby but also because pregnancy is truly an opportunity to start a new health practice that can and probably will carry on beyond delivery, which may be life altering for your entire family.
Last but not least is stress management and meditation practice. Arguably, this might be the most challenging if you are not used to looking inward, but perhaps considering the effects this practice might have on you and your mini-me will help motivate you. Chronic stress has health implications on you and your baby and because you are directly connected, stress can impact the development of your baby. Begin by practicing a simple, deep, relaxed breathing routine, especially during stressful events. It might be fun to make it into a game by wearing a heart rate monitor to watch your heart rate slowly decline. Even if you don't experience chronic stress it is a good idea to practice meditation while pregnant and beyond.
Happy, healthy moms make a strong and lasting impression on their babies. A healthy mom impacts her baby's health during pregnancy, throughout childhood, all the way into adulthood. Yes, there is no one way to be a good parent but general healthy practices are a great way to guide some decisions you must make. Always remember, when choosing a health professional to work with, whether it be a physician, dietician, personal trainer, coach/therapist, etc, be sure you feel comfortable, safe and align with their philosophy to insure maximum comfort and care throughout your journey.
Fascia is often referred to as connective tissue that surrounds, protects, and supports the muscles in the body. Interestingly, there is no beginning or end to fascia, as it is web-like and extends and intertwines around all areas, including surrounding and protecting organs, in the body. Fascia and skeletal muscles make up the myofascial system that help to keep muscle groups together.
As we age, our fascia is always changing; it's structure depends on the demands we place upon it and can become "bound" and thicken in some areas in response to poor posture, injury and/or inflammation. This "binding" can stress other areas, creating more pain and limited range of motion. Fascial fibers run vertically and horizontally in youth; the aging process causes cross-linking or adhesions, which can cause the fibers to lose their elasticity and create fibers that stick together as opposed to gliding across each other. The good news is, fascia is highly adaptable and can be changed over time with better posture practices, self-myofascial release, adequate hydration, and attention to injury.
Most of us are no stranger to tightness and know the discomfort of foam rolling and/or stretching. Sometimes we become aware of a knot or trigger point in our muscles when pressure is applied during foam rolling which may cause pain to radiate to other areas in the body. Self-myofascial release with a foam roller or lacrosse ball allows one to control the intensity of pressure being applied. It is best for beginners to begin with a less dense foam roller. Once trigger points are released, this allows for improved movement patterns and better function with less pain and enhanced performance.
Have you heard the saying, "no pain, no gain"? While pushing yourself to the next fitness level is ideal, pushing through injury or any questionable twinge or pain, is not smart and can often exacerbate problems. Placing loads on joints, ligaments, and muscles that are restricted in their range of motion may increase risk of a muscle tear. It is important to have body awareness at all times but especially during activity.
Body and postural awareness is good to have because poor body mechanics from daily activities is often is the cause of muscle dysfunction and is repetitively perpetuated without recognition. Body awareness also aids in recognizing the presence of stress in the body. Increasing awareness improves overall mind/body function.
Although it may go against instinct, if you are experiencing tightness and/or are very sore, self-myofascial release may help alleviate experienced discomfort, as well as improve performance levels. With patience and practice, self-myofascial release may help restore normal function to muscle groups that are limited in range of motion.
Additionally, it is important to adequately hydrate during physical activity and in stretching and mobility exercises, as the fascia holds water and dehydration may cause fascia to bind which can cause movement to become stiff and problematic. Regularly incorporating self-myofascial release into daily activities can help encourage fibers to become "unstuck" and glide more easily which promotes healthy tissue.
Although foam rolling is great to perform at any time, it is especially important to do after working out, just before stretching. Performing self-myofascial release prior to stretching helps prepare connective tissue and can encourage greater flexibility of fibers. For best results, incorporate self-myofascial release into daily activity.
Although it might be hard to believe that any woman can have visible abdominal muscles after giving birth, it does happen and it isn't by magic or luck.
I am always so impressed when I meet a fit woman who has had one or multiple children. The human body is so amazing and the changes the body undergoes during pregnancy are even more fascinating. The degree to which organs are squished and/or stretched is incredible.
Skin and tissues (including muscle) in the body are elastic. We can think of these tissues as rubber bands. When the integrity of a rubber band is solid and strong, it can be stretched for a period of time but will return back to its resting length once the tension is no longer applied. If the rubber band is really old or has been kept in a stretched position for too long, the elasticity has been compromised and it will often remain stretched even after there is no longer any tension being applied.
Often, when one loses a lot of weight after years of being overweight there will be a lot of loose skin dangling. Similarly, some women experience loose abdominals that seemingly sag, giving her the appearance of still being pregnant, after she has delivered.
Having a baby is challenging enough without the fear of losing your pre-baby body. Your hormones are elevated, physiologically your body is experiencing major changes, and lastly, your whole lifestyle changes once this new life emerges.
Women who exercise regularly, more specifically who lift weights regularly, before, during, and after pregnancy are significantly more likely to return quickly to their pre-pregnancy body. Why? Because women who lift weights are strong so their muscles and connective tissue are naturally pulled back to their original resting length with ease. Those muscles have essentially been encouraged before, throughout, and after pregnancy to return and remain strong. Women who make regular exercise a priority before conceiving and continue throughout their entire pregnancy will bounce back faster than those who do not.
My favorite part of this super fit pregnancy story is that my friend was 35 when she delivered her daughter. It is my favorite part because it could easily be argued that a 25 year old would have visible abs after delivering, and this shows that age doesn't necessarily dictate your experience of pregnancy. She lifted weights regularly long before she became pregnant and continued that practice throughout her pregnancy. 6 weeks postpartum, she returned to regular weight lifting and has since continued.
She has always been a fit person so it didn't surprise me that she looked amazing as soon as she delivered, but the fact that her abdominal muscles were visible only 4 months after delivering really illustrates the impact exercise has on the body in a way that other examples don't. The body is pushed to extreme limits during pregnancy, so knowing that you do have some control over what can happen physically is very exciting and encouraging for all women who know they want to become mothers in the future.
The absolute best advice I can give any woman who knows she wants a family some day or who is currently pregnant, is begin exercising as soon as you can! Do not put it off and if you have trouble motivating yourself or need guidance concerning appropriate exercise selection, invest in yourself and work with a coach who you feel connected to because it will change your whole life in many ways, including ways you never expected.
Have you ever had anxiety? Most of us have. There is a lot of information online today about ways to cope with anxiety yet so many of us are walking around trying to push it down, ignore it, wish it away, drink and/or medicate it away. As we all know, none of these methods work and if they do in the short term, anxiety always comes back, often stronger than before.
Working out is one of those top listed ways to cope with anxiety as if we are exercising the demons. While exercise is a tactic I swear by because of the endless benefits it offers, I do not advocate solely on exercise as a cure all.
There is no question that after almost any type of exercise, I am always glad I participated, but I believe that for well rounded health, exercise is only just a single part of the health wheel.
I used to use exercise as an escape. I remember after one particularly hard break up, I repeatedly rode my bike for hours because I was having so much anxiety and fear. I remember riding one Saturday for 7 straight hours. The anxiety I was having was telling me I had to move; moving was less agony than sitting there and contemplating the pain of the enormous loss I was feeling.
At that time, my anxiety was more of a panic attack than just general anxiety. I didn't have the skills to address my feelings and exercise was my life and nothing about this seemed unhealthy to me at that time. I exercised when I was happy and when I was sad; it was something I knew, something that could keep me busy and something that could mask my unrelenting pain from others.
The pain intensified for me when I had nothing to preoccupy my mind. Exercise, for me, was the same band-aid alcohol/drugs are for others trying to cope. In this way, pushing it down or trying to escape the feelings of anxiety make sense; who willingly wants to feel more pain? Although I was fit, I was unhappy inside and with each year I found myself hoping for something different. I thought that we somehow figured it out when we got older. I realized that this wasn't happening and the older I got, the more unenlightened older people seemed to me, with the exception of a few.
It eventually became clear to me that my anxiety wasn't going to fade with age. I began reading books, working with therapists and coaches, going to seminars, practicing meditation, journaling, sitting still and really letting the emotion come through.
Through all of this I have come to realize that my anxiety peaks and is most scary and persistent when I allow my mind to make it bigger than what it really is. For example, the breakup got my mind to start spinning this incredible tale about how I will never find love, how I will always be alone, etc. It failed to acknowledge the gift it gave me; breaking up with him was what had to happen for me to begin self exploration. It was so painful for so many months that it forced me to finally do something different. I had to face the projection I was putting on him. I needed to understand what was happening that caused me to feel such crippling anxiety and fear.
There is a reason so few people practice self exploration. It is hard and almost impossible without someone guiding you through personal obstacles you face but with practice and a good coach guiding you, the light begins to shine through.
Becoming more introspective didn't prevent me from feeling pain or anxiety again, it just gave me a different perspective which changed the way I experience obstacles I face. I have since experienced other breakups and disappointments but my reaction to them is like that of a different person. I take things much less personally and I see with clarity that everything has a lesson in it; that life isn't against me. What if obstacles are the little sting needed to redirect attention and focus? Since pain gets our attention, what if all the pain we experience is for our greater good?
If we keep stuffing it down by ignoring and escaping, what really is the point of it all? If we feel and understand what is really trying to get our attention, then can we experience more calm when dealing with hard life issues?
My experience is yes, we can. My life isn't a cakewalk but it isn't a ball of panicked anxiety anymore either. I now look for the lesson or needed redirection in my pain. Nothing in life has any meaning expect for the meaning we give it, so I choose to get the lesson and see it as only that, a lesson, not as a punishment.
In my quest to encourage moms to impress upon their children a physically healthy lifestyle, I believe equally in the importance of showing children the gift or lesson that must be taken from life's inevitable pain. When we see it as a gift or a lesson that will ultimately help us if realized and used, does it seem as painful? I would answer no to this question as I have done some of the most bold things and grown the most after hard times like breakups that I would have never done had I had the (perceived) security of my (insecure) relationship.
We are all conditioned beings (by our families, environments, and cultures), so when thinking of starting your own family, remember the impression your parents had on you. By becoming more self aware, more conscious, more healthy, you automatically, without trying, impress those same habits on your children, giving them the best self regulating tools there are.
With 40% of American women meeting the criteria for being obese, understanding the impact of obesity on pregnancy is critical. The biggest takeaway from this read should be how obesity is not only threatening to mom but also to baby and continues to have lasting effects on your child.
Doctors recommend that obese women lose weight before becoming pregnant. Obese women are 35% less likely to become pregnant, and for those who do become pregnant, there is an increased risk of stillborn births by 2x the rate of normal weight women.
Obese mothers additionally are at increased risk for complications during pregnancy; examples include, increased risk of miscarriage, c-sections, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and sleep apnea. Babies born to obese mothers are more likely to become obese as children and as adults, suffer from neural tube defects, and be premature. In the U.S., being obese has officially become a marker for a high-risk pregnancy (MSU, 2009).
Extra weight makes the body's use of insulin much harder. With elevated blood sugar and insulin levels, this can cause the baby to put on excess weight, which may cause the baby to be too big to enter the birth canal. Preeclampsia is the leading cause of deaths for both mom and baby. Preeclampsia can cause damage to a pregnant woman's liver, kidneys, and brain; babies can have low birth weight, premature delivery, and placental abruption (separation of the placenta). If the placenta separates from the wall of the uterus, the baby can be deprived of oxygen and nutrients, which makes this a medical emergency.
While all of this is very serious and very scary, the good news is, moms do have the power to take control of their weight and health before becoming pregnant. Additionally, women can begin exercising at any point during their pregnancy with the okay from their doctor, even if they have never worked out before. It doesn't have to be very strenuous, and can actually be a lot of fun, especially when making it part of healthy family planning.
If you have struggled with weight related issues, you know how emotionally taxing it can be so taking a stand and embracing your health with your baby in mind will help you stay the course! Investing in your health will be the gift that keeps on giving to both you and your little one.
Most of us have a general sense of whether or not we live a healthy lifestyle if we are being honest with ourselves. Although in most cases, my go to tactic would not be to use fear to motivate, in this argument I will favor using fear for three important reasons:
1.) In college I didn't go to the dentist. After graduating I got my first full time job ever at Equinox. I went to the dentist for the first time on my own as an adult. Bam! I had 10 tiny cavities. The dentist explained that if I didn't start flossing that I would continue to have more. Not only was it expensive, but it scared the hell out of me. Guess who now flosses every single night. I cannot go to bed without flossing and if I have to for some reason, I feel very uncomfortable.
2.) My grandmother smoked for many years as a young woman into her 40's. One day she had her chest x-rayed during a visit to the doctor. The doctor made it a point to show her what her lungs looked like next to the lungs of a non-smoker. She never touched another cigarette again and to this day tells everyone she knows about how much she regrets smoking.
3.) My dad had severe chest pains a couple of weeks before he died of heart disease (at age 38). It scared him so he went to the doctor. The doctor explained that he had high blood pressure and needed to eat healthier, lose weight, and stop smoking. Unfortunately, the extent of the damage was too great and he died.
All three of these stories have made a drastic impact on my life and I carry them with me. To be clear, I do not think fear works when we are just generally told or are warned, "this could happen if..."
I believe that if everyone, including those of us who believe we are "healthy", were to have a series of tests performed that showed us how much plaque has built up in our arteries, along with videos of how hard our heart is working while not exercising compared to a truly healthy heart, pictures of our fat resting above our abdominal muscles, bone density scans showing us how osteoporosis is deteriorating our skeleton slowly, along with a computer generated picture of what we would look like at age 70 if we continue to neglect our health compared with one of how we would look if we took our health and fitness seriously, that the impact of such tests would be an incredible motivator.
With that said, most of us do not have any idea of what is going on underneath our skin until something goes wrong. Sometimes the fear of something can keep us on the straight and narrow. I know it sounds crazy, but if I eat unhealthy food for too many days in a row I start to feel tightness in my chest. I do not doubt that I have fantom chest pains b/c I have had an EKG that showed me how incredibly low my chances are of dying from a heart attack, but heart disease runs wild on my dad's side of the family and because I lost him at such a young age, I know that fear is unconsciously keeping me on my toes.
I think it is a great idea for people looking for a little boost in motivation to have a comprehensive physical done where your cholesterol, body fat percentage, blood pressure, resting heart rate, weight, and any other standard tests are taken and then compare your numbers with a healthy person's numbers. If you did this every year and saw your numbers declining or inclining, what impact do you think this would have on you if any at all?
Often times people give up on weight loss programs because there is a sense of little or no control of results. Even with the odds against us, there are a select few who manage to take complete control of their weight and health. Instead of understanding how and why they achieved success, they are usually envied and the internal story of why it won't work for you starts spinning constantly inside your mind. Although it may seem counterintuitive, pregnancy is a fantabulous opportunity to take full control of your and your child's health.
Charles Duhigg states in his book titled Smarter, Faster, Better, "Figure out how this task is connected to something you care about. Explain to yourself why this chore will help you get closer to a meaningful goal. Explain why this matters and then you'll find it easier to start."
If you connect the importance of working out to the health of your unborn child, this can help in making decisions around your health and fitness in a deliberate way easier. Envision a stronger, healthier, leaner child with a parent (you) who is strong, is a healthy weight, feels good in their clothes, and is happier. Then envision the opposite, declining strength, weight gain, muscle and bone degeneration, increased risk for heart disease, etc.
Duhigg explains that seeing the bigger goal can help us to take action now. In our instant gratification culture, this practice can be challenging, but perhaps not as difficult when considering the health of your unborn child. The placenta, which is a temporary organ, transfers oxygen and nutrients from mom to baby. The demands of regular exercise cause the placenta to grow larger, making it better at delivering oxygen and nutrients to the baby. Exercise makes your baby stronger and leaner.
No better time to start exposing your child to physical activity. Natalie Digate Muth, MD, reported, "Few behaviors more significantly influence child health than physical activity," in an article titled, To Grow Healthier, Happier Adults, Raise Fit Kids. Waiting till your child has a weight or health issue to begin an active lifestyle is a huge disservice and is less likely to become a regular part of your child's life.
Exercising while pregnant is highly beneficial and encouraged by ACOG. Exercise has multiple benefits for mom and baby. There are certain guidelines to follow so working with a professional who is certified in pre/post-natal fitness instruction is important. If given the go ahead by your doctor, you can begin an exercise program, even if you are starting when pregnant.
If you are a woman who has struggled with losing weight and/or committing to an exercise program, pregnancy is a prime opportunity to consider how you will address weight and health issues with your child. Set your new baby up with good health right away with the added bonus of improving your health and fitness too!
Julia Broome is passionate about health and exercise but is most excited about educating women concerning the short and long term impact of exercise on pregnant women and their baby.