Have you ever wondered what exercise and how much is healthy for fertility and appropriate when preparing for conception? Have you felt like your exercise routine is too little or wondered if it’s too intense? Do you struggle to find time to exercise? If you are thinking “yes”, then you may want to read on and consider the guidance of Nicole Brodie, creator of Fit & Fabulous, a preconception fitness and wellness program.
Elizabeth: Hi Nicole! Welcome! Share with us how you became interested in pre-pregnancy fitness?
Nicole: I have been a fitness enthusiast for a long time and when my husband and I started to plan our first child, I wondered what the implications on my exercise routine would be. Would I have to make changes? Would I be able to continue training at all? My ‘aha moment’ came when I had this conversation with my doctor to find out what I could and couldn’t do whilst pregnant. He told me that I could continue doing anything I was doing before pregnancy, but not to start anything new – within reason, of course. I had to stop my Muay Thai training which is an impact-based sport, but besides that, I could continue with my fitness routine.
I wondered what would happen to women who hadn’t exercised before pregnancy. I know that staying active is key for a healthy pregnancy, so to what level could women exercise throughout if they were not active before they conceived?
I’m currently planning for my second pregnancy and after my experiences during the first one, I decided to create my own ‘pre-pregnancy’ training routine – since I knew which areas of my body took a toll during and post pregnancy, I simply put more emphasis and focus during my sessions. I remember struggling to lift the heavy pram into the boot of my car, wishing I had put some more work on my back and arm strength! I was ready to work out in a way that would help me maintain a healthy weight and promote a healthy pregnancy, but also to keep my body strong for what comes after.
I was shocked to see that there weren’t any fitness programs that take this preventative approach. As I started searching, all I could find was pre- and postnatal programs to lose weight or get rid of baby belly fat. That’s when I thought that the program I created for myself could be useful for women around the world, as well as raise awareness on the subject.
It’s my mission to shed light on the benefits of pre-pregnancy training and how this proactive approach pays off with a better and smoother journey through pregnancy and beyond.
Elizabeth: Can you share in brief what kind of exercises are best pre-pregnancy? How often should they be done?
Nicole: The best exercises pre-pregnancy are core-strengthening exercises, and upper-body strength. Having a strong core encourages good posture, pelvic floor strength, and can reduce the risk of diastasis recti (the post baby belly ‘pouch’/ abdominal separation). The upper body is essential – think of the long nights carrying a baby, breastfeeding, bending over change tables, bathing… so many daily activities require good strength. Without core and upper body strength, it’s easy to slouch, which can have some serious effects later on. But before that, think of carrying a baby for 9 months. We need to exercise for our bodies, but also our minds to adjust to this drastic change successfully.
Elizabeth: How do these positively impact fertility health?
Nicole: This investment goes beyond your well-being. It promotes healthy weight of baby and gestational growth, plus you will feel the difference with increased day-to-day energy. Research has found that women that follow prenatal workouts are 75% less likely to need a forceps delivery, 55% less likely to have an episiotomy and up to four times less likely to have a cesarean section. It will also help you lower risk for preeclampsia, the No. 1 cause of premature birth, which affects between 5% to 8% of pregnant women.
All of the above have turned me into a fervent advocate for a preventative approach towards health and fitness pre-pregnancy. I know some of these facts are scary, but the good news is that we can take action. It doesn’t have to be hard. Small lifestyle changes can make a huge difference towards a better and healthier pregnancy.
Elizabeth: What if a woman is overweight or obese?
Nicole: The program [Fit & Fabulous] is specifically designed for all levels of fitness, but to take into consideration this isn’t a rapid weight-loss program. Of course, a bi-product will be to lose weight if you aren’t active as it’s exercise, but the program is geared to get your body in shape through low-impact, strength-training sessions that are about 30 minutes each, 3 times a week. I have personally done many online fitness programs that require 5-7 days of intense training and to be honest they weren’t realistic as a long-term fitness routine. I want to provide something that everyone is capable of at any fitness level that will encourage, empower, and inspire women to look after themselves without feeling they need to be in a super-intensive workout program. Being overweight has been proven to affect fertility so I would certainly recommend the program, with medical approval.
Elizabeth: What are modifications to these exercises if someone experiences pain?
Nicole: I have given alternatives to exercises in terms of difficulty which means that it’s suitable for all levels of fitness. In terms of pain, I always recommend to seek medical approval and only do what you’re comfortable with – it shouldn’t be painful. We are always communicating with our members to provide guidance and advice if any questions arise but pain shouldn’t be a part of the equation.
Elizabeth: What changes can one expect to see?
Nicole: Improved posture, stronger core, better flexibility, and muscle definition. There are many changes, but I would say improved strength and more energy, which is just as important to remain positive and uplifted throughout the journey.
Besides that, it’s also important to avoid excess weight gain during pregnancy. Australia’s Fertility Society found that being overweight negatively affects a woman’s health during pregnancy. Overweight women are more likely to experience miscarriage, develop high blood pressure, gestational diabetes and have a premature birth.
But the main objective is for women to feel better. The exercises should reduce likelihood of stretch marks and correct bad posture which can translate to back pain before, during and after pregnancy. In addition, they will improve your circulation – an improved blood flow results in less swelling during pregnancy. Your legs will thank you!
Elizabeth: Can these exercises be continued in pregnancy? If so, at the same intensity/level? If not, how does one alter them for healthy pregnancy?
Nicole: The essence of the program is to begin a routine before conception so it can be continued throughout pregnancy. All exercises can be done while pregnant, but of course after medical approval. There are too many individual circumstances during pregnancy which means I can’t say 100% ‘yes’ to everyone. However, all exercises were chosen with pregnancy in mind so they can be continued all the way through.
Something that pushed me towards creating this program was the many conversations I had with friends during their pregnancies. They confided in me about how they felt about their bodies – putting on weight, feeling tired, sensing a lack of strength, and then, of course, the post-baby body.
These are real issues affecting women and the program aims to bring a solution for women to feel good and really… fit and fab! Many of my friends joke, saying that the program came too late for them, but in a way, these conversations were essential building blocks for the program. It was really born with a clear mission and purpose. To help women planning to get pregnant feel good.
Elizabeth: I took this question directly from you Nicole, but “So, for all the ladies that may not have thought about fitness prior to getting pregnant, what do they do?”
Nicole: They can start the Fit and Fab program today! There are so many benefits to taking a preventative approach. It’s not a fitness craze or fad that will spread across the web – it isn’t a miracle body transformation program, nor should it be. Besides my own program, I always recommend women planning to conceive to give some extra attention to their core, back and glutes. The benefits of training will be improved fertility, ease of recovery after birth, and even lower risk of gestational diabetes – I could go on for hours about the endless benefits. But remember that it has to be a gradual and fun process too! Small adjustments to your routine can have a huge impact in the long run.
Nicole Brodie’s ‘Fit & Fabulous Pre-Pregnancy’ program offers fitness and wellness training for women to strengthen body and mind ahead of pregnancy and childbirth challenges. If you are interested in the Fit & Fabulous Pre-Pregnancy Fitness Program, please visit https://www.nicolebrodie.com.
Nicole is a Certified Personal trainer who created the first fitness and wellbeing course to help women on their journey to pregnancy. It is an innovative and unique fitness regime that is specifically designed to exercise and nurture the body ahead of pregnancy.