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Answering Your Questions: Abs!

Hi Mamas! Recently, we had a client reach out on our Instagram asking:

“Abs: what can be done on your back and until when?”

We LOVE it when you ask us questions! It helps us make sure our content is really addressing the topics that you want answers to. So, never hesitate to reach out and ask us something! Answering this question is exciting because it allows us to address some very popular beliefs during pregnancy as well as guide you through ways you can create self awareness to do what’s best for you and your body in any environment. It also has a few parts:

  1. How can we train abs during pregnancy?

  2. How can we train (abs, and other body parts) on our back during pregnancy and for how long?

Since there’s a lot of juicy info to cover here, we’ll be answering each part of this question in an email series over the course of a couple weeks. That way you can digest all the info in a few smaller (giga)bites.

First, when planning our classes, we include specific exercises that will address the changes occurring in your body during pregnancy, that will build up your stamina for labor and delivery, and that will lay the groundwork for a positive recovery period and help you build strength to support your lifestyle in postpartum. To accomplish this we always ask ourselves two questions while programming:

  1. What is the potential risk when doing this exercise during pregnancy and postpartum?

  2. Why are we doing this exercise during pregnancy and postpartum?

If there is a direct risk involved with performing a given exercise, but we also feel the benefits of the work are great enough for you, we’ll find a different variation of the exercise to coach you through so it accomplishes the same goals as the original movement. However, we generally find that there’s no cookie cutter template for guidance during pregnancy and postpartum and that everyone will experience the impact of movements differently in their body. Because of that, we love to educate you about the risks, things to look for/feel, and how to know when it’s time for you, personally, to modify an exercise, choose a different variation, or, on the postpartum side, increase the level of intensity you’re working at.

To pull this multi-part question apart, let’s start with “what’s the risk in lying on your back during pregnancy?” It’s likely you’ve heard your doctor or friends say, or read somewhere on the internet, that you should not sleep on your back or lie on your back during pregnancy. While this advice comes with the absolute best of intentions and some reality, at Freya Movement we like to dig a little deeper when we’re determining whether or not it would be a good idea to include something in your prenatal and postpartum fitness training. What we know is:

“Women should be advised to…avoid long periods of lying flat on their backs, and stop exercising if they have any of these warning signs:

  • Vaginal bleeding

  • Abdominal pain

  • Regular painful contractions

  • Amniotic fluid leakage

  • Dyspnea before exertion

  • Dizziness Headache

  • Chest pain

  • Muscle weakness affecting balance

  • Calf pain or swelling”

The risk that we are trying to avoid by limiting the time spent laying flat on your back during pregnancy is twofold.

  1. The most concerning risk is that there’s a possibility that in the 2nd or 3rd trimester your uterus may be in a position where the vena cava is blocked which can restrict blood flow from your lower body to your heart. This can be harmful for both you and your baby.

  2. As your body grows, being on your back may just put a whole lot of extra pressure on your body and may cause more aches and pains than relieve them and just plain not feel good.

Our number one priority is to keep you safe and feeling amazing during our classes, so we are incredibly aware and intentional about cuing you into exercises that place you on your back. A few important things to note when considering whether or not it might be safe for YOU to do an exercise on your back in a Freya Movement class are: 1) The ACOG guidelines advise pregnant folks to avoid being on their back for long periods of time. Therefore, in our classes, we will never ask you to be on your back for an extended period of time. We will always provide alternatives to the option of performing any exercise on your back that will be just as effective. And, when we’re asking you to lie on your back in class, rarely, if ever will we ask you to lie still. We’ll almost always be cuing your body to move while you are on your back, which can limit your risk of the baby positioning itself right on the vena cava and staying there for a long time. 2) Lying on your back comes with less risk in the first and second trimester. 3) It’s ALWAYS acceptable to choose a different variation - or ask for one! - any time you simply feel uncomfortable lying on your back and any time you notice that lying on your back causes any type of discomfort, physically or otherwise. 4) Your body will take care of you! That’s right, your body has your and your baby’s best interest at heart. So, if it becomes an issue for you to lie on your back during your pregnancy, you will know! If the flow of blood through your vena cava is being restricted - whether you’re in a workout class or sleeping - you will start to feel symptoms: dizziness, lightheadedness, short of breath, feeling faint or fainting, etc. If this happens, we will know that it’s a good time to remove any exercises that place you on your back until the end of your pregnancy (again, we don’t generally see this until possibly the later part of the 2nd trimester, and even then only in 15% of pregnancies). If you have this experience once during your pregnancy, we’ll ask you to avoid any supine exercises moving forward to keep you and your baby safest! This also means you can breathe a big sigh of relief next time you wake up on your back in the middle of the night and just change positions back to your side upon waking. (Yes, of course, it happens!) 5) The risk of the weight of your uterus really only exists during pregnancy, so, once you have been cleared for movement postpartum, you can return to exercises on your back as soon as you feel up to it. We do of course recommend side sleeping as a safer position, in alignment with the ACOG guidelines, to fall asleep in as well as to re-position yourself if you do find yourself on your back during the night since you’re lying still for an extended period of time. Additionally, we always encourage you to speak to your medical and support teams for the best course of action for you during your pregnancy.

We hope these guidelines and things to consider empower you to make the best decision for your body in all of our classes throughout your pregnancy and postpartum journey! If reading this has brought up any questions or concerns for you that we can help clear up, don’t hesitate to reach out! Stay tuned for more when we'll dive into the risks and things to consider and look out for while training your core during your pregnancy. Xo Jenny & Amanda

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