By Rosemary Marchese
Physiotherapist and mum of 3 fit kids
Pregnant mums have rock hard abs?
Sally Brouwer is 7 months pregnant and copping a bit of flack for posting herself with literally rock hard abs. And so the critics are out. There are those in support and those against. This type of story is not new, with many a fitness trainer or self-proclaimed fitness guru posting themselves on social media rocking some pretty impressive abdominal muscles and training regimes during pregnancy. So where do we draw the line for fitness during pregnancy? When does fitness become extreme and risk the health of the unborn child, and perhaps even the mother?The answer is not that simple. Even as a physiotherapist with over 20 years experience in the fitness industry, and having had experienced three pregnancies myself, I can tell you there is no straightforward answer. For such a long time we have treated mums-to-be in a very protective fashion. Mums have been encouraged to do ‘light exercise’ or ‘light weights’ and ‘not get the heart rate up too high’ during pregnancy. While this approach is totally fine for so many mums, especially for if you were unfit before conception or you have some medical issues to deal with, it doesn’t always guarantee a healthy outcome.
It’s almost an impossible thing to accurately measure how much better off a woman and baby will be if they follow this approach because studies comparing them to women who are extremely fit during pregnancy are rare. They exist but they are usually on only one candidate who ‘chooses’ to continue an already intense training regime that they followed before conception. So, they were fit before they started. Sally Brouwer is fit. She was fit before pregnancy.
The other problem with the highly practiced ‘don’t overdo it’ approach during pregnancy is that many mums-to-be take this too far and indulge in the ‘eating for two’ phenomenon. It has led to an ‘it’s okay to be overweight during pregnancy’ belief that can actually be quite harmful to the mum and the baby. Sure, mums need to put on weight and with that will come fat. Absolutely. I can speak from experience there! Even as a fitness professional I found my body became an expert with storing fat! Every pregnancy is different and every woman is different. But there is a line to be crossed when that fat storage becomes an excuse to make poor food choices that provide little or no nutritional value to the mum or unborn child. And here’s the alarming reality. It’s actually really bad for you to not exercise. That’s still true during any pregnancy without complications.
So how much is too much?
Well researched studies in this area are virtually non-existent. To accurately study this we would need to get a large bunch of pregnant women and investigate the difference between the outcomes of those who did extreme exercise and those who did less intense exercise. We would also need to ask a bunch of mums to do nothing at all. This is not considered very ethical so a lot of what you hear about how much is exercise is okay during pregnancy is the result of gossip or studies with limited numbers.
Why can’t mums support other mums?
At the moment the new ‘very fit mum-to-be’ is a relatively new phenomenon. It’s human nature to find anything ‘new’ confrontational and that’s part of the reason it’s easy to criticise the mum who has the incredible abs during pregnancy or even shortly after delivery. Well, that’s what I see happening anyway. I find that putting on the extra fat during pregnancy is well accepted by society but being fit during pregnancy is not always greeted with a healthy ‘congratulations, you’re doing awesome.’ I’m not saying that mums should take on extreme fitness regimes but let’s just think twice before we badger other mums without knowing the full story.
Each pregnancy is different and mums-to-be should always be closely liaising with their treating medical professional to determine the approach that is best for them.