Fitness Tips for Prenatal and Postnatal: Podcast Episode #160
Kristin interviews Sarah Ann Kelly. Sarah Ann is the owner and founder of MomTrainer. Sarah Ann shares prenatal and postnatal fitness tips and suggests ways to create intentional time for working out. Sarah Ann is also giving 50% off with the discount code GoldCoastDoulas!
Welcome. You’re listening to Ask the Doulas, a podcast where we talk to experts from all over the country about topics related to pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and early parenting. Let’s chat!
Kristin: Hello, hello. This is Kristin with Ask the Doulas and owner of Gold Coast Doulas. I’m here to chat today with Sarah Ann Kelly. Sarah Ann is a trainer. Her focus is on helping busy women get and stay in the best shape of their lives during and after pregnancy. Sarah Ann has a fantastic background that we’ll get into, but she is certified as a pregnancy and postnatal trainer from ACOG. I’m thrilled to have you here, Sarah Ann! Welcome!
Sarah Ann: Hi! Thank you so much for having me!
Kristin: I’d love to chat more – you have so many certifications – about your specialties and how you support women in the prenatal and postnatal fitness realm.
Sarah Ann: Sure! So I’m certified through ACOG, so the American Council of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. I got certified back in 2007, and I’ve been working with prenatal and postpartum women ever since and teaching all different kinds of group fitness classes from Pilates to boot camp. I have two little kiddos of my own, too. They’re like my own little certifications, good Lord.
Kristin: Yes, having gone through it yourself. You started your journey as a trainer in New York, correct?
Sarah Ann: Yes.
Kristin: And now you’re in West Michigan. Big change!
Sarah Ann: I know. We’ve moved around quite a bit, especially in the pandemic, but we were like, where can we go where we have help? My kids are 3 and 5 now. They’re 19 months apart, and surviving that two under two was just a lot. If you can avoid it, I don’t recommend it. It was a lot of work.
Kristin: I get it completely. My kids are 21 months apart, so yeah, right there.
Sarah Ann: So yeah, you’ve been through it, yeah. I mean, now it’s so great. They’re best friends, and they’re amazing, but we’re just really happy to be kind of settled where we have a little bit more support, which is one of the things we’re going to talk about today, for sure.
Kristin: Yes. So Sarah Ann, let’s start by talking about prenatal fitness and your recommendations. I know you’ve got plenty of exercise tips. Let’s dive into what women can do in pregnancy to set themselves up for a great recovery postpartum.
Sarah Ann: Gotcha. Oh, I love this question. I mean, the honest answer is so much – again, I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I know every pregnancy is different, so your body is very different from the person next to you. But I think we have it backward. We treat pregnant women like delicate flowers who shouldn’t lift anything, who shouldn’t get their heart rate up, who shouldn’t stretch too far, and postpartum people are just expected to, like, you know, start doing burpees the second they get off the table. And it’s very opposite. You know, I worked out through both of my pregnancies so I know personally how helpful it is to reduce the bloating and fatigue, and obviously, I’ve worked with thousands of women at this point. I think the more active you can stay during pregnancy, the better. They’ve done a bunch of research on bedrest, and they’re saying, like, it’s helpful for very few people. The more you can move, the better in pregnancy, however that is. So I use the RPE scale, or rate of perceived exertion, when I work with my clients. So, basically, from a scale of 1 to 10, 1 is savasana in yoga where you’re just laying on the floor. 10 would be, like, wearing a backpack and running up a mountain. You want to stay around a 6 or 7, and that’s the end point. So basically anything that you were doing before pregnancy, or even if you get pregnant and you want to start exercising, as long as you can talk, as long as you can breathe, and that rate of perceived exertion doesn’t go over, like, a 6 or a 7 if you’re a little bit more conditioned pre-pregnancy, you’re fine. Like, I have clients who train up until they day that they deliver. I’ve never had anyone go into labor in my classes.
Kristin: Well, that’s good!
Sarah Ann: I think for the most part, you can do a lot more than I think we’re often told. Whereas postpartum, I believe in rest and recovery. I mean, I don’t want to scare any pregnant people who are listening right now, but, you know, labor and delivery, no matter how the baby gets out, is a big deal on the body, so rather than encouraging women to, like, go back into it as soon as you get that “exercise clearance,” go start working out and get yourself back in shape – no. Like, recover. Slow recovery process; make sure everything feels okay; make sure you’re working with a PT if you’re noticing any severe diastasis or prolapse issues. A slow entrance back into working out postpartum. But as far as pregnancy goes, I mean, go for it. For me, again, I worked out every day while I was pregnant, and I felt really, really good. I know that doesn’t work well for every single person. I certainly have clients who, the second they hit their third trimester, they’re like, nope, I need to do things where I just lay on the floor and you hand me dumbbells. So every pregnancy is going to be very different, but as far as the actual guidelines, there are no strength training guidelines anymore, and the old idea to not bring your heart rate up over 140 beats per minute has been thrown out the window because everyone is different, right? A person who’s never exercised before and a marathon runner are going to have two very different experiences exercising in pregnancy. So you just kind of go off of how you’re feeling in the moment and day to day because in pregnancy, your first trimester is going to feel very different from your third. So day by day, doing something that moves your body, makes you feel good, and that you enjoy doing, as long as you can breathe and talk comfortably, you’re good.
Kristin: Exactly. And Sarah Ann, that flexibility will definitely benefit women during labor and can certainly help get into different positions to optimize baby moving down the birth canal. There are many benefits.
Sarah Ann: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean, labor is a marathon.
Kristin: It is, yes!
Sarah Ann: You’ve got to be in shape for it! But also, so is parenting. When I teach classes, I’m always like, these are car seat muscles, guys. Your kids are only going to get heavier! So we don’t have to just play with two-pound weights for your entire pregnancy. You can lift heavy stuff. But just learn to do it safely and in a way that will support you during labor and postpartum.
Kristin: Yes, I love it. And then of course swimming is so fantastic. We’re in summer in Michigan right now. As far as any other tips prenatally or your top exercises, anything you’d like to add on prenatal fitness?
Sarah Ann: For prenatal fitness, just do what you love and don’t be afraid of it. One of the most common questions that I get for prenatal is how much weight can I lift, and you really can do about the same. There is a regression at some point where if you were hiking and running up a mountain – bad example. If you’re going for a 10, you will need to scale back. I wouldn’t go for your max repetition at this point, right? Stay at something where you can breathe. But just really taking every single day as an opportunity to move but also respecting when your body is telling you to slow down.
Kristin: So true, yes, and talking to your provider if you want to change anything up. But I’ve worked with many athletes and marathon runners who ran up until the very end and CrossFit who have continued with that with approval from midwives and doctors and so on.
Sarah Ann: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Your body is built to move. And I think also one thing: I do work with a lot of people who are in PT, and going to see a pelvic floor therapist before you deliver if you start to notice any pelvic organ symptoms, like pain peeing or prolapse or pressure, if you start to feel that, go get in early. And make sure when you go to get checked for your four to six week postpartum, if you need a referral, if your insurance requires it, make sure you get it during that appointment because it’s always just helpful to have.
Kristin: Thank you for saying that! I can’t stress that enough, so I’m so glad you feel the same way.
Sarah Ann: Oh, yeah. For me too, I worked – I’m very scope of practice. When in doubt, refer out, to all of my clients. I would never want to recommend something – because I only work with people on the outside and not the inside. So if there’s something going on, or if I notice that my client has some pretty significant symptoms, I’m not going to play God. I’m going to refer them to a doctor who knows more than I do, whether that’s chiropractic or physical therapy or whatever. I think it’s really important to develop a team of providers during pregnancy so that way you’re just really supported during pregnancy, postpartum, and beyond.
Kristin: Exactly. So, Sarah Ann, let’s get into postnatal recovery and your tips on how to transition back into exercise. I know you mentioned slowing it down, focusing on recovery, and there is that six-week appointment that many women want that clearance to be able to start working out. So what does that look like?
Sarah Ann: Yeah. So again, it really depends on your actual delivery and recovery. And I’m not saying if you have a C-section, you’re going to have a really, really horrible recovery. I’ve heard a lot of people have a lot of fear around that. I’ve had people have a C-section and have way easier recoveries than someone who pushed for four and a half hours and had a forceps delivery. So I think just respecting where you’re at and just really enjoying that postnatal period as snuggle time, resting, recovery, making sure you’re getting a lot of nutrition. And then as far as exercise, if it feels comfortable and you’re cleared before you leave the hospital, you’re okay to walk. I have a lot of breathing exercises that I can recommend on my website if you go to the Postpartum tab. I have a lot of stuff up there. But just breathing, gentle pelvic floor exercises, stretching, just light, light movement. Because I think there is the risk, obviously, of blood clotting and bedsores if you’re just sitting around and not doing much. So trying to stay moving, even before that four- to six-week appointment, again, in most cases is totally fine because that four- to six-week appointment, I feel like we put so much gold around it, but your doctor is mostly there to check your cervix and your blood pressure, and they might not be the best person to get the complete go-ahead. And I say that because my OB-GYN for my first delivery did my diastasis recti check incorrectly and almost sent me out the door with a first degree uterine prolapse. And again, I’m a triathlete, so she’s like, just go back and ease back into it. You’re good. And I’m like, okay, so should I run four miles tomorrow or ten, you know? And so I think just making sure that your provider really knows. Ask, hey, can you check me for prolapse? Can you check me for diastasis recti? And if you can’t, who can you refer me to? That might be a pelvic organ PT that I can start seeing because I’m noticing X, Y, Z in that four- to six-week period. So, again, we have to advocate so much for ourselves in our American medical system, and this is just an example of you having to do that, unfortunately. But go to that four- to six-week appointment. Ask for a referral, just in case you need it in the future. Ask about prolapse when they’re doing your cervical exam, if they feel anything when they’re in there. Obviously, you need to be okay for blood pressure. And then they’re also going to do the depression screening. I think you’re okay to start moving if you feel comfortable before then, obviously keeping it very, very light and moderate. But once you get the go-ahead, it doesn’t necessarily mean like, okay, go back to doing what you were doing pre-pregnancy. It’s go back to what you were doing in the third trimester, but now you can lay on your belly.
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Kristin: Great tips! Sarah Ann, let’s get into finding the time. So you’ve gotten cleared, and whether it’s baby number one or baby number four, it’s a transition. So how do you make the space in your busy life to achieve any fitness goals you have or again, for those runners, get back into running and find some time away? How much time should they be working out, early as they’re starting to get back into it?
Sarah Ann: So I’ve got a whole list.
Kristin: Yes, so many questions!
Sarah Ann: Number one, and I see this in a lot of my clients: you have to make it a priority. And there is just no such thing as motivation, right? You just have to keep showing up for yourself. I think a lot of times we struggle, and I know I certainly did after my two kiddos. Like, okay, it’s nap time. I got one down. I have a toddler who’s running around. I don’t really want to put them in front of the TV, but I really need to exercise so I can feel better and show up as a parent. But we don’t really make the same space for ourselves when there are mountains of laundry and phone calls to make and you might have gone back to work at that point. It’s really hard to make yourself a priority when there are so many other things in your face at the same time. But I think the more that you just create a mantra to yourself that you matter; you need to take up space; and just respect that you’re in it for the long haul. It will help you show up for sure. So I think – because a lot of times when I’m working with clients, I’ll send them workouts and be like, hey, just following up, did you get to that workout? “No, I had to read a book on potty training.” Did you get to that workout the next day? “No, we had to take so-and-so to the doctor.” There’s so many things on top of your personal health, but I love this quote: “Exercise is the most underused antidepressant in the world.” It’s not just about your physical health. It is about emotional, spiritual health. Just even taking ten minutes to meditate or do some stretching on the floor makes a really, really big difference on your emotional and spiritual well-being. It doesn’t necessarily mean making your body smaller, right? Exercise is not just about making ourselves skinny and trying to get the body back. That is not my intention with this at all. It is about respecting your body and your space and getting your body back to a way that you feel comfortable moving around in and making sure that you’re strong and preventing injuries and all of that golden stuff. So there’s just a lot of other reasons to exercise. Sometimes if we’re just focused on, like, I have to get an hour at the gym of lifting heavy weights – you don’t have to do that every single day. But I do think just finding the time and making yourself a priority, even if it’s for ten minutes if you don’t have a lot of support that day and then maybe taking a little bit more time out a couple of days later, that’s number one for me, just finding the motivation to move, making yourself a priority to create the space and time to do that. So that’s number one. And then number two is just also literally physically taking up space, because I think a lot of us have a hard time getting to the gym or might not feel comfortable going to work out in a physical space yet with other people. Create a space in your home where you keep all of your stuff. Whether that’s a basket that you cover with a blanket, or you store some dumbbells under your bed, but just keeping all of your things consistently there so that way when it’s time to work out you don’t have to run all over the house to find equipment is really helpful. There’s obviously, like, the pack your bag if you’re going to the gym the night before. But also just creating the space for that bag. So when it’s time to fold your laundry and you have your workout outfit, you just roll it up and put it in the bag. Keep socks, keep spare hair ties, keep everything in there, so if you are running out the door to go to a yoga class and your kid is losing their mind and you don’t want them to see you run out the door, you can just do that and you aren’t searching for stuff. And then one thing for at-home workouts I always say, like, make sure that you’re covering up your dumbbells and all of your exercise equipment because babies and dumbbells don’t mix, and a lot of times if you have crawlers or toddlers, they tend to gravitate towards all of your toys, so just make sure they’re covered so they’re out of sight.
Kristin: Great tip.
Sarah Ann: So another thing, number three, creating a routine that can be flexible. Finding the flexibility throughout your day.
Kristin: With naptimes being unpredictable or feeding, yes.
Sarah Ann: Yes, or like someone comes to visit unannounced – although hopefully we aren’t doing that anymore to people. Just creating a routine and a schedule but also being really flexible about it. The American Council on Exercise recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, so meaning like yoga or walking, something on the lighter side, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, so like your more high impact classes or workouts. So you don’t need to do it all in one day. Don’t feel like you need to do an hour to make it count. I send a lot of my clients 15- to 20-minute workouts because usually that’s all they have if they’re working and they have little kiddos. So I think just creating a flexible routine where, okay, I’m going to try to get up in the morning. If I need to sleep in, I’m going to, and then I’ll do something before bed. And I think it’s really helpful if you have a partner or if you have any kind of family help to include them in the schedule because it’s really hard to do all this on your own, especially because naps are so – we really struggled with naptime, so that’s like a hot button for me. I think just creating some flexibility or really getting help in that and just having that conversation around time and boundaries of, like, I’m going to go and shut the door for 20 minutes, and you are in charge of the kids. Or, can I drop them off so I can go take a class? Or finding a studio that has childcare. It’s not all on you, and I think it’s really helpful if you have, A, the accountability of other people, but also just creating that space and taking up the time to say, I need to do this for myself, and I need a little extra help is really important.
Kristin: Yes, because after giving birth, the focus is on the baby. And the mother just feels like she’s – I don’t know, not as important, not a priority. So the fact that your suggestions are really taking the time, making space to feel more like yourself pre-baby, and get stronger versus sacrificing everything a new mother or, you know, again, fourth-time mother.
Sarah Ann: Yeah. I think the more help you can get – and you can always partner up with a neighbor, or if you have other friends who have kids, use each other as a village, because I think that’s one thing that we really lost in the past couple years is just using each other to help everybody out because I think that’s the one thing that I loved about my postpartum period is that we had just moved to a new city and I really didn’t know anyone before I was pregnant, but you meet people at the playground or in lactation group and you really get to find your tribe, and I think it’s okay to ask for help because I think we all love helping, right? If someone called you and was like, hey, I really need help getting to this appointment. Can you help me out? Can you watch my kid? You’re like, yeah, the more the merrier.
Kristin: Yes, a specific request is where it’s at versus oh, I’m struggling, but you don’t know what you need. If you can say, hey, I would love for you to join me, or can you watch my kid while I go to the basement and work out for 15 minutes. Yes, a specific request is so important.
Sarah Ann: I know, and it’s so hard to do. It’s hard to make that request because sometimes you’re like, I don’t even know what I need and I don’t want to be in charge anymore. But even just, hey, can we meet up for a walk a couple times a week so we get in the sun and I’m accountable for getting off my couch and going away from the laundry? Kind of creating a friend appointment so it becomes a little more than just about the workout is really great. Obviously, people hire me so I can show them and tell them exactly what to do, but I still think the more support you have, the better. And it’s okay to ask for help. Everybody wants to help you out. The more specific, absolutely, the better.
Kristin: Exactly. Yeah, and you had some great tips for our Becoming A Mother students, and that course is all about assembling a dream team, asking for help, knowing your options, because we strongly believe that if you don’t know your options, like physical therapy and even understanding how to install your car seat correctly so we have car seat safety technicians and really understanding who makes up both your personal village as well as your professionals.
Sarah Ann: I have a couple more if we have enough time, or I can save them.
Kristin: Yeah, go ahead and give us your final tips and then we’ll chat about your business.
Sarah Ann: Okay. So my last two: if you are not feeling it and you are tired and you’re a little groggy going into your workouts, use music. So find something that kind of pumps you up and start listening to it. So plug those headphones in while you’re getting ready to workout. If you’re driving somewhere to exercise, like going to a hike or going to a gym, put that music on in your car so it’s like a little bit better of a transition into the fitness. They’ve done a lot of studies on music and beats per minute, so find something that’s a little more high energy to get you in the mood if you’re not feeling it. That being said, please don’t exercise on less than four hours of sleep. Sleep is really important, and I think it needs to be said that you can regret a workout. Don’t listen to all those fitness memes on the internet. They don’t apply to you. Rest is still really, really important. So using music as a motivator, and then my final tip is just to find something that you love. So dance in your kitchen. You know, go for a walk with some music. Take a hike, swim, bike, lift heavy things, try acro yoga. Try to find something that is fun that you really look forward to doing and finding the joy in it because you’re not going to do it if you don’t feel inspired or you’re just not interested in it. And I feel like there’s this old – I kind of said it before, but using exercise as a form of punishment, and it’s not. So I think that exercise can teach us a lot of life lessons and goal setting and things like that. So finding something that brings you joy or makes you feel accomplished and gets you a good sweat on. It doesn’t matter what it is. Just find something that you really love to do so that way you’re actually wanting to show up for it.
Kristin: Perfect. Thank you, Sarah Ann. So how do we find you? I know you mentioned MomTrainer.com, but you are all over socials, so share all the ways that our listeners can chat with you.
Sarah Ann: Yeah. So number one, go to my website. You can reach me there if you have a more specific question. I’m also mostly on Instagram @themomtrainer. And if you’re in the Grand Rapids area, you can come take a class with me. I’m teaching at Mind Body Baby Yoga, and we’re adding a lot more classes. So I’m teaching some barre classes there, and they also have some really great yoga classes.
Kristin: We love them! That’s so great. Of course, Sarah Ann, you also for our listeners who are all over the country, you have a virtual and one on one classes so they can work with you regardless of where they live. So fill us in a bit about those, the coaching sessions.
Sarah Ann: Yeah. So I do have online consulting, so you can book me for an hour, pick my brain, and I’ll send you a workout. I have an online coaching program that is a monthly program. I have a one month and three month jump starter package where we meet once a week and discuss everything prenatal postpartum fitness, and then I create workouts that you can follow along to, so you get a recorded video that you click in your document. Everyone gets a document with all of their workouts, recap of our calls, any nutrition support, and any kind of helpful PDFs that I might have created for another client, everything goes in there. So you just literally, you know, what am I doing on Monday? You click on the link, you follow along. It’s super easy. So I have that program as well. And then I also have a ton of free resources on my website. I have a lot of free workouts that you can try on there. And for this specific call, all of my recommendations, I’m putting in a pretty little PDF that you can click on in the postpartum tab, so if you’re like me and you listen to podcasts doing laundry and you just tune out a little bit, it will all be there. And you can use the discount code GoldCoastDoulas for 50% off!
Kristin: Perfect. Thank you so much, Sarah Ann, and it was lovely to catch up with you!
Sarah Ann: Thank you so much for having me!
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