Getting mums fit for peak performance

A pregnant woman with a clinician

Pregnant mum Laura Brownsea chats to midwife Sharon Blackburn

Having a baby is said to require the same level of exercise and strength as running a marathon.

And no one would consider entering a marathon without considerable preparation and training.

Just like an athlete, new mums need to be prepared and midwives at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals are hoping that their timely advice and support will ensure all new mums are fighting fit for labour in all areas, such as diet, fluid intake, mental attitude, relaxation and rest.

Experienced midwife Sharon Blackburn explained: “Being fit and healthy affects the birthing experience. It affects the uterine tone and pelvic floor muscles.

“Mums-to-be should eat well and drink caffeine and alcohol-free fluids. Water is the best fluid. All women should drink at least eight glasses of water a day – but this is particularly important during pregnancy.

“Good food for your body will make it function at peak performance. Your body needs fluid as it helps keep you hydrated and helps prevent urine infections and helps nutrients reach your unborn baby. Pregnancy hormones slow everything down and pregnant women are more prone to urine infections.

“A healthy balanced diet includes proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and fibre.

Everything you eat and drink is also going to the baby and impacts on its development as well. Eating well will also optimise your weight gain in pregnancy,” Sharon added.

You can also enhance your muscle tone in pregnancy with exercise which will allow you to have as normal birth experience as possible.

Sharon emphasised the importance of attending all antenatal appointments to understand healthy pregnancy and normal birth. Your midwife can advise you about diet, healthy eating and exercise and how they all have an impact on how your pregnancy progresses and your birth experience.

“For example if you eat unrefined sugars it can impact on your weight gain in pregnancy which in turn increases the risk of developing diabetes, DVTs, pre-eclampsia and third and fourth degree perineal tears.

“Also if you put on five stone in pregnancy it is hard to lose that weight with a new born baby. The average weight gain should be about 15kg (one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half stone).”

If you access midwifery care early you can get important information early. All pregnant women across the Fylde coast have a named midwife who is part of a midwifery team usually accessed through your GP surgery.

“If we can optimise health and wellbeing during pregnancy we are more likely to have a good outcome both for the new mum in labour and a healthy new-born child,” Sharon said.

Basic advice for mums include:

  • Keep your iron levels up – this reduces the risk of postpartum haemorrhage (excessive bleeding post-delivery) and aids recovery. A lack of iron can lead to smaller, under developed babies.
  • Reduce fats and sugar intake – this will help maintain a healthy weight which reduces the risk of obesity and diabetes and also allows baby to maintain healthy sugar levels.
  • Build a positive environment – speaking, singing and playing music to your unborn baby can impact on a baby when it’s born giving a calmer infant.

“It sounds simplistic, but it’s important to ensure that all women take care of themselves – walking, swimming, aqua natal classes, yoga, pilates, anything that keeps you supple and relaxed is important.

“These things release the happy hormones – endorphins – which will impact on your labour with the choice of pain relief you might need. Someone who is relaxed may not need as many drugs and will have a more natural experience,” Sharon added.

Massage of the neck and shoulders may help the new mum relax and can be quite therapeutic. Perineal massage can also help prevent  tears during labour by increasing the area’s ability to stretch.

“If a woman is really tense in labour it can block the hormones that regulate the contractions,” Sharon explained. “If you are over tired or not well hydrated the womb tires quickly and this can also cause contractions to slow or even stop.

“Pregnancy is about new beginnings. It is normal and normality is promoted by midwives. It is important to maintain that normality and that’s very much the role of the midwives.

“If you have concerns about your lifestyle choices, your midwife won’t judge you,” Sharon added. “You will be offered personalised support and advice because we want mums, babies and families who are both physically and mentally healthy and happy.”

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