Eliza Flynn is Editor of Healthy Living London, and a personal trainer, specialising in pregnancy workouts and postnatal fitness.
Having trained as a personal trainer, Eliza's view of exercise dramatically changed when she became pregnant with her first child, and was shocked at how little information there is about pre and postnatal fitness.
We chatted to Eliza about exercise for pregnant women, postnatal exercise and how health and strength is so much more important than trying to get to a certain size.
You work with women teaching prenatal and postnatal exercise sessions. What interested you about this area of exercise and how did you get started?
When I was pregnant with HB (Hungry Bear), I made the biggest mistake, which was to Google ‘exercising when pregnant’. The amount of conflicting, confusing information was overwhelming and I didn’t trust myself to exercise by myself, even though I was a qualified Personal Trainer. I went to a regular fitness class at a popular studio, after being advised it was suitable during pregnancy but once I got there, felt that the trainer didn’t want me in the class and also didn’t make any adaptations for my condition. This motivated me to take my prenatal and postnatal qualification - for my own purposes initially. I didn’t do much exercise during pregnancy and as a result, found it fairly hard to recover after.
After the birth of my son, I was determined to regain my fitness, but took this at my own pace and it was a good four months before I went to my first postnatal class - an outdoor Buggy Class. Not only was I shocked at how terrible my fitness levels were, but I also ended up with limited mobility for a week after; I strained the muscles around my hips and pelvis from one of the exercises because I still had lots of the hormone relaxin in my body. I’ve since spoken with other mums and clients who have been injured at similar classes. There was no pre-exercise assessment, no questions about stomach muscle separation or pelvic floor repair, which struck me as irresponsible and potentially dangerous.
I wanted to offer prenatal and postnatal classes which educated women and provided safe exercises that repaired and restored their bodies, and helped keep women active during pregnancy. Exercising during pregnancy has shown to have many benefits including potentially lowering your gestational diabetes risk and making labour easier. Post-pregnancy, women are at risk of making any stomach muscle separation or pelvic floor weakness worse with the wrong exercises and as a result, increases the likelihood of hernias or incontinence in the future.
For women who enjoy being active, pregnancy can throw some challenges in the way! What exercises and activities do you recommend for pregnancy?
Women will find that they feel entirely different during the different trimesters. It’s often said, the first is weary, the second is cheery and the third, dreary! However, there are exercises which are really beneficial throughout all stages. The first is swimming and the second is walking. I never thought of walking as exercise until I got pregnant but it certainly becomes more challenging the further into your pregnancy you get. It’s also fantastic as it gets you outside and can give you time to reflect and chill out. Pregnancy yoga is also great, especially during the end stages of pregnancy when mobility is limited and the breathing exercises are especially beneficial.
I also think squats and light weights are great too, but it’s really important to make sure your technique is correct if you’re going to attempt these. Otherwise, unless you’re doing high-impact sports or have any known pregnancy issues, then you can continue what you have been doing but avoid exercises which put strain on your mid-section, e.g. planks, sit-ups etc. If in doubt, always consult with your midwife, doctor or a specialist personal trainer.
What’s your favourite ways to take care of yourself during pregnancy?
I’m a big fan of pregnancy massages! If there’s one thing I spend my money on, it’s that. I also enjoy pampering myself in the lead-up to birth, as once the baby arrives, it’s all chaos - suddenly your attention is diverted to a small demanding little creature who follows no rules!
I also enjoy eating good food. Whether that’s organic fruit or top quality ice cream, taking pleasure in eating well is a luxury that you don’t realise until it’s too late and you’re grabbing whatever you can get.
Whilst there’s nothing that can prevent stretch-marks I do relish the ritual of putting on nice body oils in the morning too.
What foods could help women nourish their bodies and recover from birth post-pregnancy?
As a personal trainer, I’m not qualified to give nutritional advice but reports suggest that lots of green, leafy vegetables, fruit, quality proteins (think oily fish, organic meat, lots of lentils and pulses), wholegrains and drinking lots of water (especially when breast-feeding) is important. Oats are apparently good for breast-milk production as are moderate amounts of fennel tea.
As a new mum, it’s incredibly easy to lose out on nutrients as if you’re not prepared, you eat what you can. This often translates as food you can easily grab, which can be toast, pasta, crisps, cake etc. My tip for ensuring a healthy diet post-pregnancy is to prepare homemade meals before the birth and freeze them. Failing that, make sure you’re stocked up with nutrient-dense foods which is easy and quick to eat. Hummus with raw veg, homemade energy balls or soups are all fantastic.
There’s pressure for new mum’s to lose weight and look a certain way after pregnancy, what advice would you give to mums who want to feel healthy and not fall prey to society’s pressure?
I see this a lot with my clients. One of the main reasons why people come to my classes is to lose their baby weight. The one thing I always say to my Warrior Mums is that firstly, focus on making the body you now have stronger, rather than mourning the body you had. Secondly, you now have a little one to look after, and yourself too! Being healthy is so much more than how you look - eat wholesome food, get sleep when you can (a much harder feat in reality), surround yourself with supportive people and remember that sometimes babies will just cry for no reason (and that’s okay - you’re still an amazing mum). You’ll find that you’ll be doing LOTS of walking to get your baby to sleep and weight-training (picking up and putting down your baby) and when the time is right for you, you’ll get back into exercise.
You’re currently expecting your second baby, how do you fit in an exercise routine as a busy mum?
I am definitely more active this pregnancy! Not only do I spend a fair amount of time lifting and carrying a 12kg moving weight, but I also take part in some of the exercises during my classes. It’s getting harder every day to keep moving as much as I did but I find that even a few minutes a day of squats and lunges whilst the kettle’s boiling are enough to make a big difference. I also live in a flat with lots of stairs so that helps…
Twice a week, I practice DeRose Method (a type of yoga) which is very important for my wellness; it’s precious time for me to have to myself, and it works on balance and breathing exercises and helps keep me feeling strong. I can’t do a lot of the moves now, but I know how to adapt them for my body. Goodness knows how long I’ll be able to keep it up, but I’ll continue as long as it feels right for my body!
Follow Eliza's journey here
Interview by Jessica Duffin
Pictures by Adon