The Benefits of Taking Your Baby Swimming (From Bonding to Mental Health) – Guest post

Guest post from Jo Stone, who is a co-founder of Puddle Ducks: a franchise business that teaches independent swimming from birth in a nurturing environment with individually tailored activities.


One of the best-loved family activities, swimming is also one of the most widely participated sports in the UK. You may think there’s not much more to swimming than seeing your little one in a cute swimming costume, splashing around, and playing with all of the floats, but taking the plunge with your baby is a lot more beneficial than you may have first thought. Here are a few benefits to your baby making their first splash:

  1. Confidence is key

Introducing your baby to swimming from an early age can help to boost their water confidence (and their wider confidence), and in the long run it can prevent any future water-fear. It’s not uncommon for parents to pass on uneasiness of water and swimming to their children, because children are perceptive that way. By getting your baby used to water and swimming, they will bypass this fear, and it may even help you overcome your own fears (if you have them).

  1. Safety first

It’s normal for you to feel nervous about taking your little one to the pool, but there are so many positives. One of which is safety. You may not think it at first, but taking your baby swimming early on helps to build up their knowledge of water safety. Whether it’s teaching them to turn and reach for a wall/float/mum, or just learning the sensation of floating, it all adds up to showing them that the swimming pool is a safe and fun environment.

  1. Nothing beats family bonding

Swimming with your baby provides quality bonding time between both of you. We always have less time with our little ones than we would like, but swimming gives us that bonding time back. Being in the water with them is a great opportunity to give your undivided attention to them with lots of eye-to-eye communication, and have some water-based fun.

Skin-to-skin contact helps to strengthen the bond between you and your baby, and let’s not forget that it’s a great opportunity for the dads to spend some one-on-one time with the little ones to increase their bond together.

  1. Mental and physical health

Swimming is a superb way to incorporate exercise into your baby’s lifestyle from an early age. Swimming – unknowingly – is actually a full-body workout, because it encompasses physical activity from all of your baby’s muscles. Not only does it help with their physical health, but it also has a big impact on their mental health too. As swimming helps to strengthen your baby’s heart and lungs, it therefore encourages the development of the brain by stimulating all five senses of taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound. Plus, swimming helps to burn a few calories too, so be prepared for a workout yourself as well!

  1. Baby balance and coordination

A study by the Norwegian University of Science & Technology showed that babies who swim can grasp objects and have better balance than those who stay out of the pool. The main focus in the swimming pool is maintaining balance as your body is fully supported by water. So, your baby’s balance will inevitably improve, given that water-balance is their focal point when in the water.

  1. Strength and wellbeing

The buoyancy and water-resistance that babies experience during swimming means they use their muscles a lot more, and a lot more effectively. This all helps to build strength in your little one’s muscles and teach them about muscle control.

Now, we’re not saying swimming will get rid of your sleepless nights, but, swimming does help improve your baby’s sleeping pattern. The extra exercise will help to make your little one sleepier, which will maybe even give you a bit of a rest too. It’s not just the nighttime habits that will improve – it’s their appetites too. Exercise and the warm water of the pool can make a baby hungry, so make sure you have some snacks ready for after their last splash.

Committing to weekly swimming classes will help to add structure to both yours and your little one’s week. Providing them with a fun and social activity regularly definitely helps to improve their feeling of wellbeing.

  1. Enhance learning skills

There are many learning benefits swimming can have for your baby. The continued responding to voice-commands can help to increase their mental skills of understanding. In fact, a study at Griffith University found that those who swim from a young age are ahead of non-swimmers by 6 to 15 months when it comes to solving maths problems, developing language skills, counting ability, and the overall following of instructions.

Advancement in cognitive learning is also heavily increased due to swimming. If you think about the process of swimming, your baby will be learning multiple cross-pattern movements and exercises, which all increases neuron build-up in the brain. This facilitates skills such as communication, and overall will help to improve skills such as reading, spatial awareness, and academic learning.

  1. Social time

It’s always good to socialise, and we all love a bit of ‘us’ time with our friends, but guess what? So do your little ones. By going swimming, not only are you helping to improve their physical and cognitive development, but also allows them a head-start with their social skills.

We’re guessing you’re already packing the swim-bag and deciding which towel to take (we suggest the blue one), so have a look at where your local Puddle Ducks swim-team is, and get ready for you and your baby to make a splash!

Postnatal flat tummy plan – get rid of your mummy tummy and skin flap!

Easy and effective daily plan to flatten your mummy tummy and get rid of the pesky skin flap!

Chances are that your new flabby tummy is one of the things you are most shocked about in terms of changes to your body after having a baby. Fear not! It is perfectly normal to still look pregnant for a while after you have had your baby, and be able to grab a handful of squidgy belly! The first thing you need to think about post-birth, before you start exercising your abs, is how your tummy has responded to pregnancy and birth.

For more information and my fab flat belly plan for new mums click here

Inside your pregnant body: hormones and other stuff to be aware of when working out

You won’t believe what goes on inside your pregnant body without you even realising!

If you are still feeling sick hopefully it will start to get better over the next couple of weeks. Chances are you haven’t noticed any drastic changes to your waistline yet, but you may have a bit of a bump, everyone is different. If you are an experienced exerciser make the most of the next couple of weeks before you have to start adapting your routine. If you are not an experienced exerciser then try and make active daily choices and do your daily exercisers (pelvic floor, bum and ab squeezes, see 3-Plan) and think about starting more regular, appropriate exercise once you have had the OK from your 12 week scan.

Try to remember how remarkable your body is. The journey to motherhood is incredible if you look at how your body changes and adapts to make its environment just right for your growing baby. This week we are going to look at what hormones are released in pregnancy and how they impact on exercise and the other changes that are going on inside your body that you should be aware of and reassured about in relation to safe exercising in pregnancy.

 

Hormones

Let’s look at four of the big players: relaxin, oestrogen, progesterone and insulin.

1. Relaxin

The role of relaxin is to relax the ligaments of the pelvis to enable the joints to separate to accommodate your growing baby. Later, for your pelvis to open up and your baby to be born.

However clever relaxin may be, it is not able to target the relaxing effect on just the pelvic area. It can cause joint laxity on ligaments and fibrous tissue anywhere in the body, including your back, hip joints, knees and ankles, which all become slightly more prone to injury. Its relaxing effect can also mean there is significant movement between pelvic joints which can range from mildly uncomfortably to excruciatingly painful.

Pregnant women may find that they have greater range of movement during pregnancy due to relaxin. This means it is really important not to overstretch when moving or stretching and stay within a normal range of movement. The effects of relaxin are less noticeable in first time mums; more so in subsequent and multiple pregnancies. It can take six months to return to normal levels (a small amount is always present in the body) but longer if you are breastfeeding, so relaxin is also a factor to consider in postnatal exercise prescription.

2. Oestrogen

Oestrogen has many important functions in pregnancy, including promoting growth of various bits and bobs like your uterus, breasts and your left ventricle (how marvellous!) It also has roles in regulating progesterone, the development of your placenta and baby and colostrum production.

Oestrogen also contributes to the increase in your metabolic rate and oedema (fluid retention), which both have an impact on your exercise programme. Regular exercise can help reduce fluid retention. Be mindful of your increased metabolic rate; you’ll need to take on extra calories if you are exercising (200-300 a day from healthy foods) and also have a slightly higher core temperature, so take care when working out not to overheat.

3. Progesterone

The roles of progesterone, like oestrogen, are many and varied. Levels of both increase steadily as pregnancy progresses. A function which will have a significant impact on working out is the way progesterone makes smooth muscle relax. This includes your oesophagus, blood vessels and digestive system (the reason for some of the delightful pregnancy ailments such as heartburn, varicose veins and piles).

Also impacting your exercise programme is the fact that progesterone helps to stabilise your blood pressure by relaxing your blood vessels and reducing venous return, meaning you may feel dizzy or light headed due to lower blood pressure.

It also increases your sensitivity to CO2, increasing oxygen levels when you breathe through an elevated breathing rate. This means you shouldn’t try and continue at pre-pregnancy exercise levels as you may be panting before you start!

Finally progesterone has the essential role of stopping important things happening before they should, including lactation and contractions.

4. Insulin

Insulin resistance increases in all women during pregnancy making their pattern of energy usage similar to that of a mild diabetic. This is actually your body’s way of making sure that blood glucose circulates for longer so that it can be properly absorbed by the placenta and the baby, so is not a bad thing! However, around 2-4% of women will develop gestational diabetes (which only lasts for the duration of the pregnancy) which may cause some birth defects and result in babies having to be delivered early by caesarean.

Gestational diabetes is usually treated through diet and exercise; overweight women are more likely to develop it. If you do suffer your Midwife will advise on treatment, but it will likely include healthy eating and regular exercise; what we should all be doing anyway!

The main thing to be aware of with exercise and pregnancy insulin levels is that regular training encourages increased insulin sensitivity, which could result in a drop in glucose being available to the baby during exercise. Just remember if you are working out to eat regularly and have a healthy snack before and after exercising.

If you have existing diabetes make sure you discuss your management plan with your Midwife so they can give you appropriate advice and support.

 

Your changing body during pregnancy

As you can see from our quick run down on the hormones there are lots of changes going on in your body during pregnancy, but this doesn’t mean you can’t be active. However, there are a few things to bear in mind. Just to make sure you have all the key information:

Be reassured:

Cool as a cucumber During pregnancy your core temperature rises by approximately 0.6 degrees celsius. Your sweat point lowers, enabling you to dissipate heat from yourself and your baby. This, along with a slightly elevated breathing rate, means that you have a fab inbuilt cooling mechanism and overheating is unlikely.

Go with the flow Cardio exercise will not compromise blood flow to your baby. Provided you are working out at a sensible intensity and not for too long (i.e. over an hour and a half) your body will direct blood to your baby ahead of your working muscles. Stop if your muscles feel fatigued.

Added bonus You are still getting all the ‘normal’ benefits of exercise in addition to the ones related to pregnancy. You’ll be boosting your immune system, improving your cardiovascular and muscle fitness and endurance, releasing endorphins and, hopefully, improving your body image.

Put your hands up! Some people say that you shouldn’t raise your hands above shoulder height in later pregnancy, in case the umbilical cord gets wrapped around your baby’s neck. This is an old wives’ tale and you can ignore it. Carry on raising your hands as long as it feels comfortable. You only need to be cautious if you have issues with high blood pressure.

Don’t count on it An old school of thought used to say in pregnancy your heart rate during exercise should not go above 140 BPM. There’s no right or wrong and every woman is different. A bit of a sweat is OK, but try to keep your effort level moderate – at around 60–70 per cent of your maximum heart rate. Don’t measure your heart rate; go by how you feel and make sure you can still hold a conversation (see page xx)

Be aware

Back in action If you lie on your back (supine) when your bump is big it may put pressure on your vena cava and affect blood flow, making you feel light-headed. This is called ‘supine hypotensive syndrome’. Avoid lying on your back for any length of time and try side and seated positions instead.

Full of hot air During pregnancy your need for oxygen increases, meaning your breathing rate rises. Later in pregnancy it also becomes harder to take a big breath as your belly expands. Moderate your workout intensity so you can breathe comfortably.

Huff and puff Progesterone is a hormone that relaxes smooth muscle and makes you more sensitive to CO2. This may mean your breathing rate increases and you get puffed more quickly. If this happens moderate your intensity.

Working overtime Your resting heart rate (HR) and blood pumped per beat will increase. This means that you should moderate cardio activity as pregnancy progresses. Keep your heart rate up, but make sure you are working at a sensible intensity and not pushing yourself too hard. Also, warm up gradually and steadily decrease intensity at the end of your workout – to bring your heart and breathing rates down gently.

Vascular underfill When you are first pregnant your body becomes less able to quickly divert your blood to where it is needed. This can make you feel dizzy and faint. If you do, adapt your exercise and avoid quick and frequent transitions (floor to standing etc) and being still for long periods.

Getting to grips with your abdominals: Changes, exercises, what to avoid and will I be able to shift my baby bulge?!

Now you are firmly into your second trimester it’s time to talk about your tummy. You may have a beautiful bump or your belly might still be as flat as a pancake, everyone is different. Whatever size you are as your pregnancy progresses there will be some significant changes to your abdominal muscles and we need to give special consideration to how we exercise them.

Exercising your abdominals safely in pregnancy

  • Sit ups / crunches: Most experts agree that sit-up / ab crunch type exercises after Trimester 1 of pregnancy are not a good idea as these put too much stress on weakened surface abdominals and pressure on the blood vessels in your back as your bump grows. I would suggest you can carry these on to around week 16-18 if you have not experienced any abdominal separation (see below) and you still find them comfortable.
  • Planks: I am really surprised to see fitness professionals recommending the plank as suitable in pregnancy. I would suggest a modified plank (on your knees) is still ok in Trimester 1, but would avoid any planks after this. This isometric hold simply builds up too much pressure behind your abs.
  • Overstretching: As your belly grows your abs will get thinner and weaker and may separate. For this reason we don’t want to be stretching them beyond gentle moderate moves. Stretch your tum with caution.
  • Twisting and turning: Exercises like twisting and side bending can make abdominal separation worse so avoid these after Trimester 1 too.
  • Transitioning: Take care in between each exercise, especially if you are getting up and down off of the floor. A bit more about getting up is included below.
  • Heavy lifting: I hope this is common sense, but try to avoid heavy lifting and straining during pregnancy – no weightlifting competitions!

However considering all these points, it is very important to keep your deep core muscles strong and exercise them regularly to have the best chance of achieving a flat tum again after you have had your baby and minimise the likelihood of getting any pregnancy back pain.

Work that TVA!

That what? The TVA (transversus abdominis) is your deepest abdominal muscle and the body’s ‘internal corset’. You can activate it simply by breathing in deeply and letting your chest expand, then as you exhale, pulling in your tummy all the way around and holding it in for a couple of seconds, then releasing. Gaining control over your TVA and working it as often as possible is key to having a flat tum after you have had your baby. It also plays an important part in pushing your baby out. This is called working your ‘core’.

If I can’t do all these things what can I do?!

You don’t have to do sit-up style exercises to be working your tum. There are lots of exercise you can do including ab squeezes and hollowing (engaging your TVA as described above) to maintain core strength in pregnancy. Pilates is also a great option. In the 3-Plan you will find four safe and effective ab and back exercises for each trimester of pregnancy and stage of postnatal recovery.

Also remember that by holding a good posture, keeping a neutral spine and your TVA drawn in throughout any toning exercises you do you can triple the good work you are doing. You will feel your tummy muscles working, particularly if you are using weights, when you are doing upper body and leg exercises. This really engages your core muscles. You can also maintain a good upright posture all the time!

Diastasis: what is that?

You may have some separation of the abdominal muscles during and after pregnancy (the technical term is ‘diastasis’, which sounds scarier than it is). Around a third of women experience this and it is more common if you are overweight, carrying multiple pregnancies or have had babies before. This is obvious when you think of how much your tummy needs to expand to accommodate your little babe. It is in effect your rectus abdominis muscles slightly moving apart to give your baby space to grow.

When you have had your baby, you will be able to feel whether you have this separation, or not, with your fingers. Lie on your back, with your feet on the floor, knees bent and head and shoulders lifted. Feel above and below your belly button to see if you can find a gully between your tummy muscles (see pictures in the 3-Plan). The gap may be above or below or both. The separation occurs at the linea alba, which is the line that runs down the middle of your tummy, which you can sometimes see in the later stages of pregnancy.

By doing the exercises in the 3-Plan, using a good technique, you will be able to gradually close this gap and get a toned, gorgeous tum that you will be proud to show off!

Diastasis separation varies from one person to another, so don’t worry if your gap feels quite wide. There are certain exercises that you won’t be able to do until the gap has closed to narrower than two finger-widths. Until then you can carry on strengthening your core and helping to close the gap. This is all covered in the New Body Plan.

Getting up

Getting up from bed can place stress on both your back and tummy muscles if you do it in the wrong way. To minimize the stress, roll on to your side before you push yourself up using your arms. Don’t sit straight up forwards as this will make any ab separation worse/

Abdominal supports

I found it comfortable to wear an abdominal band to help support my tummy and back while I was exercising, but it is up to you whether you do or don’t. My first support was a stretchy band that covered my whole bump for the first six months of pregnancy. Then I switched to an under-the-bump band for the last three. I wore a support most of the time and never experienced any back problems, but do what feels right for you.

Will I be able to shift my baby bulge?

You might think that because you have had, or are going to have, a baby you can kiss goodbye to that flat tummy dream. That is simply not the case and you can look even better than you did before.

A good pregnancy exercise plan like the 3-Plan Pregnancy Plan (first half of the book) will help you to strengthen your deep abdominal muscles, surface abdominal muscles and pelvic floor muscles, ready for childbirth. By working on these before you have your baby you will have a much easier job getting them back into shape afterwards.

Following this a targeted postnatal; exercise plan like the 3-Plan New Body Plan (second half of the book) will help you work towards getting rid of your baby bulge. There are three things you need to do to get a flat tummy:

  1. Get rid of the fat over your tummy by doing cardiovascular exercise.
  2. Work the deep ‘core’ muscles to strengthen and tone your tummy and back (these ‘partner’muscles need to work together).
  3. Tone the surface abdominals.

The New Body Plan covers these three aspects, so stick with it and you will see results. If you have had a C-section you should wait until you have had the go-ahead from your GP and feel ready to begin. (I have used six weeks as a guide and it should be a long enough break for most women. You may choose to start very gently). Also, remember, you may still look pregnant for quite a while after you have had your baby. Again, this is perfectly normal, so don’t worry. Everyone’s different and it will take some people longer than others to get their figures back; the key is to stick with your ab workout and make exercise part of your routine. You are the one in charge of how you change your body and it will take effort and time.