‘I want to help women form a habit of self care’: Jen de Mel on pre and postpartum fitness
Certified pre and postnatal fitness specialist Jen de Mel supports women in their journey from pregnancy, through the transition into motherhood and beyond, giving them the confidence to know that they are exercising in a safe environment for their baby and their body, and in such a way that serves them when it comes to the everyday demands of pregnancy and postpartum.
De Mel provides one-one-one personal training sessions and leads semi-private pre and postnatal classes at Kinetic Studio at Prana Lounge, Colombo 7. We got in touch with De Mel for a chat on what pre and postnatal fitness is all about.
Following are excerpts of the interview.
What made you decide on your career choice?
I started specialising in pre and postpartum fitness just before I had my own child, who is three-and-a-half years old now. Before that, I developed my personal training experience with two highly reputable gyms in London who specialise in corrective exercise for postural or relative weaknesses in the body, helping people to move pain-free, as well as strengthening them and helping them to reach their goal, whatever that may be. So this background in corrective exercise naturally led me to want to work with women during and after pregnancy, since there are manypostural adaptations that occur during pregnancy, there is some focus on posture, as well as maintaining the strength of the abdominal wall, which gets stretched as the belly expands, as well as the pelvic floor muscles, which have to bear the weight of the pregnancy. Postnatally, sometimes women have conditions such as incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse,or pain.- Often, women just don’t realise they can actually get help with that; they think it’s just something they have to put up as a side effect of being a mother, which is not the case.
Moms are often preoccupied with their kids, so they don’t have time for themselves. So I want to help women form a habit of self-care so they know that they are a priority.
What do your programmes offer?
My programmes are bespoke, so they are adapted to the needs the individual. A lot of people conduct exercise classes for a big group of people, but I prefer to have a closer approach through semi-private training, which is groups of three or four. The reason I prefer small groups is because I can adapt to the class and give the clients what they need rather than dictate exercises that might not be appropriate for some of them
All pregnancy and postpartum programmes have exercises to strengthen the core and pelvic floor as these areas are always weakened through the weight and stretch of pregnancy and/or birth.
Many people need to strengthen their glutes, And some women will have specific issues like low back pain, which is sometimes made worse by poor postural habits brought about breastfeeding or being tired. During and after pregnancy, women may adapt their posture e.g. they may round their shoulders more or tilt their pelvis forwards or backwards due the load of the pregnancy or being tired or having heavier breasts… Therefore, smaller classes can focus attention on all these individual issues..
All these exercises are quite similar to what you would see in strength training, but it is made suitable for postpartum pregnancy.
How important is it to stay physically fit before and after childbirth?
To stay physically fit before pregnancy is really beneficial for women because it can reduce the risk of some of the pregnancy-related issues, not just pain, It can reduce the risk of gestational diabetes, (a type of diabetes that is specific to pregnant women) and also reduce the risk of pregnancy related high blood pressure known as preeclampsia.
Fitness is good for the baby and also for the mother, particularly for the mother’s mental health, which is very important in the self-care aspect. I know myself from being a mother that you tend to put yourself last when you’re tired, taking are of a newborn breastfeeding, and you don’t have time for yourself. It is important to make this kind of self-care a habit, because exercise releases endorphins and this is beneficial for their (mothers’) mental health. Being physically fit also prepares you for the marathon that is labour and childbirth!
After birth, doctors will give you the okay to work out after six weeks. However, there are very gentle habits and movements that you can do before six weeks in order to start to retrain your core and pelvic movements, whether you’ve had a C-section or vaginal birth. If you have learnt how to connect these core and pelvic floor muscles during pregnancy, you are going to find it easier to reconnect them again after giving birth. Once women resume their usual exercise after birth, like crossfit and running, they won’t have the pelvic strength to jump back in, so that’s why the rehabilitative approach is much better for them.
What are some exercise tips you’d offer moms who just gave birth?
The main one is called “connection breath”. This involves learning how to inhale into your diaphragm and belly while relaxing your pelvic floor and stomach muscles. On the exhale, you’re learning to squeeze the pelvic floor gently and draw your belly button to your spine. It takes some practice but over time, the practice gets easier.
Diastasis recti has become a bit of a fear amongst pregnacy and postpartum women diastasis recti is the partial separation of the rectus abdominis, or “six-pack” muscles, which meet at the midline of your stomach. This is because the growing uterus stretches the muscles in the abdomen to accommodate your growing baby. A lot of women are concerned about this, but it is natural after pregnancy. Most of the time, that gap will heal by itself, but sometimes it doesn’t. So in postpartum training, we are not programming any exercises that will put too much pressure on that gap, because it is a weak point. In order to preserve or improve the strength of the core, we work with the inner abdominal muscles and check that the pressure is being managed effectively by the woman.
Do you think there are unrealistic expectations for women postpartum to regain their body very quickly?
Definitely. It takes nine months for a woman grow and make a human being. and I think expecting the body to “bounce-back” in a shorter timeframe that that is unrealistic.Unfortunately, there is so much pressure on social media and the press reporting on women’s – especially celebrities’ bodies, saying how they are back in shape just weeks after delivering her baby My wish is for women to recognise the toxicity of that kind of messaging of “getting your body back’. Your body didn’t go anywhere – you made a human, so you should honour that and give yourself time to recover, heal and adjust to life as a mom..
How should women prioritise exercise when they are taking care of a new baby and therefore aren’t sleeping well?
I think the best thing to do is to try and see if you can do a small amount of exercise as part of your daily routine. Find 10 minutes in the morning – something is better than nothing – just to devote to yourself. I understand that it is hard for women to find time because they’re tired and it’s difficult, but if you could spare just 10 minutes, that would be good for you. A lot of people quote the saying“do it when the baby sleeps”, because there may be a million other things you want to do at that time, like relax! …so My advice would be to practise the connection breath and do a few gentle movements in the morning.
What is one piece of advice to give women around health and fitness in pregnancy, or going into pregnancy, that no one tells you?
The most important thing is to learn to move in a way that keeps your body strong, rather than put pressure on yourself about the weight you are gaining or going to gain. Weight gain is inevitable during pregnancy So if you are able to shift your focus from weight gain to respecting what your body’s doing for you and embrace the ‘amazingness’ of all that, you will be less stressed about the weight gain,which is ultimately better for both mother and baby.
Do you have any plans for 2021?
I’m currently conducting classes over Zoom due to the pandemic. I also plan on doing a video series, like YouTube tutorials, so people can watch these videos online and follow them. I am continuously expanding my knowledge and skills through studying several certifications on postpartum fitness.