I had the pleasure of attending another movement retreat with Katy Bowman this past weekend (previous one was last year; here’s a recap of that experience). This program was focused specifically on pregnancy, called Movement Ecology During Pregnancy.
I was lucky to get in; apparently there was a 200 person waiting list for this workshop! Most of us in attendance were in some way connected with the pregnancy/birth/postpartum space. I was the only dietitian in attendance, but there were a number of movement professionals (women’s health PTs, a women’s health chiropractor, yoga teachers, Pilates teachers, body workers, etc.), doulas, midwives, lactation consultants, and many more. It was also cool to connect with people who knew my books as well (and hear all the positive outcomes from using real food with their clients!).
If you’re not familiar with Katy’s work, she is a biomechanist who takes a unique perspective on how our culture and sedentary lifestyle shape our bodies and our relationship with movement as a whole. Like so many others, I’ve followed her work for years and always appreciate the ancestral reframe on how our modern lifestyles have removed us from much of the physical labor that the human body is accustomed to (and needs) to function as intended.
For a better understanding of her work and why she’s such a thought leader in the movement world, visit her website, listen to her podcast (Move Your DNA), and read one of her many books.
Below are some notes I took during the workshop. I didn’t have time to write everything down—the goal was to absorb and learn through movement, after all (and writing while on our Sunday walk or working at the lavender farm wasn’t exactly feasible!)—but I did want to share some key takeaways.
Here are a few takeaways from Movement Ecology During Pregnancy with Katy Bowman.
“It’s complicated, it depends…”
First and foremost, before answering any question on movement and pregnancy, we have to start with “It depends, it’s complicated.” There is no one-size-fits-all. What your body can/can’t do during pregnancy has more to do with your pre-pregnancy movement habits/patterns/practices than it does a physiological change “caused” by the state of being pregnant. (<– This really got me thinking because while there are notable changes in pregnancy, our bodies are designed to adapt to it if we give it the right nourishment, both food and movement. How much are these changes pathologized (and is that fair/valid)? How much can they be mitigated by better lifestyle habits leading up to pregnancy and throughout pregnancy?)
(Sidenote #2: We didn’t discuss this directly, since we were focused on the movement side of things, but I was also wondering how much lack of good nutrients, especially glycine, plays into so many of the maladaptions to the state of pregnancy that so many women encounter in modern life. Yes our connective tissues are designed to adapt, but even with attention to alignment, if your body is not getting adequate glycine (and proline) for collagen production and turnover, of course your body is going to favor sending glycine to your baby. As I share in Real Food for Pregnancy, the uterus contains 800% more collagen by the end of pregnancy (not to mention how much is needed for baby’s skin, bones, and connective tissues)! Your body has to make it from something. Certainly it’ll borrow from “non-essential” places like your own ligaments rather than risk baby becoming depleted.)
There are many different perspectives on pregnancy exercise and the type of information included (or left out) in various programs/guidelines depends on the perspective of the program/governing body who created them.
- Is it to maintain fitness in pregnancy (ambiguous, by the way, since fitness is an inherently hard-to-define term/measure)?
- Is it to help manage/prevent symptoms commonly associated with pregnancy? (such as diastasis recti or pubic symphysis dysfunction)
- Is is to specifically attempt to optimize birth and delivery?
One is not more correct than the other, it just affects the type of information and quality of information given.
Sedentary culture is an outlier
At this time in human history, we’re not experiencing pregnancy in the same way as our ancestors. We’re experiencing pregnancy in a sedentary culture. All modern data on pregnancy exercise is in the context of this culture (who spends most of their time in chairs). Sitting as much as we do is an outlier in human pregnancy as a whole and our bodies adapt to this (lack of) movement. (<– This also really got me thinking about research on pregnancy exercise/movement and prenatal nutrition. So, so, so many potential holes. This is why it is wise to consider how traditional cultures ate and moved and slept and birthed and on and on. Of course, science has its place and modern research adds to our understanding of these many topics; it’s just inherently imperfect.)
Built-in training program
Pregnancy, by default, is a progressive training program where your body gradually puts on more and more mass. If you move more, you allow your body (muscles, connective tissue, etc.) to adapt to increasing load. Changing position often and letting more of your body feel the increasing weight IS your training program. (<– Our bodies are smart!)
Duration & intensity
We need to get away from the idea that you can fit your movement into a short period of time (i.e. a 60 min class/training session at the gym). We’re demanding tissues that are mostly sedentary for the rest of the day to adapt to high load + intensity, which in the context of not enough long duration, low intensity movement, our bodies don’t always adapt to well. Small exercises practiced 1000x per day, like standing with better alignment matter, big time. (And, by the way, standing with better alignment generally means with feet parallel and weight evenly distributed between them, hips back, ribs down, and back of your head lifted/chin nodded. If you practice this, you’ll find muscles start to automatically fire to keep you upright, like your abdominal muscles.)
Alignment & misalignment
Misalignment of your bones and relying on your skeleton and connective tissue to hold you (rather than your muscles) is a major factor in many pregnancy discomforts (like SPD, diastasis recti, pelvic floor dysfunction, low back pain, etc.). We shouldn’t blame pregnancy for this, rather pregnancy just reveals the “weak links” in our poor posture and movement habits as a whole with increasing mass and a shift in our center of gravity.
Many people view exercise as an atonement for overeating. We need to ditch this entirely.
Moving your body during pregnancy allows your baby to move more as well. All those kicks you feel is the baby literally exercising in utero or “fetal led movement” (it’s technically resistance training as they kick against the uterus).
Yes, they are great for your body for many reasons (core strength, balance, hip mobility, pelvic floor health, all of which are helpful for birth prep). There isn’t a right or wrong way to squat, just different ways to do it based on your goals, such as working specific muscle groups.
Birth is a natural phenomenon, but so is robust movement. Our sedentary culture is making this natural phenomenon more difficult if a woman doesn’t have the requisite strength, mobility, and stamina to have the option to choose the best position for her birth to progress.
Carrying in arms
One of the best movements to focus your attention on during pregnancy is carrying loads and doing so with awareness of your posture. Once you have your baby, you’re now responsible for carrying around that extra weight. Know how to pick up loads, manage intraabdominal pressure, work with your pelvic floor, and with an awareness of your back and your stance. (<— This should not be ignored. It’s biologically expected that babies want to be held close and held often. Carrying in arms versus always relying on a baby carrier naturally means you adjust your positioning often and avoid other issues/muscle fatigue/dysfunction. For me personally, I heard Katy talk about this in a podcast episode when my son was still pretty small. I found that carrying in arms alleviated a lot of pressure on my pelvic floor and low back pain that would happen when using a baby carrier for too long. I used a carrier when necessary, like when I needed 2 arms to cook dinner, but otherwise shifted to in-arms carrying the majority of the time and it made a huge difference in my postpartum recovery.)
If you stop breathing during an exercise, it can be a sign that the exercise is at too great of a load and you’re relying on valsalva to stabilize. By not breathing, you’re not in alignment. You don’t have the strength to execute. Reassess the “why” behind the movement.
My major takeaway from the weekend is that we probably shouldn’t view pregnancy movement any different than non-pregnancy movement.
All the same alignment exercises and considerations about volume/duration/intensity apply preconception, during pregnancy, and after pregnancy. Move your body more, period, regardless of your stage of life. (Of course, this means listening to your body and scaling up/down and adjusting your movements to fit your stage of life, too!)
If you have a chance to attend any of Katy’s live events, I highly encourage you to sign up (no I’m not an affiliate or in any way tied to her programs; they’re just good!). As far as I know, the plan is to host this same even in Summer/Fall of 2019, so keep an eye on her event schedule. If that’s not a possibility, her podcast, books, and blog are fantastic as well.
I focused this post on the broader implications of pregnancy movement, but it kind of leaves out all the fun stuff we did all weekend, which included a 7 mile walk along the Olympic Discovery Trail (and learning the best way to carry a friend who gets hurt in the backcountry), harvesting lavender and distilling lavender essential oil and hydrosol at an organic lavender farm, and many lovely real food meals spent with newfound friends/colleagues.
Below are some photos from the Movement Ecology During Pregnancy weekend.
Have any thoughts on pregnancy movement and Katy’s approach? Share ‘em in the comments below. 😉