Welcome to my blog

 

I have the privilege of living in what many consider to be the UK’s sporting capital: Loughborough. With a university that attracts top athletes from across the UK physical activity and sport is to be seen quite literally everywhere as people jog, run and bike their way round the area. It is hardly surprising therefore, that as an expert in pregnancy exercise I find myself on the receiving end of lots of pregnancy fitness questions and that many of these are recurrent. Here are the top ten questions that I get asked:

  • Is it safe to carry on with my pre-pregnancy exercise regime during the first trimester?

    It is worth bearing in mind that overheating and getting very breathless and sweaty is best avoided because whilst you can regulate your body temperature the growing foetus cannot and this could lead to overheating. For those of you who are aware that you are expecting, are used to a particular exercise regime, and are now wondering whether or not it is OK to carry on in this early stage of pregnancy, the answer is that as long as there are no warning signs or contraindications – bleeding would, for example, be a very clear warning to stop – then you can carry on with your usual routine. The first thing to say is that many mums-to-be are entirely oblivious of the fact that they are expecting in the first few months of pregnancy and so, not surprisingly, they carry on exercising just as before. If they feel absolutely fine and haven’t felt drained whilst carrying on as usual then the likelihood is that this is perfectly fine.

  • I am suffering from morning sickness. Can exercise help and should I try to work out regularly?

    For many the first trimester is truly miserable with persistent nausea and a deep seated fatigue. In such instances there is little point in forcing yourself to exercise if you really cannot face it or if it leaves you feeling worse than you felt beforehand.

    Having said this, if you find that there are moments in the day when you feel slightly better then I would encourage you to have a light carbohydrate snack – a few oat cakes, for example – and then squeeze in a bit of exercise. Something as gentle as a swim or a walk will help revitalise you and carry you through the unpleasantness of morning sickness.

  • Now that I am in my second trimester should I adapt the way I exercise?

    For most of us there comes a point in pregnancy when we feel the need to tone down our exercise and focus on more relaxing forms of activity. This stage will be reached at different times for different people – it depends on so many factors such as pre-pregnancy fitness levels, aches and pains, postural changes and size of bump. For those who are feeling fighting fit in the second trimester I’d say “carry on” in as safe and sensible manner as possible. Certain things will need adapting, such as abdominal exercises: now’s the time for gentle core stability work rather than exercising targeting the six pack and you won’t – of course – be wanting to exercise lying on your stomach… Once your bump has grown out of the pelvis and is showing, it is also time to quit any dangerous activities – think skiing, contact sports and horse riding. In terms of cardiovascular exercise such as running, if you are a seasoned runner and feel fine, then there’s no harm in carrying on at a moderate level that feels comfortable and makes you feel good.

  • I haven’t ever done much exercise but want to be healthy now that I am pregnant. What exercises would you recommend?

 

    One thing to bear in mind is that pregnancy is not a time to go on a major fitness drive. In general the advice is to focus on maintaining fitness levels. Having said this, if you have had a sedentary lifestyle up until now this does not mean that you shouldn’t take up exercise – trying building up a gentle walking or swimming routine, starting with 15 minutes. Alternatively, consider taking up pregnancy-specific exercise as this will be tailored for all pregnancies: think aquanatal, pregnancy Pilates or pregnancy yoga.
  • What’s the single most useful exercise that I should prioritise in pregnancy?

    This might not be what you want to hear but pelvic floor exercises should most definitely be prioritised both during and after pregnancy. Don’t forget that the pelvic floor is placed under a great deal of strain as your baby grows and even more so during labour and birth. Incorporating a pelvic floor pull-up every time you get up from a chair or sit down –known as “The Knack” – is one of the best exercises to make a habit of.

  • I am getting back pain in pregnancy. Are there any exercises that I can do to help?

    Try these two excellent Pilates moves for back pain:

    Back pain is incredibly common during pregnancy, especially in the lower back. Keeping the spine mobile, strengthening postural muscles and working on maintaining the deep “core” abdominal muscles toned can work wonders for staving off backache. I would encourage you to take up pregnancy Pilates with someone who specialises in pregnancy fitness.

Modified Superman1. Set yourself up in a box position with your hands underneath your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Make sure that your back is in neutral. By this I mean that it should have its natural curves but these should not be too pronounced.2. Extend one arm in front of you keeping the fingers lightly on the floor. Make sure that you are drawing your abdominals inwards so as to avoid arching your lower back.3. Keep your back level when you lift your arm. Breathe and hold the position.4. Bring the arm back down and then swap over and extend the other arm. Think about lengthening through your back and arm.5. Now repeat this process with each leg: lift up your leg keeping the toes on the floor and without arching your lower back; do not tilt your pelvis upwards; breathe and hold the position; lengthen through your back and leg.6. Now put these two moves together and lift opposite arm and leg, following the same advice, and keeping fingers and toes lightly touching the floor (see photo).

Resistance band seated pull downs 

1.    Sit tall on a birthing ball or chair with good posture: shoulders back and down, neck long, chest lifted and abdominals pulled gently inwards.

2. Hold the resistance band above your head with arms wide, chest open and knuckles pointing upwards so that the wrists are aligned.

3. Now lower your elbows to shoulder height, whilst keeping the hands directly above your elbows and squeezing your shoulder blades together.

4. The elbows will be more or less at a 90º angle and the chest is wide open.

5. Lift and lower in a slow and controlled manner for 10 repetitions. Rest and then have another go if you wish.

 

  • I have always been into my fitness but am I OK to continue exercising at quite a high intensity?

    We all start pregnancy with our own benchmark level of fitness and so we need to use this as a starting point to judge what level of intensity to work at. Essentially if you have a good level of fitness pre-pregnancy then you will, in all probability, be able to exercise at a higher level than many others even though you are now expecting. The main thing is to regularly ask yourself this – “How am I feeling when I do this?” – and to answer as honestly as possible. Don’t kid yourself and force yourself to carry on simply because you are worried about losing your fitness levels – remember that you can and will regain your strength and stamina when the time is right.

 

  • Is it safe to work out with weights in pregnancy?

    In reality, for those who are au fait with using weights, were incorporating them into workouts prior to falling pregnant, and who have excellent technique, carrying on with weight training should be a positive thing to do. Keeping the body strong will help counter some of the joint instability that can accompany pregnancy and will stave off aches and pains.  Many people worry about exercising with weights during pregnancy not least because of the recent controversy surrounding images posted on social media of women performing CrossFit right up to the very end of pregnancy.

  • Is it worth buying a birthing ball/fitball and if so, what pregnancy exercises do you recommend?

    In pregnancy, using a fitball as a seat at mealtime will help strengthen posture and will gently challenge the deep abdominal muscles which need to be kept toned when expecting. As pregnancy progresses and your bump grows the lower back might well feel tight and uncomfortable: try doing pelvic tilts or rotating the hips whilst seated on the ball. These two exercises can also be excellent for relieving back pain in early labour. Many mums-to-be invest in a birthing ball/fitball because they think they should, only to discover that they don’t quite know what to do with it. It usually ends up languishing in the loft! Fitballs are worth getting and not just for pregnancy. Indeed the beauty of them is that they can be used for the most gentle of workouts right the way through to the most challenging.

  • I am a passionate distance runner and am worried about losing my fitness levels. Is it safe for me to carry on running throughout my pregnancy?

    The likelihood is that there will come a point in your pregnancy when either you feel uncomfortable running – perhaps the weight of the bump is causing you to feel that way – or you no longer look forward to it and you feel drained afterwards. That is when it is time to stop and to consider taking up some other form of exercise that feels good – it might be swimming, power walking, pregnancy Pilates or aquanatal. There are many options and you may even learn to love something new! Regarding whether or not it is OK to keep running throughout pregnancy the answer lies deep within you and this is where you need to be truly honest to yourself – for your sake and for that of your growing baby. As long as your pregnancy is a healthy one and running is a pleasurable experience that leaves you feeling energised and revitalised both during and afterwards, then your body is telling you that it is OK to carry on. I throw this question in because from experience (and on an anecdotal basis) I’d say that distant runners are some of the most focused and committed exercisers out there. Distance running is a way of life and so anything that gets in the way of this passion can become a source of worry.

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Joanna Helcké is a pregnancy and postnatal fitness expert, juggling career alongside looking after her three lively boys. In 2009 she founded Zest4lifeUK, her highly successful Leicestershire based pregnancy and postnatal exercise service and has, since then, looked after the fitness of hundreds of women, leaving them fitter and healthier than they have ever been before. Her passion for enabling new and expectant mothers to experience the incredible benefits of pregnancy and postnatal exercise, has led her to develop an innovative nationwide specialist pregnancy and postnatal fitness and wellbeing system, which is accessible to women, wherever they live and whatever their previous fitness experience. Joanna is a regular contributor to the national media, providing expert pregnancy and postnatal fitness comment for magazines such as Pregnancy and Birth, Mother and Baby, and Practical Parenting.

Breast is best! Or is it? National breastfeeding week

by Dr Joanna Helcke on June 5, 2015

National Breastfeeding Week

If I had been writing this blog eight years ago, when my third son was only 6 months old, I am pretty sure that my title would have stopped at the assertion that “breast is best” and there would almost certainly have been no ensuing hesitant or provocative question. After all, I had breastfed all three of my boys and went on to clock up an impressive five years of feeding. It was easy, I thought. What was all the fuss about, and why on earth would anyone choose to bottle feed with all the hassle of sterilising, the associated costs, and all for a decidedly inferior product?

How working in postnatal fitness has changed my views on breastfeeding

That was eight years ago. Not long after, I retrained as a specialist in pregnancy and postnatal exercise and have been working ever since with pregnant women and new mums, providing them with tailored exercise that is not just designed to increase physical fitness but, importantly, to promote emotional and mental wellbeing. So how and why have I shifted my views on breastfeeding? Well let’s start off by getting things straight: I am hugely in favour of breastfeeding. Countless studies highlight the myriad benefits of breastfeeding, from strengthening the emotional bond between mother and child to providing immunity against certain ailments and – more controversially – increased IQ levels.

But when I look back over my experiences, I had it easy: not a single bout of mastitis, not a sore nipple in sight, no baby with tongue-tie or with acid reflux. Plain sailing really. Memories fade and if you are an optimist, then the good times will tend to stay with you whilst the others fade. Yet I can distinctly remember repeatedly ‘phoning The Breastfeeding Helpline when I had my first son. Now I should explain that The Breastfeeding Helpline in the West Midlands, where I lived at the time, consisted of Jenny, a passionate, marvellous, dedicated NHS midwife who would talk me through my latest breastfeeding dilemma whilst doing her supermarket shopping, through the fog of being woken up at 2am, whilst preparing breakfast for her own family – anywhere, anytime. Not because she was paid; not because she had to; simply because she ardently believed in what she was doing. I was incredibly lucky and I shall remain eternally thankful for her support and help. It worked.

Not everyone, however, has an easy ride: the best laid plans are often swept aside following a complicated or traumatic birth, and the kind of one-to-one support that I had all those years ago can be hard to come by when it is most needed. And when help is needed with breastfeeding, let’s face it, it’s needed NOW! You can’t exactly wait for some distant appointment to materialise with a famished baby in your arms, a baby to whom you are their world, their everything. And yet from what I see where I am based these days – the East Midands – there is help at hand and there are truly passionate people who are all too willing to provide practical support but – and it’s a big but – they are not succeeding in getting the message out there that they actually exist.

These wonderful NHS services need to learn how to get their message out there, promote themselves, think themselves into the shoes of the people they are there to provide help for i.e. social media savvy women in their 20s and 30s. Being part of the public sector, these services are not used to having to “market” themselves. Yet if they don’t boldly step into the world of self-promotion, they will remain undiscovered, underused and – eventually – public funding will be withdrawn because no-one was really using the service, were they? The irony.

Baby blues, postnatal depression and breast and bottle feeding

Over and over again, mothers in my classes tell me that they abandoned breastfeeding in favour of bottle feeding because they simply didn’t have the support and help that was needed when they were battling terribly through the pain of mastitis, through the pain of feeding a baby who isn’t latching on correctly, or through the emotional pain of dealing with a permanently ravenous baby who isn’t getting enough milk. It is no wonder that in these circumstances, moving to bottle feeding is a blessed relief.

And this leads me to the whole fraught issue of bottle feeding. Fraught? Yes, I use that word because eight years ago, when I was in my little baby world and was busy breastfeeding my third child with great ease, I felt quite complacent. I knew that breast was best. There were no questions knocking around in my baby brain head on that front! How revoltingly smug of me. These days, with my pregnancy Pilates classes, I take mums-to-be through their pregnancies. I see them grow; I see their worries, their fears, their hopes, their joys and – occasionally – their tragedies (and I will remember every one of these). We all wish the best for that little human being that we are creating inside ourselves and, for most expectant mums, breastfeeding is part and parcel of this desire to do our best.

Antenatal classes and breastfeeding versus bottle feeding

But that’s not always the case and even if it is the case, mums need to be prepared during pregnancy, particularly when doing their antenatal classes, for a potential postnatal shift in their mind set. Enabling mothers-to-be to feel that keeping an open mind about breast- versus bottle feeding is both desirable and necessary, and should most certainly not to be viewed in a negative manner. This is crucial for the mental wellbeing of new mothers. Think of a new mother teetering on the brink of postnatal depression, battling to breastfeed because she’s been told and, indeed, she knows, that breast is best. She has no idea where to turn for support and eventually, she takes the decision to introduce a bottle: guilt, feelings of failure, an inability to tell her friends who are breastfeeding how she feels. Postnatal depression. Is that best for baby? Of course not. Ultimately, happy mums have happy children! It’s not rocket science.

So let’s give women in pregnancy the unvarnished, unembellished truth about feeding their babies, rather than the pie-in-the-sky perfect scenario, leaving them open to a potential shock to the system. Let’s say that, yes, breast is best when it all works out as planned but that bottle is and can also be best when things don’t turn out as expected. I place the onus firmly on antenatal class providers.

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Joanna Helcké is a pregnancy and postnatal fitness expert, juggling career alongside looking after her three lively boys. In 2009 she founded Zest4lifeUK, her highly successful Leicestershire based pregnancy and postnatal exercise service and has, since then, looked after the fitness of hundreds of women, leaving them fitter and healthier than they have ever been before. Her passion for enabling new and expectant mothers to experience the incredible benefits of pregnancy and postnatal exercise, has led her to develop an innovative nationwide specialist pregnancy and postnatal fitness and wellbeing system, which is accessible to women, wherever they live and whatever their previous fitness experience. Joanna is a regular contributor to the national media, providing expert pregnancy and postnatal fitness comment for magazines such as Pregnancy and Birth, Mother and Baby, and Practical Parenting.

Mum of the month – Rina and her post natal exercise!

by Dr Joanna Helcke on September 12, 2014

rina - photoHi Rina! First of all, congratulations on being Mum-of-the-month!

Thank you for considering me!

You’re a mum of two – tell me, how old are your girls?

My eldest is 4 years old and the youngest is 6 months old.

What aspects of motherhood do you most enjoy?

I love watching them grow and develop.

And the not-such-fun bits?

Constantly juggling! I’m on the go from the moment I wake up till I go to bed.

What’s your favourite gadget in motherhood, the one you can’t live without?

My mobile phone! I use it for everything.  It gave me good company whilst I spent, what felt like forever, nursing!

You do post natal exercise with me but have you always been into exercise?

After having my eldest, I put on a lot of weight which I found difficult to lose.  My husband recommended and paid for my initial sessions with a Personal Trainer.  I got into exercise in a way that it changed my perception of health and fitness.  I can no longer imagine my life without exercising!

Are you into healthy eating? What’s your all-time favourite dish?

Yes I am. I love any dish that has salmon in it!

How do you find the time to fit in exercise with young children?

I never know what the day has in store, which makes it challenging, however I always make time for it.  I usually exercise whilst my baby has a nap or after both the children have gone to bed.

How have you been finding the online fitness? Good and bad…?

For me, it has been excellent.  I am certain that it has helped my body heal quicker. Within 4 months I no longer had an abdominal separation.  This meant that I could do tougher workouts sooner than later.  Without it I think I would have got really down about my pregnancy weight gain.  It kept me feeling positive.  I have nothing bad to say about it and would highly recommend it.

We all need a bit of “me time” when we’re mums. What’s your favourite “mummy me time” activity?

To have a good workout – the type that leaves you sore for a few days! I love it, it’s a bit of time that I invest in myself and my health.

The moment of truth: what’s your all-time favourite food?

This is such a hard question because I love all types of food.  It all depends on my mood! I do however, have a sweet tooth and a tiramisu is one of my favourite deserts.

Fitness for ever?

Forever and ever and EVER!!!!! :0)

 

 

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Joanna Helcké is a pregnancy and postnatal fitness expert, juggling career alongside looking after her three lively boys. In 2009 she founded Zest4lifeUK, her highly successful Leicestershire based pregnancy and postnatal exercise service and has, since then, looked after the fitness of hundreds of women, leaving them fitter and healthier than they have ever been before. Her passion for enabling new and expectant mothers to experience the incredible benefits of pregnancy and postnatal exercise, has led her to develop an innovative nationwide specialist pregnancy and postnatal fitness and wellbeing system, which is accessible to women, wherever they live and whatever their previous fitness experience. Joanna is a regular contributor to the national media, providing expert pregnancy and postnatal fitness comment for magazines such as Pregnancy and Birth, Mother and Baby, and Practical Parenting.

Mum-to-be of the Month- Natalie and her pregnancy exercises!

September 12, 2014





Hi Natalie! First of all, congratulations on being Mum-to-Be of the month!   Tell me, how many weeks are you now and how are you feeling? I’m 29 weeks into my 3rd pregnancy, I have struggled with back and pelvis pain but it’s improved so much with the correct management so although I’m tired I’m feeling well. What […]

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Veg-packed pasta sauce

September 2, 2014

This is a really useful sauce that can be the base for all sorts of dishes eg a lasagne, normal pasta sauce, tuna pasta sauce, to top a pizza with cheese sprinkled on top… It also happens to be full of goodness: vitamin A, vitamin C, carotenoids, fibre, its vibrant colour a testament to all […]

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Gingerbread Men

September 2, 2014

The way I see things is that we all need and enjoy food that feels as though we are being really indulgent  but without actually filling ourselves with the junk food that is pedalled to us via all the adverts that surround us. The latest “Krunchy-Kream-Triple-Decker-Doughnut” on the market isn’t exactly going to be great […]

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The post pregnancy tummy tightening recipe

August 13, 2014





 So last week I assured you that in most cases by following some basic rules and implementing some lifestyle changes, you should be able to get that post pregnancy tummy – or abdominal separation – back in shape. And indeed you should, just so long as you follow these steps. So let’s start with some […]

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Can I fix my post pregnancy tummy?

August 13, 2014





 You know what I mean, don’t you? It’s that soft, squishy, spongy feeling the tummy has after having a baby. Well, let’s face it – it’s hardly surprising. The abdominal area has been stretched way beyond its normal range; it’s been lengthened; the area has weakened; the upper most layer of muscle has kind of […]

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Why does my pregnant tummy look funny when I get out of the bath?

August 13, 2014





Odd question? Well perhaps it is to some of you but to others it will immediately ring a bell. So what am I talking about? You might well be one of those who has noticed that at the end of a relaxing bath, when it’s time to finally hoist yourself out, your tummy goes into […]

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Introducing forum expert Siobhan Record, financial advisor, on the forum to help you make the right financial choices

March 14, 2014





Let’s hear a bit about your background…. I am a Financial Planning Consultant. I provide financial advice to individuals to ensure they make the right financial choices. I can help with regards to pension planning, taking retirement benefits, mortgages, family protection, investments & inheritance tax planning. And what about your field of expertise? How did […]

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