Caring for Yourself Through all Four Trimesters

Caring for Yourself

I welcomed Emma Jory, Pilates, Barre, and Yoga Instructor and the founder of ePilates Online to discuss how we can prepare for birth and make the recovery process more efficient and comfortable

I’m really excited to talk to you. You have done quite a bit in helping families and women. You are the founder of epilates Online, an international certified Pilates, Barre, and Ashtanga yoga instructor. And you’re also a certified health coach and you specialize in women’s health, specifically prenatal and postpartum. How did you get into all that? Can you give us a little of your personal background story?

Well, I was working in a corporate job when I first got into Pilates, when I tried it out myself, just to see what all the rage was about, this new exercise that all the celebrities were doing. And once I tried it, I just loved the feeling. I felt amazing after – the mind, body connection was new for me, so I never really stopped after that. And that was 18 years ago. I started teaching 18 years ago. I started practicing probably about four years before that. And I’ve taught prenatal and postnatal women right from the beginning. It’s definitely a great form of exercise to do when you’re pre and postnatal.

So a lot of my experiences with different age groups, different fitness levels of clients, and one of my favorite clients are pre and postnatal women. So it’s definitely a passion of mine. And I continue to this day to start,keep studying and learning new things. It’s a great industry to be in.

What is the difference between Pilates and yoga?

Good question. The main difference I think to describe is the yoga is a little bit more focused on the spirituality side of things and Pilates is a little bit more the physical, even though we do both have a mind body connection exercise, yoga definitely has its roots in a bit more spirituality. Both strengthen and improve flexibility. So you can definitely improve in those areas by doing both. Pilates focuses a lot more on core strength,so we do focus on the abdominals and the areas that surround the spine, like glutes, back, shoulders. And I think yoga probably is a bit more about flexibility and we do a lot more standing work, so that’s probably the easiest way to describe the difference. But it is a question that comes up a lot. And often yoga, depending on the style, quite a bit is done standing and Pilates is often done quite a bit of it is on the floor or lying. So few differences there. 

And I think that’s something that if you’re expecting a baby or just had a baby, like those are the target areas that most people are concerned about during that time.

Absolutely. And Pilates focuses a lot on the core, as I mentioned, but also the pelvic floor. And obviously that is definitely an area that we need to stay strengthened as women and even men, believe it or not. And I think even if you haven’t had children, it’s important to focus on the pelvic floor. Also focuses a lot on posture as well. So we tend to when working with – when pregnant and also breastfeeding when we’ve given birth, we tend to sometimes get in a more forward, hunched posture. So Pilates is great for that as well.

I know the number one complaint for most parents when they’re going through pregnancy is back pain. And then of course, you sneeze too hard or you laugh too hard and you have to end up running to the bathroom because there’s just so much pressure on your pelvic floor.

Absolutely. This can happen in your early years or or later in life. Obviously it’s something common for a lot of women. And the back pain can sometimes happen during pregnancy because obviously with the weight of the baby, we start to get in a little bit more of an arched back position. So support of the core is really essential to support that obviously the weight of the baby because our posture changes and then postnatally, we definitely, obviously have had changes in the pelvic floor areas. So keeping that strong and supple is really important, like you say, to avoid any leaking when sneezing or coughing. So yeah, keeping that area strong and supple is definitely important.

And, on your website you say that you teach Pilates and Barre. What is the Barre class?

Okay, yeah, the Barres are fun. I like to describe it as pilates on steroids or amplified. It’s a much harder, stronger, I guess workout than Pilates in a different way. It’s a little bit more intense, it has a bit more overload, so you’ll feel a lot more of the burn. And it’s a really good thing for women who are pregnant as well, because we do a lot of work standing and strengthening the legs. We still focus on the core. So when you are pregnant, it’s a little bit going into the second and third trimester, it’s not as easy to do the training lying down. So our standard Pilates exercises are not always the best. During the second and third trimester, we often do it sitting on a fit ball, so that you’re upright and you have a little bit more freedom that way. The Barre is great because you can be standing and do a lot of it in standing position. We do a lot of hand weight sort of training as well in bar. So we strengthen and turn the upper body and the arms, which is always nice to keep strong before you have to hold your baby in the last trimester. But both area great mix, actually.

There’s a lot of literature saying that Pilates, yoga too, but generally help with strengthening of the abdominal, the back, the legs can help with the actual birth process. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Sure. I specialize in both pilates and yoga and I love the combination. I do find that yoga is a really nice way to have the mums focus a little bit more internally to really think about the mindset side of things. So we do a lot of visualization in my classes. We do a lot of opening through the hips and it really does help, obviously,during the birth process. So it makes it a lot easier to get into certain positions, if need be. Ideally, we want to feel a little bit more open in the hip area, feel comfortable in those open positions. And so practicing yoga does help to get to those positions a lot easier.

Right. Because we know that pushing upright helps the baby move down easier. But if you’re not used to squatting or doing those movements and you have very limited mobility, it might be harder for you during your labor to squat on the bed or on a birthing chair if you haven’t been doing that generally in your life or during the pregnancy.

Yeah, so this is one thing that I do love to teach my clients during the class. We often use the fit ball, which is fantastic for exactly this point. We get the mothers into great positions so that they feel comfortable during labor, so they can be folding over the fit ball, opening through the pelvis and the groin area. And just doing certain movements with the fit ball is a really great way to feel comfortable pre labor, so that when you go into labor, you can almost know these movements unconsciously so you can go into them comfortably. And you’ve practiced them a lot, before you get into labor.

You talk a lot about the importance of staying comfortable and healthy through each trimester. So how would taking a pilates or what you teach parents, how would that help them in the first trimester?

Firstly, I think obviously we know that’s a great way to give birth because gravity obviously is helping a lot more and you were obviously prepared for that. So it’s great. It’s what I try to prepare my clients with as well. The first trimester, I like to actually teach my clients to think about what they will be doing in the fourth trimester, believe it or not. So even though they’re able to do all of the exercises still during the first trimester, most of the time, you can still do most things. If you start to learn what you will be learning in the fourth trimester, you know how your body is going to feel, you know, actually what connections to look for in the fourth trimester. So we do a lot of the pelvic floor connecting.

We do certain moves on the back so that you’re learning certain movements that you will be doing in the fourth trimester, which you don’t actually do in second and third. So it’s a really great time to understand it and then it’s easy once you get to the fourth trimester. So that’s kind of my methodology. And we teach the pelvic floor connection, we teach certain moves that are going to help restore the body. So even though I teach my clients to stay fit and healthy with more active movement, we still do the fourth trimester work. In the second trimester, my clients usually start to practice what they will do in the third. So that that becomes easier. And most of the work is done on the ball using a stretch band. And we start to get comfortable in the exercises for the third trimester. So it’s kind of a little formula I teach which works really well. And the women are really comfortable. Then by the time they get to the third and fourth trimester, they know what they’re doing, they know their body, they’re strong, they’re flexible and they can even practice at home. I kind of have a great little routine that we do and I think using the fit ball is really beneficial during those trimesters, the second and third, because it gives a little bit more challenge to the core. So when you’re in this unstable base of support like the fit ball, you can then strengthen areas you don’t even know you are strengthening. We can easily strengthen the deep core muscles while sitting on the fit ball.

And I think just having that, like I mentioned before,having the exercises really embedded into the subconscious that you will perhaps use during labor. So you may be kneeling and leaning on the fit ball, moving back and forth and that those moves are great for labor or during the labor.

It really is all about preparing for labor as well as staying fit, healthy and strong. And we do lots of squats as well with my clients. So I really recommend that. And the fit ball is great to do squats with. It’s put behind the back, using that against the wall is a great way.

That totally makes sense, practicing the movements before you go into labor, before you have your baby. It’s the same thing if you’re practicing any sort of breathing techniques, if you’re planning on using it for your labor, you don’t want to just start doing it when you go into labor, you want to practice it. So you have it down pat, especially like building that muscle memory and that association.

Exactly. And we do a lot of the breathing focus as well. So Pilates and Yoga does focus a lot on that. So the deep breathing into the diaphragm, diaphragmatic breathing, making sure we are learning how to control the mind with the breath, really. So that ability to control the breath helps to calm the mind. So definitely those practices are really useful, as you say, and good to practice while you’re going through your pregnancy. So that when you get to labor and also even postpartum, you do feel comfortable to use them.

I find, too, that a lot of my clients actually get a bit constricted obviously. Once they are in their third trimester, the breathing can be a little bit more challenging. If you do have a bigger baby or you’re a little bit smaller in the torso, that baby takes up a lot of space. So really opening up through the diaphragm and getting that breathing pattern helps a lot to feel comfortable.

Yeah, 100%. And as a doula, when I would work with birthing parents whose goal was to go unmedicated through the birth, I always stressed the importance of having a practice rehearsed way of regulation like breathing. Because once you’re in labor, if you internally start to panic about what you’re feeling and the sensations you’re having,it’s really hard to meet your goals, a non-medicated birth, versus if you go in with a really rehearsed pattern, breathing pattern or movements that you know pretty well because you’ve been doing them for the whole pregnancy, that’s going to help you stay calm and centered and regulated because you can’t go in thinking that the breathing is really going to help you with the pain. 

Right. Birth is just uncomfortable either way, but if you go in with those tools to keep yourself calm, you can get through it.

Yeah, absolutely. I love that. And like you say, it’s muscle memory. This is really important and you can start to default to those then once you’ve been practicing enough. 

Going back to what you were talking about, you mentioned the connection between the brain and the pelvic area. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Yes, actually the diaphragm in our rib area, the diaphragm that we all know about and mostly and the pelvic floor diaphragm,they actually work together. So as we breathe in, our diaphragm under our ribs actually starts to move in a direction. And then the public floor also moves as well. So as we breathe out, the diaphragm closes and the lungs contract a little and the pelvic floor also contracts. So it’s like this tandem movement, if you like, all waves. So as we breathe in, the diaphragms lower,and as we breathe out, the diaphragms lift. So they do work hand in hand. So the breathing will actually help when you are giving birth. When you are controlling the breath, you are helping to control the pelvic floor diaphragm. So the breathing as well can be really obviously helpful when pushing or when needing to control what part of your labor.

So, yeah, it’s important to work on the breath for many reasons, for that one included. But to also come to the mind, as we know the two are connected. When the breath is controlled, the mind is also a little bit more controlled. 100%. 

And as a doula, I would often coach my families on that too. Even just the way that you’re holding your jaw or the sounds that you’re making, like those clenched jaws, high pitched sounds, like it’s going to tighten up your pelvic floor and make it harder for it to relax and harder to push.

So true. 

My second question was about the fourth trimester. For those out there who might not know what that is, can you describe that?

Yeah, it’s actually one of my favorite times to teach women and to share with women because I find it’s the most vulnerable and also the time where they tend to forget about themselves, obviously, and that’s when they really need to take care of themselves. So I’ve had many women who I’ve helped a lot through postpartum depression. So obviously the fourth trimester is postpartum for those who aren’t aware. But I’ve helped a lot of women get through postnatal depression and the effects of just a small amount of exerciseI find is incredible on the mind. On the health, obviously of the mother. The new mum.

And also then of course, the baby. So definitely a passion of mine to help women in this moment.

And I find that just helping with a little bit of exercise does sometimes even change the whole posture, which therefore gives women a whole different outlook. I’ve had a couple. All my clients in one session change their posture and feel incredible and very blown away by the changes.

I love teaching women how just five to ten minutes a day is enough. They can do their small hip rolls or even breathing focus while they’re breastfeeding, those kinds of things. Pelvic floor engagement while they’re breastfeeding. All the little bits add up. So it’s definitely a time to, I think, focus a lot more on themselves and often what they get the opportunity to do. So if as a mom you can squeeze in a few moments, obviously that’s not always possible, but obviously it will make big changes.

Right, because it really is hard to find that time, especially after the baby arrives and you’re trying to feed the baby and you’re emotional and you’re exhausted. So I like that you do – I think I found on your website – you do  ten minute workouts in some cases. You have on your Instagram – which I love your Instagram channel by the way –  you have all these reels with these really quick workouts that people can do in their kitchen or while they’re at the park with their baby or something like that.

Yeah, it’s really good to get in a quick workout. And a lot of the women who’ve done my postnatal program have had incredible results and often I think it’s a misconception to think we just need to focus on pelvic floor squeezing as well when we’re working pelvic floor.

So what I like to combine is a full body workout to strengthen the pelvic floor at the same time. So the program that I actually focus on for the fourth trimester can be started even as early as four weeks. So just with gentle pelvic curls connecting to the pelvic floor, those kinds of exercises, and then we build on. So it’s like about a twelve-week program and it builds up slowly. So it’s a great way to also incorporate full body movements as well because I think just squeezing the public floor is not enough and when we start to work out again as a new mom, getting that full body exercise is important and yes, ten minutes is enough and can make big changes. It’s really important.

Right, because a lot of times when I’m talking to families they’ll say, well, I just don’t have time. Because they read the requirements for at least 30 to 60 minutes a day of exercise. They’re like, well I don’t have a half hour, I don’t have an hour. Like the thought of having an hour to work out can seem very overwhelming and so they just don’t. Because they’re like, well,I don’t have an hour to commit to this, so I’m not going to do it because it would be useless otherwise. Where it’s these little changes that can make a huge difference. Not only physically, but I was listening to another podcast, and I’m sorry to say I forgot which one it was. But they were talking about the relationship between movement and stress and why exercise actually does help with stress. Because the way that our brains are wired, it’s meant to be that if you’re walking somewhere and you see a lion, you get into fight or flight, you run away or whatever. And then after that movement, that running, that brings you down from fight or flight into a more regulated state. But nowadays, when we’re stressed and we’re kicked in the fight or flight, that movement is missing, right? Unless you purposely do it, you don’t get that opportunity to kind of trick your body into thinking that you are away from the danger and so you get stuck in fight or flight.

And that has changed my perspective tool because I’m admittedly one of those people like, well, I don’t have an hour to workout today, so I’m not going to work out. But the point that the other podcast was making was like if you are stressed, even sprinting around your kitchen for a few minutes, tricks your body into thinking that you’re running away from whatever has stressed you out and helps you calm down and regulate. So if you are stressed as a new mom and your baby’s crying and your nipples are bleeding and whatnot, we’ll get help first, but also just do like a ten minute thing in your kitchen, look up one of your reels and do one of those and that will definitely help because it will trick your body into thinking that you have run away and moved away from the danger and help you stay regulated. And that just was like a real eye opener for me, when it comes to shifting your perspective around being healthy and moving your body.

It’s a great analogy and we know about this fight and flight, but that part about you tricking the body, thinking you’re running away is ideal and it doesn’t take a lot, as you say, to come back into your body. Because when we’re stressed, we’re in our head, we usually are thinking in the future or the past or we’re overwhelmed and once we move, we actually reconnect back to our body. So we come out of our head and we’re back into our body again. So it is very powerful and we start to breathe better. All of that, in conjunction, almost reset the body.

It is like a reset and it doesn’t need to be much like you say, it can be 5, 10 minutes. Because once we get that breathing regulated again and – love it – tricking the body, it’s exactly what happens. The small increments, they all add up.

So I’m the same, if I think I have an hour to do, my days are busy. And putting that whole hour aside is not always easy. But it’s easy to put away ten minutes and you can get a lot done in ten minutes. My clients actually often say wow, that workout can get the heart rate up, can get strengthened and toned in just five to ten minutes. So it’s very easy to do. Five squats in the shower if you can manage it. Five quick squats or while the kettle is boiling, perhaps.

Even doing stuff like you said, waiting for the kettle to boil or when you’re in the shower because it isn’t feasible. There’s a lot of prenatal and postpartum programs out there, and I feel like they’re not feasible for a lot of parents because they feel like they can’t make the time commitment that they are being asked to make, which is totally understandable. And I also think in today’s fitness culture, it’s kind of like, well, if you can’t commit to this much time, you don’t really want it. Or I don’t want to say shamed, but people are kind of looked down on if they’re not willing or able to make the time. Like, you hear things like,”we all have the same 24 hours in a day”, and it’s like, no, if you’re home with a baby, it’s like, not true. If you have a nanny, I’m sorry. If there’s someone out there that has a nanny, kudos to you. I’m not bashing someone. But if you have a live-in nanny and you’re financially stable and you’re feeling great and you have someone that you can just hand the baby to, you do not have this thing 24 hours in a day that I do.

Yeah, it’s different. Exactly.

And I think that’s the part that parents see is that side of it. And so they’re think, well, I don’t even want to get into that because I don’t want to feel guilty every time I get to the end of the day and I’m like, oh, I didn’t find the time to workout again, so I’m just a failure.

Yeah, exactly. And this is all part of it. Those little increments, those 5, 10 minutes, if you can do it, actually will help you feel that sense of achievement. So you will be able to find that few minutes, even if it’s not five, it can be three minutes, literally. That helps. So you will start to get that feeling of achievement and then you’ll do it again the next day. You’ll find that rather than feeling the sense of failure, as you say. So it’s important, I think, to keep going and then to keep adding to your program when you can. It tends to happen more often when we do those little bits.

Speaking of getting set up for feeding the baby, do you have any suggestions for the new mom’s backache? When moms are hunching over their baby to feed, they might be like tightening up their shoulders if they’re uncomfortable during feeding and they just get like all that tightness, that stress here on their shoulders and in the neck. What are some things that they could do right before they sit down while partners change the diaper, that would help with that?

Yeah, I love the stretch to alleviate pain in the top of the neck, just to bring one arm across the body, literally a straight arm across the body stretches the back of the shoulder area. There’s some great stretches to do for the upper body that definitely can help. Even like twisting the arms. I don’t know if you’ve seen it like just threading the arms together in front of stretches and threading the arms together. So all those opening the back are great.

But what I like to tell my clients is to sometimes breastfeed sitting on the fit ball and a lot of the mums have had great success with this because it feels like you can bounce a little, you can relax a little more, so it tends to also help the baby fall asleep as well. So that’s another good tip too. So buying a fit ball for prenatal and postnatal is helpful not just for the exercise, but also for mom’s feeding. It’s handy, but definitely a lot of upper body stretches. So, really just getting the shoulders back a little bit, so starting to squeeze them back as well will help. We get into, like you say, that rounded position, even standing against the wall will help make the back flat against the wall. So feeling the shoulders go back, that’s another nice way just to help kind of undo things, if you like.

So even lying on the fit ball with your back over it, sitting on the floor, leaning back over it will get that nice arch. So the fit ball is my go to tool, really, for moms. And you can have it easily available in any room. Obviously, it’s not a big prop to have, so I highly recommend getting one of those. But if you don’t, you can use the back of the chair. You can even arch back over the back of the chair in a nice way. Sitting on the floor, leaning back over the couch, just reversing that sort of hunched posture feeling is very good.

And the back pain, I think, is obviously a common thing. Like you say, keeping the core strengthened is really helpful. And when we say core strength doesn’t necessarily mean sit ups. It’s not that type of core. It’s those lower abdominal muscles. So it’s the muscles between the hip bones, the transverse abdominal muscles, which are kind of the muscles that you can help to pull in or press in whatever you prefer to say when you’re giving birth. Also during labor, those muscles are great to help to push against. So it’s quite good to have those muscles strong and supporting your back. So this is what we focus a lot on in pilates, is connecting those deep layers to support your back.

And that’s exactly my point of going back to what I mentioned about the first trimester.

Obviously depending if this is your first baby or not, but your stomach muscles are going to be probably out their strongest during the first trimester. And so you’re going to be able to feel that connection more then. So then you know what you’re looking for in the fourth trimester. So you felt it at the beginning and all the way through, and then you know what you’re looking for in the fourth trimester.

On your website you have classes and some of them are for prenatal and some are postpartum. Can you tell me a little bit more about what you offer for classes and programs?

I teach a lot of women in person and a lot of my classes are actually filmed with the clients that I’m actually teaching in person. So we have classes that are with women of all trimesters recorded. They are prerecorded classes and they can be accessed 24/7. So they’re available in a library and also a course format.

And it basically runs women through everything that I teach my clients face to face. So things from yoga, exercises in yoga, Pilates, barre, and also the pre and post natal journey. So it’s really, from the beginning right through to the fourth trimester, available online.

I like that it’s on their own time because we know how important that is.

Yes, and I help a lot of women as well with healing diastasis recti. So my postnatal program helps women to heal from that.

Also, I come across a lot of clients who have been told by surgeons to have operations to fix diastasis. Some women have four to five finger separation and the program actually does help to heal diastasis. One lady I worked with, actually she’s in my program, she had four and a half finger separation and we got her down to two finger separation in a matter of a couple of weeks.

The work is amazing and we work a lot with the fascia as well, so it’s not just the muscles. The deeper layers that actually connect through our body are called fascia. It’s like a tissue that runs throughout the body. And so we work with the fascia as well to help heal the diastasis. So it’s quite powerful.

Do your classes ever involve the baby? Like, I know there are some classes where you do things with the baby to strengthen, is that kind of what you do in your classes too, or is it just a parent?

I did a lot of face-to-face classes with that pre COVID, and unfortunately we didn’t film those.

But yeah, it’s something that I have done and love, and the women obviously still get to work out with their baby. It’s a great thing, but I don’t do that so much online now. But it’s a good idea. Yeah, I love it. I know, I love it too. It’s special.

Emma this was wonderful. I think your work is amazing. It’s so important. I always say that every expecting parent should be hooked up with pelvic, floor specialists, yoga, Pilates. And it’s a shame that, at least in the US, we’re kind of told, oh, it’s normal for you to pee your pants for years after birth, or it’s normal to have back pain during pregnancy, because we all know that common does not equal normal. And I don’t think it’s that providers don’t care, it’s just that they don’t know.

That’s it; it’s so true, and it can be prevented. You’re right. And it isn’t normal. You’re right.

Reach out anytime. I would love to send you a great class to suit your trimester.

Thank you so much for joining us today.

I really appreciate it. Thank you for having me. Shelly, I love what you’re doing, and yeah, it’s very important work, so thank you so much.

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