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smiling mum with 3 children

Pregnancy & Post Partum Exercise: Georgy Dillon shares her tips

Georgy is a qualified PT specialising in pregnancy and post-natal exercise and an old university friend of ours (she put up with Oli and his housemate quirks when we were all babies ourselves back in 2009). She launched her PT business three years ago, taking on her first clients in March 2021. She offers online programmes and 1:1 sessions.

With 3 children of her own (big fans of Encanto and St Patrick’s Day), Georgy offers that forever-valuable advice from a wise friend, beyond the guidance on deep core and pelvic floor exercises (including sleep training, tips to manage nausea and other parenting hacks).

personal trainer standing at laptop with client with colourful artworks in background

We chatted with Georgy about how to navigate exercise in the first trimester and much more…

The first trimester is notoriously challenging. What’s your advice when it comes to exercising during this time?

To be honest, we always feel rubbish during those first few months. We’re worried we’re going to break and we can't tell anyone our exciting news, both of which are exhausting and can sometimes cripple us with anxiety. We can feel sick and nauseous and hate the thought of moving which can make us feel like a big blob! So it's understandable why most people (including me by the way!) don’t do anything in the first three months.

I suggest doing something only if your energy levels allow - and ensure that whatever you do is not going to exhaust you any more. There is no tiredness more exhausting than pregnancy tiredness. You’re growing a human so it makes sense! You don’t want to push yourself into a workout and feel worse. Also we tend to focus on exercise being a minimum amount of time, say 30 minutes, because society tells us so. But I could stand here now and do 15 squats and that’s 15 squats more than I planned to do. So honour your energy levels!

There are so many processes happening in the first trimester. All the hormones that cause the nauseous feeling. Vascular underfill is happening – when your capillaries and veins dilate to allow up to 50% more blood to accrue in the body over the course of pregnancy. And so much more! It’s all really exhausting! In my case I had lower than average blood pressure so was exhausted all the time, plus two other kids. Also good to get your iron levels checked early, for many it can be low which doesn't help with the tiredness. On the flip side, you can also have too much! Your body can’t keep up with all that's going on.

So it’s more about just trying to get fresh air each day if you can. Even if it’s a 10-minute walk to get a hot chocolate. And try not to worry about it too much, your body is going through so much right now. If you feel good, then go for it. If you feel like a slug, and generally a bit rubbish, then don’t put that pressure on yourself.

It does tend to level out. Not necessarily at the 12-week mark so don't worry if symptoms don't immediately subside. I was 19 weeks with Rory (my third baby, he was born in July 2023), and around 15/16 weeks with Rosie and Sienna. But the second trimester – the golden trimester – is generally the time when you start to feel human again. I remember that being a turning point in all my pregnancies.

15-20 weeks is a common time for people to join The Pregnancy Program – they’re out of the hypothetical ‘fog’. The hormones have levelled a bit, the sickness may have dissipated, and things feel normal again.

If there was one exercise that you’d recommend during pregnancy, what would it be?

If you don’t do anything else, do pelvic floor exercises and deep core connection breaths! I also call these deep core exercises ‘baby hugs’ because it looks like you’re hugging the baby with your abdominals when you perform it correctly - quite cool really! These are performed by engaging the deep core muscles which act like a corset around our torso (not the superficial 6-pack) using a prolonged exhale.

When you inhale through your nose using a diaphragmatic breath (which is done by focusing on breathing into your waist and not high in your chest), your core and pelvic floor naturally relaxes. When you perform a prolonged exhale, your pelvic floor naturally lifts and at this point you focus on engaging the deep core, starting around your pubic bone and hip bones, all the way to the heart (picture it like zipping up a hoodie!) Not sucking in, but engaging from top to bottom of the abdomen.

It’s a breathing technique really, but you can advance it. For instance, hold a dumbbell or a long, taught band and press it out at the same time to create resistance. Or do it on all fours so you have gravity acting against you so you really feel the core lift up. It helps to train and strengthen the core with just your breath - it's quite amazing really. Many clients comment on the relief it gives them. For me it meant I didn't have back pain in my pregnancies.

If you have a strong core going into birth, you’ll likely have a pretty strong core still coming out. The abdominals will have separated (they do in 100% of pregnancies) and this takes time for them to come back together. You will of course have to take time to rehab it, we all do, but if you’ve gotten into the routine of exercises before birth - your body remembers that process postnatally. It will make your recovery easier too.

The other main body part I’d say to focus exercises on are your glutes. However strengthening the whole body can be done through pregnancy. It’s about staying strong, having good posture, and attending to aches and pains with complimentary exercises. There are so many moves that can help!

personal trainer sitting on yoga mat at start of a class

Is it really worth exercising during pregnancy, given the toll the birth will have on my body?

I’m obviously an advocate for exercising for many reasons, including for mental health, physical health, and so much more. But one thing I always say is that your post-natal recovery starts in pregnancy. If you set yourself up for the best possible birth, you’re setting yourself up for the best recovery. Your rest and recovery is key, but when you do start to exercise again, you regain strength more quickly if you trained in pregnancy, and it’s also easier to stay motivated. It’s important to note though, that it can be very hard to start a new routine after birth, so take your time figuring out what works for you and baby (and be sure to be signed off by your GP or consultant before starting anything).  

What about that bump that you still have after birth?

When you give birth, your uterus is still huge. It had the baby in, the placenta, the amniotic fluid - so much going on. Your abdominals have been stretched and separated to make room for baby. There’s also stretched skin. All this has been happening over 9 months! It can take weeks for the swelling alone to go back down to normal size, especially after a caesarean as there is scar tissue as well. Skin can take months, sometimes years, to regain elasticity too and sometimes it never totally regains it. Mine is a lot saggier after 3 children! It can be partly down to genetics and lifestyle, not necessarily due to exercise.

Having had an uncomplicated birth, from week 1 I felt ready to do pelvic core squeezes and deep core connection breaths, just to help get everything active again. Even if you don’t have stitches there’s still trauma to the area, so these gentle exercises can help bring blood to the area which aids with healing. It's important to note that even if you don’t feel a strong lift, still go through the motions of it as it will only get stronger with practice. Be sure to focus on the relaxation element as much as the squeeze though. They’re equally as important as one another as you want to avoid it going the other way, and instead of becoming an overactive pelvic floor, we want one that is flexible. After a caesarean it's important for the initial healing process to have begun before starting anything. It's a major surgery and means a lot of healing time.

What about food during the first trimester?

Focusing on your nutrition is important, although admittedly not always possible. I was shockingly ill with my third child and most of the time meant I reached for foods that are high in carbs and high in satisfaction (crisps, chocolate, white bread, white pasta). But this can make us feel worse as then you get the lull in blood sugars afterwards and can feel more nauseous.

If you can, aim for nutritiously dense meals, focusing on the major food groups. Always include protein, carbs and fats in your meals. If you’re having granola and fruit for example, go for Greek yoghurt and avoid high sugar granola (you might as well be having coco pops on top). Add nut butters too for some fat and you've got a balanced meal.

If the thought of nutritious food makes you feel worse, then don’t worry, all I suggest is trying to make the best choices within reason of what your body craves and allows. Try your best when you can, everything else in between is sometimes about what stays down!

Doing what you do, did you have magical births?!

With all three babies I went into labour at 1.30am in the morning. According to my midwife apparently it's a really normal time as cave women gave birth in the night when there were no predators around, so quite an amazing evolutionary instinct!

Rory’s birth was the easiest, fastest and most enjoyable (not that birth is overly enjoyable) as I was most relaxed and prepared, plus it was my third which helped. But that aside, I knew my body was ready. I knew my body could do it. I trained for 9 months, did birth preparation exercises, and practised breathing techniques. It all came to a head at birth and went how I wanted. I really recommend researching different birth methods and techniques and exploring what will work best for you, whether you want medicated or unmedicated for instance. However, it's important to remember that birth doesn't always go to plan, no matter how much you’ve prepared, and at the end of the day what is safe for baby and mum is what's most important.

Any other parenting tips you’ve discovered along the way?

I’m one of those mean mums that's very strict with routine. With three children we have to be, or they run rings around us! As I'm self-employed, I sleep trained Rory quite early on as his nap times are the only times I get to work during the day. From about 4 months, I gradually got him into a more predictable routine. I aim for one motion nap and two cot naps a day. That's the ideal day - but it's rarely that perfect! It can be tough as you have to stick with the routine, plus it can still go totally wrong. The other night he was awake from 2-5am, but you have to just get up at 7am and go with the same routine the next day.

One thing I’ve realised is that once a baby arrives, your whole life changes and as women we are so prone to putting pressure on ourselves. So lower your expectations, take it easy on yourself, and take each day as it comes. You're learning a whole new skill, parenting, breastfeeding if you choose to do it, surviving on no sleep...I'm definitely still learning five years in! No two days are the same, just go with the flow. It is hard at times.

Oh and sometimes when you’re desperate to reply to a friend or listen to something important, you just have to hide in the toilet!

Can you tell us more about your exercise programmes?

The Pregnancy Program is a strength & conditioning program with workout videos roughly 20-30 minutes in length, starting from 10-42 weeks of pregnancy. It's roughly 2-3 workouts per week and it starts with creating a good foundation of strength for the whole body. In trimester two, I switch the format to strength building workouts (yes you can build strength in pregnancy!). Then from trimester 3 I bring all the exercises together to focus more on maintaining strength and birth preparation. There are also loads of videos with short full-body resets for days you don't feel like a full workout, including mobility ones and others to relieve common aches and pains, as sadly they‘re common in pregnancy, even in the fittest individuals!

The nice thing about The Pregnancy Program is you can dip in and out. If you feel like a workout, there’s one there for you, for that week of pregnancy. If you don't, there's no pressure to complete every single one. It's EUR 30 a month on a rolling monthly basis and you can cancel anytime.

A lot of it is about training the core too. People think you can’t train the core in pregnancy but you absolutely can, and need to! I provide video workouts for every week of pregnancy, rather than generic workouts for each trimester. It's exactly the workouts I did for my own pregnancy with Rory.

I then have a program called New Beginnings for after birth, to help you reconnect with your breathing, core & pelvic floor. It’s a lovely course to do when you’re feeling like a marshmallow after birth and just need to do something. I know that feeling all too well!

After that I have The Postnatal Program which is for that first big step back into exercise and builds you up in core strength, overall strength, impact and lots more.

Programs for every stage essentially! They can all be done from home and wherever you are in the world.

You can find all the programs at my website and even more over on Instagram @georgydillon_pt

Laptop balanced on chair in lady's living room, showing exercise programme video

Thanks so much Georgy! Finally, can you finish these sentences for us…

I couldn’t have done pregnancy without….

  • My u-shaped pregnancy pillow to help with sleep - when I switched sides there was support on both sides so no need to move the pillow!
  • My dumbbells! Cheesy as it sounds, exercising wasn't just for the physical & mental benefits, it was for my girls too. Running around after two small children whilst heavily pregnant is exhausting, I needed to be the strongest version of myself for me and for them.
  • My fan - you get hot in pregnancy, especially in the latter stages and if you are having a summer baby, invest in a good fan to keep you cool at night!

I can’t do parenting without…

  • Advice from a sleep coach - but I know sleep training isn't for everyone!
  • Patience. That's a skill I've really had to learn but is necessary
  • My husband, my friends and my family. I've understood the statement “it takes a village to raise a child” more and more as the years go on. Surround yourself with good people!

mother with three children looking happy



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