Anna Kooiman: Here’s how I am embracing my changing pregnant body... even my ‘cankles!'

Pregnancy is amazing. But to be real, it ain't all pretty, is it ladies?

Anybody else missing their ankles? Mine are currently “cankles” (calf plus ankle). More on that in a moment. But first, let's chat about the miracle of life.

Nine months to make a baby. Nine months! That's it! It all happens so fast and it is truly amazing what a woman's body can do in such a short time. I think that's one of the biggest takeaways I have from the last 8.5 months of my pregnancy.

Growing my little human has been the coolest thing to experience. It feels particularly real at the moment, as he loves to let me know whenever he's awake. This little bub is constantly doing Turbo Kick workouts with some jabs, crosses, hooks, and uppercuts.

"Ouch! That was a rib!"

And he also enjoys tap dancing on my bladder.

"Bathroom! I need a bathroom!"

In all seriousness, pregnancy makes me proud to be a woman. Proud of what my body has proven capable of doing, and proud of the even crazier feat (labor and delivery) that will come in just a few more weeks.

This mindset of mindfulness has been fostered by the Zen I find doing much gentler exercises than my pre-pregnancy fitness routine of boot camps and HIIT workouts. My leisurely Australian coastal walks every day and newfound practice of prenatal yoga are keeping me centered.

Anna Kooiman op-ed photos

 (Kath McLean’s Bright Photography)

Prenatal yoga has helped me emotionally connect with my baby and also served me well for embracing all the changes in my body. Whether a short meditation, a few good stretches, or a full-on prenatal yoga group practice, it does a mind and body good. Pregnancy hormones are the real deal. I have found my practice brings me peace.

Now back to my cankles. I recently went to my OBGYN, concerned because I am currently holding a lot of fluid in my legs and feet. Jiggle jiggle! It started out a few weeks ago on the “not so bad” side.

I just swore off my typical fashionable tendencies, packed away ALL of my heels, and vowed to wear only athletic shoes and Birkenstocks until my baby is born. I even wore my casual “Birks” to a fancy wedding overlooking Sydney Harbor last weekend

But that was just the beginning stage. I am now at the point I can hardly squeeze my feet into my athletic shoes and practically need a shoe horn to wedge these puppies into my normally loose Birkenstocks. Not cute! By the end of the day I feel like a character from the film “Monsters, Inc.”

Anna Kooiman op-ed photos

 (Kath McLean’s Bright Photography)

The morning I booked in with the doctor, I did the press test right when I woke up. What's the press test? Well, I was pressing my swollen ankles for a few seconds to see what the skin would do.

What do you know, even after having had my feet elevated on a pillow all night, the skin would just dimple, and stay sunken in. Eek! I was worried it could be a sign of a dangerous condition called preeclampsia, so I booked an appointment.

Fortunately my doc says my blood pressure is still looking good and there's nothing to worry about. Unfortunately, it's just one of the joys a large portion of us pregnant women have to deal with during the late stages of the third trimester.

So what can I do about the fluid retention? Aside from drinking lots of water, keeping my feet up, and reducing salt intake, my doc says not a whole lot. One fun recommendation she gave is swimming in the ocean. The chilly water at Bondi Beach (where I live in Sydney, Australia) has been great for ridding my body of edema, even if it is short-lived and the swelling returns.

Another great tool in the box is something I learned in prenatal yoga. I have been doing a trick I learned in one of my classes at home. I lie on my back with my bum pushed up against a wall and keep my legs perpendicular to the floor. This helps the extra blood flow back where it's supposed to be, instead of in my mushy, marshmallowy ankles!

Anna Kooiman op-ed photos

 (Kath McLean’s Bright Photography)

Prenatal yoga is great for dealing with swelling, aches and pains, positive visualization for labor and delivery, and most importantly preparing our racing minds for the stresses of parenthood. As for the cankles – they are just par for the course!

Interview with my yoga teacher

Below you will find an interview I did with my favorite prenatal yoga instructor, Nadine Richardson.

Nadine is an expert in childbirth, pregnancy and prenatal yoga based in Sydney, Australia. She is the director of The Birthing Institute, and founder of the world’s only scientifically verified childbirth education program, She Births, which she created 10 years ago.

As an educator, doula, and prenatal yoga teacher, it is Nadine’s mission to take the fear out of childbirth – by helping women connect to and trust their bodies, and by equipping their partners to not only provide effective support but to be an active participant in the journey.

Anna Kooiman op-ed photos

 (Kath McLean’s Bright Photography)

ANNA: There is a lot of buzz around prenatal yoga. What are the benefits?

NADINE: The buzz is real. We have found that women who take She Births alongside doing regular She Births prenatal yoga have much greater success of natural birthing. Studies show that practicing yoga creates shorter labors, less complicated deliveries and less pain relief is used.

ANNA: If practiced under qualified instructors, is prenatal yoga safe in all three trimesters?

NADINE: Absolutely, although most people like to wait until they are past the 14 week mark. As an instructor one has to be very aware of who is in the room and be confident to manage these three trimesters with variations for each. There are not only three trimesters to think about but complications such as the position of your baby and the placenta or your blood pressure, not to mention sacral and pubic bone issues. So please make sure you tell your instructor and ask them to modify the classes for you.

ANNA: I have been told hot yoga is something I should avoid during pregnancy. Why is this?

NADINE: Absolutely, DO NOT go in that hot yoga room for a long time! Your body temperature is already higher with pregnancy and actually stays a little higher post birth for one to two years. Remember that during pregnancy, you can cool down through sweat and take benefit of air flow, but your baby cannot.

ANNA: A lot of expecting mums (including myself) experience back pain. How can yoga alleviate that? How do we know it is time to go see a chiropractor or other specialist?

NADINE: Yoga is great for alleviating and preventing back pain. The curvature in our lower back is getting more and more compressed and arched every day, with the weight of our babies. So many yoga poses and movements stretch out the back and also release the pelvic floor and buttocks, which liberates us from nerve compression and lower back pain.

Anna Kooiman op-ed photos

 (Kath McLean’s Bright Photography)

I recommend all of my women also see a chiropractor for manual adjustments throughout their pregnancy, even if there is no discomfort. The pelvis is changing so much and has a big job to do. It is the funnel for your baby to come through, plus nerve supply to the uterus. It is critical that it is in alignment for an easier birth.

ANNA: One of my favorite tricks for alleviating swelling in my feet and ankles is something I learned at your Bondi Beach yoga studio, Dharma Shala. You often have us lie on our backs with our legs perpendicular to the floor, our feet touching a wall. Does this have a name? How does this work?

NADINE: This is a modification of a half-shoulder stand, or viparita karani in Sanskrit. I created it for my pregnant women to use at the end of class. Most find it is pure bliss when you get the bolster in the right spot!

We can invert the body safely with this pose, that is without engaging our abdominal muscles to come up and down, as you would in a regular shoulder stand, and reap so many benefits. We take the pressure off our heart muscle because it simply doesn’t have to work so hard to get blood back up the body. Therefore, we experience a very deep relaxation and alleviate all anxiety.

It also helps take swelling out of our legs and ankles as you say, as well as from the pelvic region, so our babies can move deeper down and birth more easily. It even helps to speed up our digestive system and tonify (revitalize) all the other organs. You can see me teaching the pose and giving extra tips in the She Births Prenatal Yoga DVD.

ANNA: The same hormones, such as relaxin, that allow our bodies to stretch and make room for bub can also cause our muscles to become overstretched. What do we need to look out for when practicing prenatal yoga?

NADINE: Relaxin is essential for the ligaments in your pelvis because it allows for the expansion during birth. But it also works on your cervix to help it soften and ripen. We can unfortunately overstretch our muscles and ligaments while exercising because of the increased levels, even just by moving around our daily life without awareness.

If you already have soft ligaments – I call you a “floppy” as opposed to a “stiffy” – then you must be very aware of what you are doing in the stretches and also in asymmetrical movement. Even be careful and try to engage your core before stepping out of the car, one leg at a time. Even better is to turn first, and step out of the car or off your bed with BOTH legs on the ground. Tell your teacher if you are a “floppy” and they will be able to modify and also recommend a good physiotherapist to help with specific exercises.

Anna Kooiman op-ed photos

 (Kath McLean’s Bright Photography)

ANNA: How does prenatal yoga help participants like me connect with the babies growing inside our bellies?

NADINE: I think we all live in a crazy busy world and so rarely do we just stop and connect with our babies, or, to ourselves as mothers. Yoga is the place for this! I have heard many women over the years tell me that the only place they hear anything positive about birth or motherhood is at their prenatal yoga class. Crazy, but true! Birth and motherhood is the best thing in the whole world, but people are walking around and projecting so much negativity randomly onto others that it is becoming dangerous.

We have noticed that She Births babies are also really calm and I think this is because mums have spent time connecting with their babies and themselves before the birth. It makes the transition so much easier. And of course your baby shares the same bliss (or stress) chemistry that you do. So whatever is good for you, will also be good for your baby. Remember, you are already a mum while pregnant, you just haven’t held your baby in your arms yet.

ANNA: Why is it beneficial for new moms to be in the company of others going through similar body changes and emotional experiences?

NADINE: We are going through so many changes. Lots of the issues that arise are common and of course some are totally unique. Either way, we are vulnerable during this awesome rite of passage into motherhood and we need our sisters to help us through. We also had a village of women raising young children and sharing the journey. We create amazing Soul Mama Circles (mothers’ groups) online and face to face for our mums and bubs who are looking for a deeper support and connection. They are priceless.

ANNA: If my readers aren’t able to make it to a face to face class, do you think online videos are still a good option?

NADINE: We have had huge success with our online course and rave reviews too. You have to put the work in, and actually listen or practice the techniques, but it is so cost effective and fun, you can’t lose!

Anna Kooiman op-ed photos

 (Jolanta Opiola)

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Anna Kooiman moved to Sydney, Australia in Septemer of 2016 to be with her Aussie husband's family. She is a freelance host on several nationally broadcast Australian TV networks. Kooiman also launched a lifestyle, travel, and fitness website in December of 2016. Follow her on Twitter @annakooiman, Instagram @annakooiman, and Facebook @AnnaKooimanTV. Visit her website www.annakooiman.com.