Meeting the Wellness Needs of Mothers
How to address the physical, cognitive and emotional challenges of moms who come to you for help.
As a fitness or wellness professional, you are dedicated to making a difference on this planet. Training clients who are mothers is one of the most life-affirming roles you can have, because your influence and guidance may have a multigenerational impact.
Many women enter motherhood with trepidation, uncertainty, and dissatisfaction with their physiques. When you work with a mom, you’re training not just her body (the physical) but also her cognitive and emotional health and well-being. Instead of being intimidated by this, see the potential impact and get excited! When a mother moves through her world with happiness, health and confidence, she then raises happy, healthy and confident children. Children are like little sponges and want to do everything their moms do. Help your client understand this and she will make powerful decisions. Here are a few tips to guide you.
During pregnancy, a woman’s body changes more in 9 months than a man’s will in his entire lifetime. A new mother will present with muscular imbalances, skeletal shifts and postural dysfunctions that need to be addressed. Although she is still in a “healing state” from pregnancy, labor and delivery, she is working around the clock to care for her growing baby. She is probably also contending with muscle fatigue and pain from being out of alignment in her new role as mom.
Much of your focus will be on returning her to neutral. Motherhood constantly pulls women forward with ever-increasing load (the baby). Emphasizing a posterior pull in your strength training programming versus an anterior push will open up your client’s body instead of further closing it down. Think about what a baby’s mother does day in and day out: holding/carrying baby, feeding baby (either breast or bottle), pushing a stroller, changing numerous diapers, placing baby in the crib, putting baby in the car seat, securing the car seat, etc. All of these actions pull her body forward; it’s your job to help her reverse that.
Core strength will also be a huge focus, as your client is now less efficient at contracting core muscles, owing to the effects of pregnancy. A strong center will give her distal freedom from injury as she performs the physical tasks of motherhood. When her body feels good and she is taking care of herself, she will have the strength and confidence to care for her children.
Moms question themselves often. Your client may be telling herself many things:
- “I should know what I’m doing.”
- “I should have a clean house if I’m a stay-at-home mom.”
- “I should have a child who doesn’t throw a fit at the grocery store.”
- “I should be able to get out of the house with my child and not have spit-up on my shirt.”
- “I should be able to run or jump without peeing myself a little.”
- “I should have my pre-pregnancy body back by now.”
One of the best pieces of advice you can give her is this: “Stop ‘shoulding’ on yourself!”
Help her understand that a little self-directed grace goes a long way. When she’s hard on herself, she is limiting her potential and mirroring a pattern for her children. Ask her if she would want her children to be so hard on themselves. If not, why would she treat herself that way? Encourage her to approach her recovery with patience and persistence.
The cognitive and emotional aspects of motherhood often get blended into an overall state of being. Constant self-questioning may lead to feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. Your client may find herself “hiding” behind her children and not allowing herself to be seen in the world. It’s very easy to lose oneself in motherhood, and it feels like a noble thing to do—placing the children’s needs above everything else (including one’s own well-being). After all, your client may tell herself, when she feels like a shell of the person she used to be, why not let the children have the spotlight while she stays in the wings?
But how does that serve her children? A mother needs emotional strength. Boost her confidence and value just as you build up her muscles, and watch her blossom! Ask questions and then truly listen. You don’t always need to have answers. Sometimes there is greater power in genuinely asking a caring question and then holding space for the client to be heard. Quite often a sincere “How are you?” can shift her day.
The impact you can have on a mother’s health is profound! Your client has undergone a lot of stress, in body and soul, and you can help restore her to strength and happiness. Her children are watching her, no matter how much she cares—or doesn’t care—for herself. Imagine the possibility for the children of our world if they were all raised by strong, confident, healthy moms. I see generations of change, and you can be a catalyst for that change.
Farel B. Hruska is the national fitness director for FIT4MOM, and an author and international fitness presenter. Hruska trains and supports thousands of instructors across the country. She has three daughters and lives in San Diego.