In the dance world of today, pregnancy is no longer the secret that a dancer has to hide from the boss, nor is it a potential career-ender. For a top dancer, working on their craft and perfect physique continually is a priority and weighs heavily on her mind at the crucial time of a life event as big as having a baby. So the questions that will always remain are: How hard is it for me a new mother to return to my career as a professional dancer? When is the best time and how should I prepare for this transition?
Getting back to your dance routine after pregnancy
If you are a dancer and have recently delivered a baby, you may be wondering when and how you can return to the studio or the theater. In earlier times, longer postpartum recoveries deterred dancers from returning to previous roles, and even if they did, it was after a substantial period.
Now, because most dancers tend to be in great shape before becoming pregnant and continue to dance during pregnancy, their recovery times tend to be a lot shorter. While some practitioners suggest a waiting period of six weeks before doing any exercise at all, others are of the opinion that new mothers can start as soon as they give birth if they are up to it.
Following are the top six things to consider when returning to a dance career after delivering a baby:
During pregnancy, pelvic joints and ligaments are relaxed because of a hormone called relaxin and give the body a greater range of motion to deliver a baby. After delivery, the production of relaxin decreases and those ligaments tighten up. But worry not your flexibility will slowly return by stretching; here are some quick tips for stretching postpartum -
- Start your stretches slowly and hold them steady
- Never stretch to the point of pain, slowly build your stamina
- Breathe deeply through each stretch
Post Pregnancy Fitness For The Dancer
A dancer who has had a rough delivery or a c section may need a more extended healing period. Even if the baby weight falls off quickly, your core strength will take time to come back to pre-baby days. As you return to your art, continue to listen to your body, just as you used to do before the baby. Even if you feel like it, don't jump back into the same intensity you were doing before your baby was born (not until your body has fully recovered)
- Consult a woman's physiotherapist to get a professional medical view on the state of your pelvic floor and the recommended exercises
- Begin light walking to get moving, nothing more should be undertaken for at least eight weeks (apart from early postnatal abdominal bracing, gentle back stretches and pelvic floor exercises)
- Once you decide to get back into a more rigorous fitness plan, initiate a detailed discussion with your fitness/gym instructor what modification in the exercise plan is necessary for women who have just delivered. A knowledgeable instructor will recommend the right exercises and if he doesn't, then seek another trainer.
- Sign up for the right level of core strength exercises in classes such as Pilates and yoga
- Check your abdominal separation monthly (ask your woman's Physio to show you how) to ensure the exercise you are doing isn't causing the gap to increase.
- Cut out the strain: If you are straining, you are probably damaging or stressing something. Post delivery, your body doesn't need more stress!
- Get strong in your whole body - If you find that an area is weak, e.g., pelvic floor or abdominal muscles, don't ramp up the workout until everything is stronger.
- Core first: The workout you can hardly see is usually the most beneficial. Learn the steps involved in progressing your postnatal core strength and control and then add some of the tests in to see how well you are going.
Post Pregnancy Workout
The female body is incredible and resilient, but healing and strengthening take time. After a baby, it's time for patience and hard work, and above all patience, yes, I said it again. If there were two pregnancies very closely spaced, the muscles would have been held in a lengthened position for long.
- Be extra cautious - Women do have to be very careful about the type and intensity of abdominal exercises that they do after having children due to the changes in the fascia of the abdominal wall and pelvis. Sometimes during pregnancy, there is a separation of the Linea Alba, the central line between the Rectus Abdominis muscles. If you start back with normal crunches before the fascia has had a chance to rejoin, then you can risk increasing the separation rather than decreasing it.
- Engage the core - Any core training must be initially focused correctly; engaging the deep abdominals, pelvic floor, and deep back muscles, and building endurance in daily activities are the essentials. Women may be recommended to utilize a visual/real-time ultrasound session to make sure that they are in fact activating the right muscles. Once these muscles are working well, then you can move onto a progressive program of core stability.
- Adopt and adapt - I found that the best way to get into shape for ballet was very slow, basic ballet classes, and gradually increasing the frequency and level of the classes. Consider doing Pilates and Yoga to help work on your core and flexibility as Pilates work most of the same muscles as ballet, and you can start off easy (modify the moves) and then slowly bring up the level of intensity.
- Consider your body's fitness as a whole – Exercises the weakest areas so your whole body can withstand the rigors of your chosen dance form. For example, if you are a ballet dancer, start with the dance-friendly cross-training for a few weeks and practice the basic barre at home. When you are comfortable with that, take technique classes that are a level or two below where you left off and gradually increase the difficulty level of your class.
- A strategic re-entry - When you've been out of dance for a year or more, a strategic re-entry is more vital than ever. After a long break, your muscles remember to push hard, but you don't have the flexibility, the strength or the conditioning to do that. Be wary of getting carried away.
Consider which audition you want to take up and work steadily towards it, rather than preparing for all that may come your way.
Breastfeeding and Dance
Many dancers take only a few months to return to work and consequently opt to continue nursing their babies. When you are nursing, be aware that your breasts are likely to be fuller than usual and that you may need extra support, like a support bra underneath your leotard with nursing pads inserted to absorb any leakage.
According to studies, vigorous dancing has no negative impact on milk supply, and there is no change in nutrient composition. But there may be an increase in the lactic acid build-up, which by the way poses no known harmful effects on the baby. However, it does cause a change in taste, and if your baby refuses to nurse because of it, you can nurse right before a dance session.
All nursing mothers who return to their dance career will need extra hydration to meet the demands of both breast milk production and fluid lost through sweat.
A Nutrition Rich Diet Post Pregnancy
Dancers need to consume diets adequate in calories to support the demands placed on the body, and this is especially vital when you are a new mother. A good diet can make recovery time faster and keep stress levels low while upping your energy and stamina.
Drink as much water as possible. Include coconut water, unsweetened juice and no more than 2 cups of tea or coffee. A drink to which an oral rehydration powder has been mixed makes for a great energy booster during the hotter months.
- Opt for fresh! Given a choice between two foods, always try to opt for the cleaner, less processed of the two. Your body will appreciate it, and so will your taste buds
- All things in moderation: you are a new mother and the added stress of managing multiple priorities and sleepless nights could leave you craving for not so healthy snacks. Give in to them occasionally, and in moderation, so you find yourself evenly balanced.
- Opt for foods with a higher water content - be mindful and consume fruits, vegetables, broth-based soups, oatmeal, and beans which are all great snacks and meals to increase your water intake.
- Food choices affect the nutrients in breast milk - Eating different vegetables will impact the flavor of breast milk, and the good news is that it may create a taste for the healthy food in babies later on in life. If your baby seems to be getting affected by dairy, get calcium from diverse sources like fortified plant-based milk like almond, soy, and flax milk. Leafy greens, broccoli, sesame seeds, beans, and tofu are good sources of calcium and other essential nutrients.
- Preparation is key - Stock your fridge with washed fruit and chopped veggies/greens, pre-cooked beans/lentils, pre-cooked containers of rice and quinoa. Store single serve portions in small containers that are perfect for a meal on the go.
- A dancer’s diet should be derived mostly from slow energy releasing ‘complex carbohydrates’. These include wholemeal and wholegrain bread, brown rice, wholemeal pasta, wholegrain breakfast cereals, starchy vegetables (for example potatoes), beans, or pulses.
Breakfast - Low-sugar granola with hazelnut milk, fruits like grapefruit, black coffee sweetened with honey, Green tea, wholemeal scones, bread, muffins, or crumpets
Morning snack -A handful of blueberries, banana or an oat biscuit, apple oat bites, date rolls and chia seed pudding are all great choices to take to the studio
Lunch -Eggs, spinach, and soda bread; or a mixed salad with tuna or sardines, soup, rice cakes with peanut butter, tortilla rolls with veggies, carrot and cucumber sticks, and hummus.
Afternoon snack -Corn cakes with nut butter or honey, a fruit, half a sandwich
Dinner –should be a nourishing post-exercise refuel that is hearty and protein-based – grilled or baked meat or fish with brown rice. Lots of vegetables and lentil soup make for good choices
Dessert -Goat's milk yogurt with mixed nuts, dark chocolate (80% and above), dates, raisins and figs, Greek yogurt with berries
The Deeper Impact Of Pregnancy and Tips to deal with them
- Know that after having a baby the chemistry in the body changes. It will be physically hard, but for the passionate dancer who comes back on track, the sense of joy of accomplishment is unrivaled. A dancer's work instrument is her body. With larger breasts, and a still distended stomach could be potentially disabling - making it difficult to lift or stretch limbs, affecting your balance and strength and preventing getting into costumes.
- Expect the practice process to be a lot more productive now, as you may have no time for talking. Simply dancing, improving and making it work over shorter periods of time while running home to spend precious time with your baby may be the new norm. Accept it; you are no less dedicated to your art because of your changed priorities.
- For some, the loss of control can be traumatic; loss of control over her own body and loss of control over the strict, disciplined schedule she has adapted to for possibly decades, and loss of control over a new born’s schedule. Be patient and seek support from a mentor and peers who are or have been in similar situation.
- Dancers also have to continually deal with the fact that their art form is a highly competitive profession and that their title and roles may not be available when they decide to get back to work. However, it is useless to worry and be anxious about what will happen in the future; use the precious maternity leave or what you can spare from it to retrain your body, and you may go in stronger with improved dancing ability. There are a wide variety of roles in the dance field, from a choreographer to a dance director, from a teacher to a mentor. Explore one or all.
- Practicing a good self-care routine, including caring for your face and skin helps us dancers get back on our feet faster while making us feel good about ourselves to Adopt a skincare routine, perhaps a new one even, that will give combat signs of aging, refresh the skin after years of heavy stage makeup and treat signs of pigmentation that is often common to see in pregnant women or new mothers.
There is a wealth of information on what to expect and tips to combat challenges and deal with the post-pregnancy transition to work for dancers as well as all new mothers. But there will be days and weeks when we as new mothers, will face a lot of emotional upheavals. It is never easy. But by accepting the new situation with its challenges and joys, and taking it one day at a time and listening to your heart at every juncture, this transition from a new mother to a seasoned dance professional returning to the studio can be made. In addition, seek the trusted counsel of a mentor or a friend who has been there and soon you will start to find the perfect balance between both your passions.