Whether you are a seasoned gym-goer or a fitness novice, pregnancy throws up all sorts of question marks, especially when it comes to what’s safe to do. Your role as a mother started the moment you became pregnant and there are two of you to look after now.
Here are 10 pointers to guide you through the safe pregnancy exercise minefield:
#1 – be your own guide
We all come to our pregnancies with our own levels of fitness so be guided by yourself rather than looking at what others are, or are not doing. Join a specialised pregnancy class run by a qualified instructor and check with your GP, Midwife or Health Care Professional that they are happy for you to exercise. Always inform your instructor of any changes to your body during your pregnancy so they can make the right adaptations for you.
#2 – keep exercise intensity moderate
Keep your exercise intensity moderate in pregnancy so that your baby does not overheat and you don’t put any unnecessary strains on your body. Following on from point 1, remember that moderate for you is not necessarily the same as for someone else. A serious athlete’s “moderate” will be somebody else’s “high intensity”. You should not be overly sweating, going for the burn, pushing your flexibility or undesirably raising your heart rate. You should be able to carry out a conversation whilst exercising and if you can’t you have gone beyond moderate. Ask your exercise instructor on what’s best for you.
#3 – the stop-start rule
The stop-start rule: the rule of thumb when it comes to safe pregnancy exercise is that you can continue with your current pre-pregnancy routine as long as you are a low risk mum with a low risk pregnancy. So if you are a runner, ran regularly before falling pregnant and have carried on continuously throughout pregnancy, then it is safe to keep going with some adjustments during each changing trimester. You should be well and healthy; have no medical or pregnancy contraindications; that your health care professionals are happy for you to continue; that you keep your exercise routine moderate and don’t overheat; and that you listen to your body.
#4 – pregnancy is not the time to start new forms of fitness
If you were previously a non-exerciser and now wish to get physically active in pregnancy, then take up exercise that is tailored for pregnancy and devised by a pregnancy-fitness professional. Some new mums decide to suddenly take up Yoga because they are pregnant but please be advised that you should only go to someone who is suitably qualified.
#5 – Exceptions to #4
Walking is a functional part of everyday life and is, therefore, the perfect means of building fitness into your mum-to-be life if you are new to exercise. Make sure you wear good shoes to minimise shock absorption and give you the support you need.
Swimming is low impact, supports the body and keeps you cool – given these factors you can safely take up swimming as a new form of fitness in pregnancy. However, as your bump increase in the second trimester the crawl and backstroke are better styles of swimming for your lower back and pelvis. Invest in some good goggles so you can swim putting your head in the water to help your spine stay aligned.
#6 – a cautionary word about competitive sports
Competitive sports are not recommended beyond the first trimester of pregnancy. The very nature of anything competitive is that we are out to win… at all costs. This includes impact racquet sports as it is very easy to over reach and get carried away. This makes us more vulnerable to injury especially in pregnancy. Sports such as martial arts and horse riding can put your body at risk of trauma to the abdomen so they should be modified and adapted as soon as you know you are pregnant.
#7 – no-one needs a six-pack!
You may have seen photos on social media of women displaying a six-pack whilst heavily pregnant. Working the six-pack abdominal muscles (this is the top layer of muscle in the tummy area) is not recommended after the first trimester. Why? Because the abdominals need to stretch and lengthen to accommodate your growing baby. Working the six-pack merely makes it difficult for your body for your baby to get in a good position ready for birth which of course can make birth harder for you too. So, after the second trimester, just focus on your pelvic floor muscles until the third trimester when you can’t connect with them anymore. Know that you body has an amazing capacity for re-gaining its strength and under the right guidance will do so again after your baby has been born. So for now just let that baby bump show.
#8 – but that doesn’t mean you can forget your abdominals….
Following on from point #7: this does not mean that you can sit back and completely ignore the abdominals for 9 months. On the contrary, working the very deepest layer of abdominals – the muscles that stabilise your spine and protect your back – in a manner that is designed specifically for pregnancy will be positively beneficial, proofing you against lower back pain and helping you to recover in the abdominal area more quickly once you baby is born. How do I do this? Go to a specialised exercise instructor of course! Pilates is excellent to maintain this kind of stability.
#9 – keep talking to your doctors about exercise
Because your body is constantly changing throughout pregnancy, you need to ensure that your health care professionals are still happy for you to participate in exercise. Just because they were happy for you to do so at 12 weeks does not necessarily mean that they are still happy for you to exercise 10 weeks later. So ask the question regularly and always update your exercise instructor
#10 – make sure your exercise instructor is fully qualified in pregnancy and postnatal fitness
If you are participating in exercise classes or have personal training, you should make sure that the person looking after your fitness is fully qualified in pregnancy and postnatal fitness. Never be embarrassed to ask the question. Are you a Level 3 instructor who has done a specialised pregnancy and postnatal qualification?
Authors: Dr, J Helcke, R. Rafiefar Dip. Ed, Dip. BE
For more information go to:
NHS Exercise Guidelines (https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pregnancy-exercise/)
Fit and safe to exercise guidelines (http://pogp.csp.org.uk/publications/fit-safe-exercise-childbearing-year )
Fit for pregnancy (http://pogp.csp.org.uk/publications/fit-pregnancy)