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.
Here are 10 things 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.
#2 – keep exercise intensity moderate
Keep your exercise intensity moderate in pregnancy so that your baby does not overheat. 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”. Define your own version of “moderate”.
#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 pre-pregnancy routine (certain caveats permitting) just so long as it has been uninterrupted. 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. The caveats? That you are well and healthy; that you have no medical contraindications; that your health care professionals are happy for you to continue; that you keep the running moderate and don’t overheat; that you listen to your body and if your body tells you to stop running then you do as you are told!
#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, the take up exercise that is tailored for pregnancy and devised by a pregnancy-fitness expert.
#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.
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.
#6 – a cautionary word about competitive sports
Competitive sports are not recommended beyond trimester 1 of pregnancy. The very nature of anything competitive is that we are out to win… at all costs. This makes us more vulnerable to injury especially in pregnancy. I often get asked if this advice also includes tennis. If you feel you are able to simply hit back and forth and resist the temptation of hitting back a ball that’s out of reach, then perhaps it is OK for you to carry on. But to stay on the safe side I recommend switching to a non-competitive form of fitness in pregnancy.
#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 to do her necessary stretching.
#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. Think pregnancy-specific Pilates and pregnancy-tailored core stability work.
#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.
#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. You can find fully qualified instructors across the UK via the Guild of Pregnancy and Postnatal Exercise Instructors. You’ll find me there too – I’m the co-chair of this not-for-profit organisation!
Dr Joanna Helcke – Co-Chair, The Guild of Pregnancy and Postnatal Exercise Instructors