Admittedly, Pregnancy Fitness is a subject that leaves most of us a little confused and that many fitness experts shy away from. Not surprisingly really, as there are so many new do’s and don’ts, as well as risk factors involved.
Saying this, pregnancy is one of the most natural states of being for a woman and keeping fit and healthy throughout, is one of the best and most important things you can do for yourself and baby over the nine months you are carrying your little one.
As a fitness fanatic (I hesitated using that word, but I do like to work out at least four or five times a week and preach the benefits of it daily, so I guess I must be?) I was keen to keep as fit and healthy throughout my pregnancy as possible and I’m pretty pleased at the strength I still have and the amount I can still do!
The attitude to pregnancy fitness has thankfully changed somewhat over the years and it is more acceptable for women who are strong, fit and healthy to carry on doing what their bodies are used to doing during pregnancy, with a few modifications as they grow, which is exactly the approach I have taken in my pregnancy. My motto throughout has always been; listen to your body and do what feels right, stop when it feels too much. It’s worked well for me so far! Saying this (touch wood) I have had a pretty easy pregnancy without complications, which I know and appreciate doesn’t go for everyone.
So, if you’re pregnant and blooming (or just pregnant!) and keen to know how to keep fit and healthy in a safe, effective way for you and baby, then here is my guide to doing just that.
How can exercise help during pregnancy?
- Not only will exercise make you feel better both physically and mentally, but it will also help to ease aches and pains developed as your body changes.
- It’s said that women who work out during pregnancy lower the risk of premature birth by 40%.
- Exercising regularly will help keep weight gain under control, so you have less to lose after birth.
- Being fitter will help towards an easier labour and some exercises can actually encourage the baby into the correct position ready for birth.
- Exercising during pregnancy will speed up post-delivery recovery. The fitter and stronger you are during pregnancy the quicker your body will recover after birth.
Need any more reasons?
Can it risk miscarriage?
No. You’ll be glad to know that exercise cannot be responsible for miscarriage. Unfortunately if miscarriage is going to happen, it will happen, its nature’s way of telly you that somethings not right with the pregnancy itself. That’s no to say that you don’t have to be sensible when exercising. Choose your fitness carefully; Scuba diving, horse riding, ball sports ect or anything where you risk falling or knocking yourself should most definitely be avoided.
So what are the do's and don'ts?
- Slow down As frustrating as it may be if you too are a fitness fanatic, pregnancy is not a time to push and over exert yourself. Think of it more about maintaining some level of fitness and tone, preventing excessive weight gain and helping aches and pains as well as stress relief.
- Cut the Curl up There are certain exercises that you should avoid completely during pregnancy such as any ‘curl up’ kind of action and intense abdominal work. The reason for this is something called diastasis (abdominal separation). During pregnancy the transverses abdominals (commonly known as the six pack) separates to allow room for the baby to grow. If you continue to do ‘curl ups’ you risk causing permeant damage to these muscles and plus if your abdominal muscles are too strong you’re also setting yourself up for a very difficult birth! Pregnancy is a time to let go a little and learn to release these muscles. Overworking the abdominals can also put a lot of pressure on the pelvic floor, which definitely wants to be avoided. You can however do some mild core work (such as a half plank on your knees) this will help strengthen the spine which supports you as you get bigger.
- Avoid lying on your back You should avoid lying on your back from the second trimester onwards, as the baby puts pressure a major vein called the Vena Cava which may reduce blood flow to your both you and baby. There are modifications that can be made for certain exercises, such as laying the upper part of the body on raised cushions to release the pressure.
- Reduce weights As previously mentioned, pregnancy is not a time to push yourself to your limits, so weights should be used with caution. Again this comes back to what you were previously used to pre-pregnancy, but if you are just starting out then you should definitely stick to lighter weights. During pregnancy the body releases a hormone called Relaxin, which allows muscles, joints and ligaments to relax in order to prepare you for birth. This however means that you are more prone to injury as your skeletal frame is less supported and by using too heavy weights it can increase the risk of injury, especially if you are performing exercises incorrectly.
- Avoid High Impact Again, because of the pregnancy hormone that is released, your body is at more risk of injury, which can be caused with less controlled movements that may occur in high impact training. You may be fine to do this in the first trimester, but as you get heavier, your body will probably let you know it’s too much anyway!
- Be correct with technique In Pilates we always put a strong emphasis on posture, alignment and technique, as making sure we perform exercises correctly means that we are getting the most out of the exercise and not causing unnecessary tension, strains and injury. In pregnancy, it’s even more important than ever that you pay attention to these factors, due to the pregnancy hormone I keep harping on about! Always move in a controlled manner rather than rushing through an exercise and if something hurts (apart from the natural burn you should feel from exercising) then you are probably doing it wrong!
WHAT KIND OF EXERCISE IS RECOMMENDED DURING PREGNANCY?
If you are a regular gym goer, Pilates enthusiast, runner, or whatever your chosen fitness, then my advice is to carry on doing what your body is used to with a few modifications where necessary. Bear in mind though, that not all trainers are qualified in pregnancy fitness and may not know what you should and shouldn’t be doing. So, it’s important that you only carry on if you are strong and fit to start with and you have sought advice on how to modify your chosen exercise throughout your pregnancy. If, however you are less confident in what you are doing or new to exercise, then you should definitely seek out a specialised prenatal class. Prenatal Yoga and Pilates are both gentle and relaxing and great for beginners.
Should I go to a specialised pregnancy class?
As explained above, yes if you are a beginner or less experienced. However, for someone who is fairly fit, you may find prenatal classes very frustrating and pretty slow! The problem with pregnancy group classes is that they have to cater for everyone and rightly so, have to be very cautious with what exercises they teach. Even when scouring the internet for YouTube prenatal classes or other online prenatal fitness, you will find that that most prenatal exercise is very slow and cautious. As I say these classes are fantastic for relaxation, gentle toning and perfect for beginners, less experienced women and those with any pregnancy complications. But if you are stronger and fitter, then my advice would be to carry one with what you are doing, making the correct modifications along the way. Learn to listen to your body and do what feels right for you. I am a firm advocate of exercising safely, but not wrapping yourself up in cotton wool either. Pregnancy is not an illness after all and fitness during the next nine months should make you exude the pregnancy glow even more so!