Pregnancy – How to Exercise the Right Way
Forget the myths about exercise during pregnancy. Whilst this is obviously a time to be careful, if your doctor and midwife agree, exercise done the right way can bring many benefits: physical fitness and emotional well-being.
You find out you are pregnant and you are overcome with emotions – joy, fear, nerves, excitement. The next 9 months are going to be a period of time where the body encounters huge physical and psychological changes and challenges. Exercise is probably one of the last things on your mind, however there are lots of reasons why you should exercise throughout your pregnancy and post birth, and there a numerous benefits for you and the baby.
In this blog I will comment on exercise and pregnancy, and the answers to many common questions that I have received around these topics. Next month I will cover exercise post birth for all those mothers that have given birth – and fathers who are there to support and can help in the recovery process of their partners after labour. My university dissertation covered the benefits of exercise during pregnancy, I have 3 children myself, and have recently seen a couple of friends and family members increase their family numbers so it is a topic close to my heart.
Firstly I want to cover a few exercise myths that I commonly hear from pregnant women and advice given to pregnant women.
1) You can’t exercise when your pregnant
You definitely can and should exercise when you are pregnant. As long as you are careful, are encountering a straightforward pregnancy and adapt your exercise to your changing body it is perfectly safe and has a number of positives for you and your baby. The individuals who exercised regularly before conception should be able to maintain a similar level of fitness whilst exercising. Pregnancy is not the time, however, to set lofty physical goals or hold high expectations for personal records. Focus on maintenance and be ready to modify as pregnancy progresses.
2) You have to stick to low impact exercise
This is false. Whilst I wouldn’t recommend huge jumps from boxes you can run around and exercise pretty much as normal whilst you are pregnant. The level of your workout depends on your pre-pregnancy levels. I wouldn’t recommend starting any new high-impact activities or marathon training for example but there really is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ for exercise during pregnancy. Every individual is unique and will have different experiences. It’s a common misconception that women who rarely work out shouldn’t introduce physical activity once they become pregnant. It is safe to start exercising, provided your doctor or midwife doesn’t object. Start slowly and at a lower intensity, with activities like walking or prenatal yoga a good start.
3) You need to eat for two
Again a false myth. Most women know this is not the case, but they eat in excess anyway! The more sensibly you eat during pregnancy the less likely you are to be left with lots of excess weight when you have had your baby. You do need an increase (around 200 calories more) in the third trimester, but it should come from the healthy foods.
4) You can’t work the abdominals whilst you are pregnant
Again a false one but a slight grey area here which I will explain. You should not do sit up type exercises after trimester one of pregnancy as they put too much stress on your weakened surface abdominals. Think of it in a way that you should refrain from exercises that are ‘squashing’ the foetus. Planks are another one to be careful of, as they are a great exercise (particularly initially) but be careful at the end of a plank that you do not fall onto your stomach and instead take the weight on your knees. Additionally with the increased abdominal weight, you are adding extra stress to your lower back. It is however very important to keep your deep, core stomach muscles strong and exercise them regularly to give yourself any chance of having a flat stomach again when post birth, and also to protect the lower back from carrying too much load due to weaker abdominals.
Benefits of exercise in pregnancy
Many women seem to be unsure about whether or not it is safe to exercise during pregnancy and have found it hard to get clear advice. It is now widely accepted that not only is exercise safe during pregnancy, but also has a huge number of benefits.
Possible benefits include:
- A shorter labour, with less likelihood of complications
- Less likely to suffer from nausea and morning sickness
- Improved core strength and stability
- A stronger back and reduction in back pain
- Better posture
- Stronger pelvic floors
- Better circulation, less likely to suffer from varicose veins, swelling and high blood pressure
- Stronger bones
- Avoid excessive weight gain and easier to get back into shape after the birth
- More energy and self confidence: endorphins, the hormones that make us feel happy and improve self-esteem, surge during exercise
- Strengthen the muscles used in childbirth
- It will help you sleep
- Improved cardio-vascular fitness and muscle tone
- Decreases the likelihood of developing gestational diabetes by as much as 27%
After pregnancy you will retain a lot of these benefits, in addition to finding it easier to lose excess weight and tone up.
To summarise, exercise during pregnancy is not only beneficial for the mother, but almost a necessity. There are a huge number of health benefits and psychologically, particularly if you are used to exercising previously, you will feel good about yourself. If you begin to feel signs of distress, you should make alterations and definitely contact your doctor or midwife. Exercising whilst pregnant is not about increasing muscle or running longer distances. It’s about maintenance, fighting fatigue, and adapting to the changes taking place inside and out.
As previously stated, I will follow up this blog with one on exercising post birth next month. I look forward to answering any questions that any of you may have – get in touch with me.
Good luck with the training!