Exercise and Pregnancy
Announcing your pregnancy seems to give everyone else the license to make personal comments about the shape of your body.
People who would usually comment on the weather can now announce they had noticed the shape of your bottom changing or your clothes getting tighter. While some of us might enjoy basking in compliments of 'glowing beauty’ and ‘pictures of health’, for the rest of us it is a time of red-faced self-consciousness as our body expands out of our control.
The pressures on pregnant women to work, look after the kids and enjoy a social life while maintaining an aura of blissful health are stronger than ever.
Exercise is a really good way to build confidence about your body during pregnancy, and remaining active has now been medically-proven to have benefits for your baby, delivery and post natal recovery.
In the past, doctors and midwives encouraged women to rest for during pregnancy for fear of disturbing the baby and stressing the mother. Extensive research has now completely changed our advice and has highlighted the numerous health benefits of exercising during pregnancy. Studies have shown that active women have less minor ailments such as tiredness, varicose veins and swelling.
Exercise can help your mental wellbeing by reducing stress, insomnia and depression. It has been shown that you can reduce your risk of delivery complications and there is less chance of your baby becoming distressed during this time. There is evidence that weight-bearing exercise can reduce the length of your labour, and anyone who has delivered a baby before will know that it is called ‘labour’ for a reason!
Whichever end of the spectrum you fall, from ‘couch potato’ to ‘gym bunny’, here is some advice about sensible exercise for your pregnancy.
‘I would like to start exercising’
Being pregnant may be the time that you start to concentrate more on your health than you have done in the past. As well as maintaining a healthy diet, an exercise program is also a great idea.
Start with 15 minutes of continuous exercise three times each week, including a warm-up or cool-down period. There is no recommendation as to the best form of exercise but water exercise such as ‘aquanatal’ classes are very popular and may be offered at your local swimming pool. Exercising in a pool can be more comfortable because the water can support the extra weight of your tummy and joining a class can also be sociable.
There are a range of pregnancy exercise videos available if you prefer the privacy of your own living room. Less formal activities could include a brisk walk to the shops or to pick the children up from school. Look for something you enjoy and can timetable into your life so you’re more likely to keep it up as your pregnancy progresses. After a few weeks, gradually increase your exercise time to 30 minute sessions four times each week and then aim for a session each day.
‘I exercised moderately before I was pregnant’
If you are someone who has kept fit prior to pregnancy then you are probably concerned about losing all your hard-earned strength and cardiovascular fitness.
Don’t worry, even during pregnancy you can aim to maintain a good fitness level but you should not try to reach your peak fitness. Aerobics and jogging are now considered safe and you can continue them if you were doing them before. Aim for 45 minutes each day. Yoga and Pilates are popular exercise classes in pregnancy as they build strength and flexibility. Avoid lying flat on your back from four months of pregnancy as the weight of the womb can reduce the blood supply feeding your baby.
Remember that your body is changing shape and you may be more prone to injury. An increase in the hormone Progesterone will make your joints more lax and therefore be careful with weight bearing exercises, you may require supervision. If you are one of the many women who suffer with pelvic joint pain then you may benefit from a pelvic support belt.
Most people notice they become breathless more easily. Likewise, increased blood flow to your skin (which helps you cool down) is diverted from your brain, so you may feel dizzy or faint. These are the normal changes to your body in pregnancy. Be sensible, keep well hydrated and drink water even if you are not thirsty at the time. Avoid overheating by exercising in a cool room or near a fan. Eat regular snacks to prevent your sugar levels falling which may also make you feel tired or dizzy.
‘I exercised regularly to a high level of fitness’
Your exercises should be supervised by a trainer with specialist knowledge about exercise for pregnant women. Particular attention should be paid to proper hydration, extra nutritional requirements and the dangers of overheating. If you are exercising to a competitive level you should be aware that your performance will reduce during pregnancy.
Your exercise plan should consider the level of fitness you have at the moment, your age and your general health in pregnancy. It is worth telling your midwife or doctor about the amount of exercise you plan to do.
If you suffer from any illness you should certainly consult your doctor or midwife prior to starting an exercise regimen. Common pregnancy problems such as diabetes require particular attention to regular meal times and blood sugar measurements however this should not put you off as exercise can improve your sugar control.
Certain sports are not recommended in pregnancy. Your baby is in danger if you go scuba diving and there should be particular caution if there is a risk of loss of balance or trauma in sports such as horse riding, skiing, hockey or cycling. Any accident or trauma during exercise requires some form of medical help and you should seek advice from your doctor for any knock to your tummy. You should stop exercising if there is any concern about your pregnancy such as bleeding or pain or you are feeling unwell.
Exercising after your baby is born
This may be difficult to fit in to your new life and sleepless nights may make you less motivated, but remember there are numerous benefits.
Postnatal exercise can increase your energy levels, help you lose weight more quickly and reduce your chances of facing 'baby blues' or more seriously, postnatal depression.
Moderate exercise while breast feeding will not affect your breast milk quantity or quality. Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles will reduce the risk of future bladder problems. Within a week of an uncomplicated delivery you can start pelvic floor exercises, stretching and walking. If you had a Caesarean section you should consult your doctor, usually at a six week check, before starting exercises but your new baby will probably already be keeping you on the move.
As with most advice in pregnancy you need ‘a little of everything but all in moderation’, so enjoy the chance to be active during and after your pregnancy for you and your baby’s wellbeing. Whatever your fitness level before pregnancy, it is a great time to get motivated and gain confidence for motherhood. Good Luck!