It wasn’t too long ago that women were advised to stop exercising right from the moment their pregnancy was confirmed. General thinking reasoned that exercise during pregnancy had a negative impact on the growth of the baby. Thankfully, times have changed.
Well-respected professional associations, such as the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in the UK and The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in the US, now recommend that pregnant women continue or safely initiate participation in aerobic and strength training on most days of the week as long as there is no history of:
- significant heart disease
- restrictive lung disease
- incompetent cervix/cerclage
- persistent second and third trimester bleeding
- low-lying placenta (placenta praevia) after 26 weeks’ gestation
- premature labour during current pregnancy
- ruptured membranes
- pregnancy-induced hypertension
Physically, exercise can help increase muscle tone, strength and endurance, and help you maintain a healthy weight. Psychologically, it can enhance your mood, reduce stress and anxiety and generally make you feel better about yourself. And we can all do with a bit of this, especially when dealing with the ups and downs of pregnancy.
On top of the physical and psychological benefits, research shows that initiating or maintaining a healthy exercise regime can even help prevent or treat gestational diabetes. Thinking forward to the birth, someone in good physical shape is more likely to be able to cope better with the ebbs and flows of labour, both from an endurance and a mental strength viewpoint – as you train your body, you also train your mind. Post-natally, you will also be more likely to exercise if you had a routine going before birth than if you have to start from scratch.
Gently does it
But do all of these benefits mean you should put yourself on a hard-core training regime? Certainly not. In fact, the goal is to maintain a healthy level of fitness, not to work towards reaching your fitness peak or training towards participation in an athletic competition. If you were a gym bunny before getting pregnant, you should be able to continue your regime as long as you get the OK from your healthcare provider.
If you have never exercised before, it’s not too late to start, as long as you clear it with your healthcare provider and take it gently initially. Brisk walking, for example, is a perfect cardiovascular exercise for beginners. Choose exercises that cause minimal risk of loss of balance and foetal trauma – downhill skiing and rugby are not recommended! Instead, walking, jogging, using the cross trainer and swimming are great aerobic exercises. Try Pilates to strengthen your core muscles, including the pelvis, and yoga to focus on breathing, relaxation and flexibility. But from 18 weeks onwards, avoid exercising whilst flat on your back as it may cause you to feel dizzy and/or sick.
To strike a nice balance between aerobic exercise and strength training, you could consider working with a trainer who specialises in pre-natal exercise. This can help with motivation, too, on the days when you are feeling just that little bit more tired.
Remember to drink plenty of water, don’t overexert yourself, and try to have fun.