It’s the New Year and traditionally a time when thoughts turn to exercising. After the excesses of Christmas, January brings a fresh start and gyms see record numbers of new starters, the pavements are packed with joggers seeing through their New Year’s resolutions (for the time being, at least), and there’s barely room to move in your local keep fit class. But, what if you’re pregnant? Can you keep up an existing exercise regime or take up a new one? Or do you put fitness on hold for the next nine months?
Sadly, you can’t use pregnancy as an excuse to put your feet up for the foreseeable future! It’s still as important as ever to keep yourself fit and active – in fact, in many ways it’s even more so. Staying fit, healthy and strong can help you to feel better during pregnancy and deal with the extra demands that pregnancy places on your body. It can also help you to cope with labour and to get back into shape after birth. Regular, gentle exercise will help both your body and your mind to feel better.
Having said that exercise is good for you during pregnancy, it’s not the time to suddenly take up anything new and strenuous. If you’re used to exercising, that’s great – but if you’ve not done anything much for a long while then don’t suddenly start marathon training! Your body’s already working harder than usual so putting additional new demands on it wouldn’t be a good idea. Keep up your usual level of daily activity – whether that may be running, yoga, swimming, dancing, walking, Zumba or anything else – for as long as you feel comfortable to do so. If you do want to start something new that’s not much more strenuous than your body’s used to that’s fine, but just make your instructor/trainer aware that you’re pregnant (and what stage you’re at) and start with short 15 minute sessions at first, gradually building as and when you feel comfortable. The best thing you can do is listen to your body – if you need to slow down or take a break, then do. Even gentle exercise is good for you, so don’t feel you have to get really red-faced and sweaty for it to be doing you good! It’s best not to exercise for longer than around 45 minutes at once when pregnant and don’t raise your heartrate too far. If you can’t hold a conversation then you’re perhaps overdoing it a little. Also, make sure you drink plenty of water to keep hydrated.
There are a few exercises or sports that aren’t a good idea during pregnancy – these include contact sports where there’s a risk of your bump being hit which could cause injury to your baby (football, hockey, rugby, martial arts) or sports with a risk of falling (horse riding, skiing, climbing). Exercising at altitudes over 2500 metres should be avoided as, if you’re body’s not accustomed to those altitudes, there’s a risk that the oxygen supply to baby could be reduced. Likewise, scuba diving’s not safe during pregnancy as baby has no protection against decompression sickness.
Any exercise routine that involves lying flat on your back should be avoided, especially after 16 weeks, as it can cause low blood pressure and dizziness – baby can press on your main blood vessel, restricting blood flow to your heart.
Although you can enjoy most sport and exercise during pregnancy (sometimes with some moderations), there are a few that are particularly good – especially if you haven’t worked out for a while. Swimming is great, as the water supports the weight of your bump so it doesn’t put extra strain on joints and ligaments. Many local leisure centres run aquanatal classes, so it’s a nice way to meet other mums-to-be too! Walking is another good, free, easy, low-impact form of exercise that can be easily built into your day. Set whatever pace you feel comfortable at and enjoy the fresh air!
Pilates and Yoga are also popular exercises during pregnancy, and they can help to strengthen your body in preparation for birth – as well as helping your body to recover afterwards. There are many classes available as well as DVDs or YouTube channels so you can exercise in the comfort and privacy of your own home without stressing about squeezing into Lycra!
There is some useful information on exercising during pregnancy on the Tommy’s baby charity website https://www.tommys.org/pregnancy-information/im-pregnant/exercise-pregnancy including some video workouts that you might like to try.
Of course, while you’re thinking about exercising it’s vital that you do your pelvic floor exercises to maintain bladder control…you may regret it at a later date if you don’t! You can view an NHS guide on pelvic floor exercises here: https://www.nhs.uk/Planners/pregnancycareplanner/Documents/BandBF_pelvic_floor_women.pdf
You should wait at least six weeks after giving birth before you start exercising again – this is often known as the ‘healing phase’. Give your body chance to recover from pregnancy and birth before you start placing more demands on it! If you’ve had a caesarean you may need to wait a little longer, but your doctor or midwife will advise you on this. Start with low impact exercises and avoid any high impact exercise for at least 3 to 6 months after birth as your joints and ligaments will still be looser due to pregnancy hormones, and so will be more liable to injury. Take individual advice from sports coaches, physiotherapists or a doctor before resuming any kind of serious or strenuous sports training.
Did you exercise during pregnancy? What did you enjoy or what did you avoid? Are you wondering what you can do during pregnancy or just starting up again after birth? We’d love to hear about your experiences
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