A lot of the following advice comes from myself and my experience of the last six years of training pre- and post-natal clients. There is also advice supported by the NHS guidelines on exercising during pregnancy.
What are the main reasons for keeping active during pregnancy?
• Relieving any muscular and/or joint soreness from your body changing shape over the course of your pregnancy
• Improving body mechanics and strengthening your posture
• Reduction of swelling and improved circulation
• Prevention of gestational diabetes
• Stronger body for less complicated labour
• Eased post-partum recovery
• Strengthening and maintaining a connection with your core
• Stimulating the body to produce more of its own natural painkillers, called endorphins
What types of exercise could I do?
The UK government health guidelines state that we should be committing to 150 minutes of exercise per week, which can be split into manageable chunks that suit our schedules. It is important to stress here that this does not have to be formal exercise that you have to do in a fitness facility, such as a gym, but that even a 30-minute walk a day constitutes as physical activity.
I am a big believer in strength training during pregnancy. Now, I totally understand women’s reservations with strength training during pregnancy, particularly with all the conflicting advice there is out there. A quick search will tell you not to lift anything heavier than your handbag, only do prenatal yoga, absolutely do not start any new exercise program in pregnancy, and to stop all abdominal exercises.
My role as a Pre & Post Natal PT is to offer women the guidance through strength training to keep their changing bodies as strong, stable, and comfortable as possible — for as long as possible. You need to be strong to:
• Support your changing body
• Improve circulations
• Ease backache — hence why glute strengthening is important
• Maintain your strength as you carry extra weight
• Help your postpartum recovery process
• Prepare yourself and your baby for intense moments of labour and delivery
Training your pelvic floor
Pelvic floor exercises help to strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor, which come under great strain in pregnancy and childbirth. The pelvic floor consists of layers of muscles that stretch like a supportive hammock from the pubic bone (in front) to the end of the backbone (spine).
If your pelvic floor muscles are weak, you may find that you leak urine when you cough, sneeze or strain. This is quite common, and there is no reason to feel embarrassed. It’s known as stress incontinence and it can continue after pregnancy.
You can strengthen these pelvic floor muscles by doing targeted pelvic floor exercises. This helps to reduce or avoid stress incontinence after pregnancy and other issues such as a prolapse. All pregnant women should do pelvic floor exercises, even if you’re young and not suffering from stress incontinence now.
My advice is to start doing them early and also to book in a session with a women’s health physiotherapist to check the strength of your pelvic floor early on in your pregnancy and in your third trimester. They will also be able to prescribe you the correct exercises and check whether you are performing them correctly.
Contraindications to exercise during pregnancy
Firstly, please check with your doctor if you are unsure about exercising during pregnancy or have any prior health issues. If you find you get dizzy, lightheaded, or your breathing is impaired during certain exercises, please avoid them. As a general rule, you should be able to hold a conversation as you exercise when pregnant. If you become breathless as you talk, then you’re probably exercising too strenuously.
If you were not active before you got pregnant, do not suddenly take up strenuous exercise. Pre-natal training is not the time to aim for PBs or try any new exercise regime! Don’t forget you are growing a little human!
Avoid lying flat on your back for long periods, particularly after 16 weeks, because the weight of your bump presses on the main blood vessel bringing blood back to your heart and this can make you feel faint. Please note that this an NHS guideline and can differ from woman to woman. I was still comfortable lying down on my back at 24 weeks pregnant, so just listen to your body.
It may be obvious to state, but do not take part in contact sports where there’s a risk of being hit, such as kickboxing, judo or squash. In addition, if possible avoid exercises where there may be a safety risk to you or the baby, for example exercises that carry a risk of falling (e.g., horse riding, downhill skiing, ice hockey, gymnastics and cycling) should only be done with caution.
My best tips for keeping active during your pregnancy
1. Remember that exercise does not have to be strenuous to be beneficial.
2. Always warm up before exercising, and cool down afterwards
3. try to keep active on a daily basis — 30 minutes of walking each day can be enough, but if you cannot manage that, any amount is better than nothing
4. Avoid any strenuous exercise in hot weather
5. Drink plenty of water and other fluids — you probably need more than you think!
6. If you go to exercise classes, make sure your teacher is properly qualified and knows that you’re pregnant, as well as how many weeks pregnant you are. If the instructor isn’t qualified or knows that you should not be doing that specific class when pregnant, please adhere to their advice.
7. If you are relatively new to exercise or formal gym training or exercise classes, perhaps try something such as swimming. The water will support your increased weight as your baby grows and some local swimming pools provide aqua-natal classes with qualified instructors.
The more active and fit you are during pregnancy, the easier it will be for you to adapt to your changing shape and weight gain. It will also help you to cope with labour and your post-natal recovery.
Do keep up your normal daily physical activity or exercise (sport, running, yoga, dancing, or even walking to the shops and back) for as long as you feel comfortable.
It is vital to remember that exercise is not dangerous for your baby. There is some evidence that active women are less likely to experience problems in later pregnancy and labour.
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY: if you’re tired, then please rest. Your body is going through immense and new changes over the course of nine months so please be kind to yourself.