There is so much confusion and uncertainty around safe exercise in pregnancy… What can you do, what should you avoid, and how often should you do it?
But it need not be this confusing, so here is everything you should know.
So, first of all let’s debunk the biggest question: Is it safe to exercise in pregnancy?
YES! There are a small number of conditions in which you may be advised otherwise so check with your midwife or obstetrician first.
But not only is it considered safe it is highly recommended. The UK Government guidance and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recommend a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week during pregnancy. It is also advised to do muscle strengthening exercises twice per week.
But what if you haven’t exercised before?
No problem you CAN absolutely start during pregnancy, start gradually and build up. Try new things and experiment with different types of activity to find what you enjoy.
The number one rule: Listen to your body!
Women’s bodies are smart, and it will tell you when you need to scale back or switch things up and when you can do a little more.
Pelvic girdle pain when you are running? Switch to a run, walk schedule or lower impact activities like cycling or swimming.
What counts as ‘moderate intensity’ activity?
Your heart rate increases, and you get a gentle sweat on, you can still talk but you can’t sing.
Examples are brisk walking, dancing, cycling, swimming or even mowing the lawn!
Can you do more ‘vigorous intensity’ exercise in pregnancy?
YES. But remember the number one rule- listen to your body and if it feels uncomfortable or causes pain it is time to scale back or adapt.
There are a few modes of exercise that are best avoided in pregnancy such as; contact sports due to the risk of bumping your bump, hot yoga due to the extreme temperature and movements that involve you lying flat on your back from the second trimester due to the risk of aortic compression. Again, by following the number one rule- your body would stop you performing these exercises as it wouldn’t feel good.
Physical activity in pregnancy has momentous health and wellness benefits for mothers and babies. Exercise is well known to improve sleep and mental health, especially exercise that gets you outside and inhaling a good dose of fresh air. It may also reduce the risk of pregnancy conditions such as Gestational Diabetes Mellitus and Blood Pressure problems. Physical activity is also linked to reduction in pregnancy symptoms such as constipation, pelvic girdle and back pain. Being active will also improve your fitness and help to control weight gain during pregnancy.
Here at The Pregnancy Wellness Movement we are big advocates of Functional Strength Training in pregnancy. These types of movement help to prepare your body for the demands of real life to reduce the likelihood of aches and pains during pregnancy and injury in later life.
Women’s bodies undergo huge physiological and psychological adaptions during pregnancy and your body needs to change and manage these extra demands throughout each trimester and in the postpartum. Strengthening your glutes for example helps with pelvic stability and to manage PGP symptoms. Whilst strengthening your back and hamstrings helps to reduce injury when pushing a pram and lifting a child.
Commonly, in the first trimester women feel tired and nauseous and often any vigorous exercise feels unachievable. Your blood pressure also drops in this trimester which may make you feel faint on exertion. In this trimester women may feel the need to exercise gently or scale back, but the benefits of fresh air and gentle movement can really help to improve your symptoms. Function strength training movements using your body weight and resistance bands are ideal during these weeks.
Generally, through the second trimester women start to feel better and energy levels improve. As a result, this is a great time to really embrace and enjoy exercising again.
Naturally in the third trimester your bump is growing larger and this can be tiring and uncomfortable. Swimming can be really beneficial to take some of the weight off your joints and remember it is brilliant to keep moving your body through this trimester. Adopting upright positions and remaining active can also be beneficial in preparing your body for labour, managing symptoms and helping your baby to be in an optimal birthing position.
Our Sports Scientist and Qualified Personal Trainer, James Davies, considers exercise to be an important aspect in our wellbeing and parenthood preparation. “If you signed up for a marathon, then sat on your sofa for 9 months this would not be optimal preparation. Birth is your marathon - and pregnancy is your journey of opportunity to prepare your mind and body for a positive experience."