Feeling nervous about exercising during your pregnancy? Fear not, these tried and tested tips will keep you happy and healthy for nine months and beyond!
By Sarah Hughes
Exercising during pregnancy can be a bit of a minefield. What type of exercise is safe? How much is it wise to do? What about intensity? Especially for first-time Mums or women who have previously experienced a miscarriage; exercising might feel a bit nerve-wracking.
Luckily there’s a very robust body of scientific evidence out there now which can guide doctors, midwives and fitness professionals when advising women on staying active throughout pregnancy. Research shows that the benefits of pre-natal exercise far outweigh any potential risks, and in fact, women who stay active during pregnancy statistically go on to have easier third trimesters and less need for interventions during labour.
Now; disclaimer here… I followed all the rules, kept really active and looked after myself well throughout all three of my pregnancies. And yes; you’ve guessed it. I had three terrible deliveries, two of which ended with c-sections. So I’m by no means promising you anything I can’t deliver!
However, in my work as a Pilates instructor and PT, I’ve coached hundreds of expectant mums over the years and seen first-hand all the benefits of regular exercise while growing your new little human! From managing weight gain and easing aches and pains to strengthening the pelvic floor (you’ll thank me for that one when you sneeze in the supermarket the first time you head out after baby arrives), to helping with mental health and working to ward off the risk of gestational diabetes; the rewards you can reap from prenatal exercise are abundant.
Here are my five top tips for exercising safely and happily throughout your pregnancy.
Never skip the warm-up or the cool down
Gradually increasing your heart rate, circulation and body temperature is key when exercising during all three trimesters. Don’t surprise your body with any unexpected exertion, instead take a gradual warm-up, spending around ten minutes mobilising the joints and slowly increasing your heart rate with low-impact cardio.
When you’ve finished the main component of your workout, whatever form it has taken, it’s super important to cool down just as gradually as you warmed up, allowing the breathing rate to return to normal. Again, expect to take around ten minutes to cool down, gradually decreasing the intensity and finishing off with some light stretches.
Go for consistency over intensity
Aim for 30 minutes a day of some form of exercise. My advice to all clients, not just the prenatal ones, is to vary your workouts. It helps you stay motivated and makes the whole process of working out way more enjoyable. If you can commit to a consistent schedule, exercising will either become or continue to be, a healthy habit for you.
What matters much less is the intensity. In fact, the maximum intensity you should work at in pregnancy is a 6 out of 10. That means not getting too breathless (you should be able to hold a conversation throughout), not getting too hot and not letting yourself get exhausted. Remember that exercise does not have to be strenuous to be beneficial!
Find a qualified instructor
I highly recommend finding an exercise class which is pregnancy-specific, especially once you approach the third trimester. An experienced pre and postnatal instructor can help with any aches and pains or postural problems you may be having. Plus they will know all the current guidance on exactly which exercises are safe for each particular stage of pregnancy. For example, you shouldn’t perform exercises lying on your back after 16 weeks as your bump could impede blood flow to the heart and leave you feeling light-headed. In a regular class, the instructor might be able to give you general guidelines but with a pregnancy-specific class, you’ll get lots of helpful insight and an approach which is more tailored to you.
Make your exercise social
Prenatal exercise classes are a great way to meet and make new friends; friends who might become invaluable in those early crazy days of new motherhood. Seeing exercise as a social thing rather than a ‘weight management’ thing is way more motivating and way more fun (power walk followed by a decaf cappuccino anyone? Sign me up!).
I met one of my greatest friends in a prenatal class and over the years I’ve had the pleasure of seeing lots of fledgling new friendships bloom amongst expectant Mums in my own classes. It has a double whammy effect on your mental health; those lovely exercise endorphins combined with the happy hormones released when socialising are a potent combo.
Know the red flags
Prenatal exercise really is super safe, as long as you are mindful of how you’re feeling and listen to your body. Lots of the red flags to be aware of are ones which all exercisers should look out for. These include:
Excessive shortness of breath
Severe pain anywhere in the body
Calf pain or swelling
Nausea or dizziness
In addition to these, some pregnancy-specific red flags are:
Reduced movement from your baby
Signs of labour (contractions, leakage of fluid, severe back pain)
In my experience, one of the biggest benefits of staying active during pregnancy is that it’s way less of a mountain to climb when you decide to return to exercise after your baby is born. You’ll retain some level of your former fitness, which is very handy for the labour itself and the small matter of looking after a newborn!