Antenatal shouldn't mean anti-exercise
Exercising while pregnant can help keep aches and pains at bay, help you maintain a healthy weight (plus your levels of pre-pregnancy fitness) and is the perfect precursor for postpartum weight loss and recovery.
Recent research by neuroscientists in Canada also found that regular exercise while pregnant may boost your baby's brain development in the womb. Here's a simple guide to knowing what to do, how much to do and why.
Exercising during pregnancy
During pregnancy, your aim should be to maintain or moderately improve the level of exercise you are used to. It is always important to note that every pregnant woman is different but if you have no specific obstetric or medical contraindications, you can safely maintain your level of fitness during pregnancy.
Pregnant women should always aim to exercise moderately rather than vigorously. Exercise that may be new to you, makes you overly warm or makes you more tired than usual is not advised. Exercising moderately should mean you are able to maintain a conversation whilst completing your activity.
It's recommended to do around 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise in order to maintain your fitness levels. It's also important to consider your personal fitness and exercise routines before you became pregnant. If you were a:
- Regular exerciser – try to exercise at least three times a week moderately. I would always recommend speaking to your GP or a physio about continuing your exercise routine just to check if there would be any specific problems with doing this. Avoid contact sports, aim for low impact activity and wear supportive footwear during activity. Consult a professional such as a physio for specific areas such as abdominal training and avoid exercises such as low squats. Always keep hydrated.
- Non-regular exerciser – avoid starting a new exercise programme until after 13 weeks gestation. After that start with simple and basic levels of exercise that do not involve too much weight-bearing. To gradually increase exercise it’s good to be supervised by a professional to ensure you are exercising safely for you and your baby.
- Non-exerciser – taking part in very basic exercise is a healthy move so try and motivate yourself. Ensure to start at a simple exercise level.
- If you are an elite athlete you will often have a higher tolerance level for bouts of exercise as your tolerance here will relate largely to your previous regime and abilities but please consider the advice given above for regular exercisers.
What to look out for
Pregnancy results in many changes to the body that influence the level of exercise you should undertake. Cardiovascular changes include a change in blood volume which naturally has a corresponding physiological response, increasing heart rate. You can also expect a change in arterial blood pressure; this lowered blood pressure can often be accompanied by feelings of dizziness and sometimes even fainting so it's important to listen to what your body is telling you.
Try and avoid lying completely flat and facing upwards (the supine position) during this period of lowered blood pressure as this can result in decreased cardiac output. Obviously this applies when you're resting but is also important during exercise if any part of your workout would usually incorporate this position.
Your increased heart rate during this time means that monitoring your heart rate during your workout isn't an effective way to tell if you are sticking to moderate exercise. The 'talk test' is a simple way to keep this in check. Increased blood volume also changes your respiratory rate meaning that you may feel more out of breath at lower exertion.
What to do
I would recommend a few activities for pregnant women; swimming is an excellent example as long as you keep a good pace. Just avoid the breast stroke kick if you have pelvic girdle pain. Brisk walking is ideal for pregnant ladies and can be a good social activity too. Back care classes and modified Yoga or Pilates are great for preparing your body for the stresses of pregnancy. Modified Pilates exercises are commonly used by Women's Health Physiotherapists to treat pregnancy-related issues.
In the gym, the cross trainer or static bike are good for maintaining aerobic activity. For strength and weight training, technique is everything and sets/repetitions should be decreased as pregnancy progresses. You can ask your physio or another trained professional on advice specific to you for these types of training.
Laura Haworth is one of Nuffield Health's senior Women's Health physiotherapists. She has been working within the Women's Health physiotherapy field for almost ten years with training in Pilates, post-operative gynaecological rehabilitation and ante and postnatal conditions.
Remember, listen to your body and don't exert yourself if you are feeling tired, unwell or are experiencing pain. But also have fun and enjoy exercising, this is your pregnancy and it's all about being happy and healthy.
To find out more about Nuffield's ante and postnatal fitness classes, FitBack & Bumps, click here.
Last updated: about 3 years ago