How to stay fit during pregnancy
The pressure for pregnant people to look like a ‘yummy mummy’during pregnancy and to ‘snap back’ to their pre-baby body is immense and obviously unethical.
Growing a baby is huge and everyone’s got to go about the process in their own way.
But there’s no doubt about it, daily exercise and movement are good for everyone – whether you’re pregnant or not.
Regular exercise during pregnancy can improve your posture and decrease things like backache and tiredness. There’s also some evidence to suggest that being active can prevent gestational diabetes and reduce the need for having a c-section. More obviously, it can build up the stamina needed for labour.
But beware the common workout mistakes many expecting mums make. Dr Joanna Helcké is a pregnancy and postnatal fitness expert who says that people run the risk of making eight common fitness errors:
In an ideal world, everyone would exercise during pregnancy. The right kind of exercise can help to minimise aches, stretch out tight areas and can work wonders for mood and energy.
If your pregnancy is uncomplicated and healthy, you should be able to workout right up to your due date but it’s always worth chatting with your pregnancy team to make sure they’re happy for you to exercise.
They may also be able to give you tips on how to exercise most effectively. There are also plenty of pre-natal PTs out there who specialise in getting expectant mums ready for labour so it might be worth seeking one out.
Starting new forms of exercise in the first trimester
‘Don’t attempt to start new forms of exercise during your first trimester,’ warns Dr Helcké.
‘This is a key time and while people may not see that you’re expecting, the very foundations of your pregnancy are being laid down. Once you move into the second trimester certain aspects of your pre-pregnancy fitness regime will also need to be modified.’
You may find that lying on your back for extended periods to perform certain exercises could make you feel faint – so you want to swerve those.
You might also want to replace ab-focused moves like sit-ups, planks and Russian twists with gentle activations of the deep abdominals and pelvic floor muscles.
Not keeping exercise ‘moderate’
Now isn’t the time to be running marathons or aiming for PBs on the track. You want to be exercising comfortably – meaning that you can hold a conversation without getting breathless.
Obviously, ‘moderate’ is going to mean something different to everyone. If you ran marathons before you got pregnant, a 10k might be a doddle…but if you struggled with jogging before hand, now probably isn’t the time to start giving it a go.
You’ve got to avoid certain sports like scuba diving, horse riding, rock climbing, skiing and contact sports but otherwise, it’s all about understanding your own fitness levels.
Not listening to your body
Dr Helcké says: ‘Always tune into the signals that your body is sending you. Don’t feel like going on that run but feel like you ought to? Take note, be kind to yourself and go for a walk instead.
‘Also think about your recovery time after exercise. If you’re starting to notice that recovery is taking longer and longer and that you’re having to force yourself to do that workout, it’s time to shift over to pregnancy-specific exercise.’
Overheating can stop your baby from growing properly, so be careful to cool down and avoid saunas, super-hot baths and HIIT classes.
When you’re pregnant, the body releases the hormone relaxin which is designed to help with labour by loosening the ligaments in the pelvis. But because the body can’t target where this relaxin goes, all of the ligaments end up being super-stretchy.
‘Deep stretches will exploit this and you could end up with permanent instability in the joints. Keep your stretches gentle and short,’ says Dr Helcké.
‘Relaxin also causes your blood vessels to dilate leading to what is called vascular underfill. This will make you feel faint if you do exercises that involve too much up and down movement.
‘Avoid switching too much from the mat to standing.’
No strength training
The stronger you are, the less likely it is that you’ll suffer quite so badly from aches and pains in your back, pelvis and knees.
During pregnancy, your body increases the amount of relaxin and that can create instability in the joints. By strength training, you’ve set a solid foundation to support the joints.
If you were strength training before getting pregnant, carry on. If you only did cardio, think about adding in some light strength training sessions to your week.
Now isn’t the time to go heavy or start smashing out 1RM PBs though – just concentrate on activating your muscles and feeling stronger.
Intensely exercising post-birth
You might think that you’ve got to return to how you looked pre-pregnancy straight away. After all, all the celebs manage it…right? But remember, you just grew a whole human and it can take a while to recover from that (besides the fact that the concept of ‘snapping back’ to a former body shape is trash).
‘It’s incredibly tempting to dive in at the fitness deep-end after birth,’ explains Dr Helcké.
‘You’re done with pregnancy and think you can simply pick up your pre-pregnancy fitness routine where you left off. I cannot explain how detrimental this is. Intense exercise post-birth can lead to pelvic floor damage that requires surgery.’
Forget heading back to your former routine and concentrate on rebuilding your core and pelvic floor.
‘These are the foundations that will help you get fitter and stronger than you ever were pre-pregnancy. Pelvic floor exercises can and should be started as soon as possible after birth. They can even help speed up healing by promoting the flow of blood to the perineum.’
Walk rather than run. Not only is it a great way of getting some fresh air but it’s something you can do with your baby without putting too much pressure on your body.
Got more questions about fitness and pregnancy? Dr Helcké will be answering any questions on The Baby Show’s Live @ Home Instagram Live, on Wednesday 22 April at 8pm.
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