For lots of pregnant women the idea of giving up a beloved exercise routine is enough to turn their stomach more than a bad case of morning sickness and the price of a gold encrusted cot combined. But do not despair you mummies to be; pregnancy is actually an ideal time to peel yourselves from the couch, stay active and feel amazing. Let's face it, giving birth isn't exactly a stroll in the park; it's God-only-knows how many hours of intense physical and mental activity. Would you train for a marathon by lying on your back for nine months? No, so let's consider the evidence.
For far too long training while pregnant has been seen as a taboo, with many doctors taking the easy option and choosing to discourage women from exercising all together. I also know from my experience as a specialised personal trainer that many women go through feelings of uncertainty and low self-esteem as they struggle to come to terms with the bodily changes of pregnancy, making them much less likely to put on their trainers and workup a little sweat. Granted, pregnancy isn't the time to accomplish your ultimate fitness goals and any sensible woman will realise that they need to slow down slightly, but a regular work-out routine- tailored to the needs of your changing body- is the perfect cure for those feelings of loneliness and confusion that are so, so common to pregnant women.
But that's just the beginning: the benefits of exercising your way through pregnancy could easily fill an entire book (now there's an idea!), but for now let's concentrate on just a few.
When exercising there is an increased blood flow through the body to the placenta prioritising and providing your growing baby with a rich and steady flow of oxygen, and research has shown that this could be a link to intelligence! Exercising for a more intelligent child, doesn’t it sound too good to be true!
Regular, structured exercise tailored to pregnancy will gradually prepare you mentally and physically and improve your stamina, which will come to the fore when D-Day arrives. A fit, healthy and focused mother has a much better than average likelihood of a quicker and less painful delivery.(Emphasis on the less: it still might hurt a little bit!)
Looking beyond the delivery to the months and years ahead: women who exercise regularly before the birth of their babies tend to return to their pre-pregnancy weight much quicker. Not only is your body kept in good shape, think about it; mentally and physically you'll already have the discipline and staying power needed to lose that extra baby weight as well as the million and one other things you'll be doing as a mother.
Varicose veins are an unwelcome souvenir of pregnancy for thousands of mothers and just another reason to stay as mobile as possible for as long as possible. Remember regularly moving around is going help your circulation and minimize those veins! Likewise, many new mothers suffer the embarrassment of incontinence, but ante-natal exercise will improve the strength of your pelvic floor, which will definitely help decrease your chances of that one.
Okay, so we've established why it's a great idea to stay fit and healthy through your pregnancy, now let's think about some general rules to make sure you and your baby steer clear of trouble.
A proper warm up before exercise is critical, and all the more so when you're pregnant: if you're going for a run, spend five minutes just walking, then gradually increase to a slow jog and after about ten minutes you can up the tempo. Of course, if you weren't much of a runner before getting pregnant, this probably isn't the right time to channel your inner Paula Radcliffe. But even a power walk across the park will stimulate blood flow, get those muscles working and release those all-important endorphins (feel good hormones).
Think in terms of a scale of 1 to 10 when you're working out; 10 being a flat out sprint, a really full-on yoga session, deadlifting a washing machine: whichever applies to you! Throughout your pregnancy you should never really get past a 7, so at this stage you should be feeling like you are working out but not like you are over exerting yourself!
You'll find that as your pregnancy progresses you become short of breath much quicker than before, which is of course completely natural and no great cause for concern as your lungs are no longer the priority, the oxygen is needed for your baby! In all things, always listen to your body and never ask it to do anything it isn't completely comfortable with.
Get yourself a fitball! These are the perfect keep fit accessory for pregnant women, and are especially useful for dealing with those back aches coming your way. Simple figure-of-eight movements on a fitball will release endorphins into the pelvis, reducing discomfort almost immediately. Many hospitals have caught on to the trend and actually put fitballs to use in the delivery room to help women deal with labour pains.
Most exercises are perfectly safe for pregnant women, though you should always steer clear of forward and backward flexion i.e. any forward or backward bending. Your abdominals naturally separate during pregnancy and any kind of crunches will make it harder for them to knit back together afterwards. Sorry, girl sit-ups are off the menu during pregnancy!
When performing any exercise, try to think in terms of preparing yourself for labour. Focus on taking deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth, concentrating your mind on seeing each exercise through to the end. Thinking in this way while exercising should help reinforce in your own mind what you are training for and why, leaving you mentally strong and ready for labour!
So ladies, embrace your changing body and do whatever you can to help yourself and your baby through this incredible process. Never feel alone and always ask a qualified fitness professional who specialises in pre- and postnataltraining if you have any doubts, but also remember to be confident and know that if you stick to the rules above you can’t go far wrong.