Baby and You

Prenatal Exercise

Exercising with bump!

Looking for some prenatal exercise advice? Fitness expert, Jane Wake, explains the benefits of gentle, moderate exercise during pregnancy including essential advice on exercising safely

Research tells us that exercise during pregnancy is extremely positive. Exercising pregnant mums tend to have fewer complaints during pregnancy. From back pain to swollen ankles and incontinence issues – exercise can alleviate them all! It can also help to prevent more serious conditions such as Gestational Diabetes. We also know that women who exercise during pregnancy tend to have shorter labours, have less need for medical interventions and recover from birth in half the time of their non exercising counterparts. There is also a growing body of evidence to show that babies born from exercising mums get benefits too, such as a healthier body mass, a calmer outlook and cognitive benefits.

So here is a definitive guide, based on the latest guidelines and research, from pre and postnatal exercise expert Jane Wake.

First things first…

Your GP and midwife will be encouraging you to get out there and move!

There are conditions in pregnancy however that could make it unsafe for you to exercise. You GP/midwife will first need to rule these out, so you must ask them first if it’s ok for you to exercise. Do this as early on in your pregnancy as you can. Your status can also change throughout your pregnancy, so keep checking in with them, which leads me to your second must do…

LISTEN TO YOUR BODY

Your body is constantly communicating to you how it feels; pain is an important messenger – never ignore it, always question it. It may be nothing, but when you are pregnant, now is not the time to act brave – play it safe and report anything you feel to your GP or midwife.

WHEN TO STOP EXERCISING

If pain occurs during exercise it’s one sign that you should stop doing what you are doing, adjust and only resume if you can do so, pain free. The following are the other reasons why you should stop exercising and seek professional advice:

  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Sudden water discharge
  • Signs of labour
  • Headaches
  • Decreased fetal movement
  • Chest pain
  • Calf pain or swelling

HOW TO DO CARDIO EXERCISE

Cardiovascular exercise is great for both you and your baby, now however is not the time to work towards a race or anything competitive. During your first trimester it’s very important not to allow your core temperature to go up too high – be cautious working out in very high temperatures. Always drink plenty of water and workout in a well-ventilated room or where there is a cool breeze.

Once you are through your first trimester, your baby is no longer protected by your pelvis so you need to avoid any activity that could result in trauma – this includes all contact sports and you need to think very carefully about the environment in which you are in – even if you are very experienced and feel safe, if there is a danger that others could cause a collision with you, then you need to avoid that activity.

You also need to keep your intensity at a moderate level. Great ways to workout are swimming, walking or gentle cardio in the gym – the cross trainer, bike or treadmill are fine – just work at an intensity where you feel puffed and are working up into a sweat but where you can still talk.

It’s also really important to be mindful of your posture and core muscles – breaststroke, for example, can cause you to extend your spine too much which can lead to back pain. Being in the water however is great, so adopt strokes or activities in the pool such as water aerobics where you can keep your posture in check.

It’s also important to do cardiovascular exercise regularly – aim to do moderate cardio on most days of the week for a minimum of 30 minutes. You can break this up into 15-minute sections – e.g. walking 15 minutes to and from work.

KNOW YOUR POSTURE AND CORE MUSCLES

To be able to do the above safely, you need to know what good posture is and able to work your deep core muscles. The deep core includes your pelvic floor and the deep abdominal muscle called the Transversus Abdominis, or TA for short. These muscles are designed to support your spine. By strengthening them, you are also less likely to suffer from back pain. The pelvic floor also controls your bladder and your bowel so exercising the pelvic floor, which can become damaged and weakened during pregnancy and birth, is doubly important. Aim to be conscious of your posture and do pelvic floor exercise daily. The NHS has an app called ‘Squeezy’ which encourages you to do pelvic floor exercises.

BUILDING YOUR STRENGTH

As long as you are fit and healthy, there is absolutely no reason why you cannot build on your strength during pregnancy. As your core muscles are so important, it’s good to do this whilst also working your deep core muscles – such as in a prenatal pilates class. You can also workout in a gym, but avoid lying in a supine (on your back) position and also avoid static moves which can cause your blood pressure to increase. If you are in the gym, work with lighter weights and more reps – use a weight that fatigues your muscles in 12 – 15 repetitions, ensuring you are keeping your posture in check at all times. You should be aiming to do strength exercises 2-3 times a week.

WHEN TO STRETCH

Many people are wary of stretching during pregnancy and, whilst it’s true that hormones can make you very flexible, everyone is very different and you still need to be able to stretch your body to address any imbalances you have – for example, it’s really important to stretch the front of your thigh and across the front of your hip as this creates more room for your baby to move into the birthing canal.

The rule of thumb when it comes to stretching is to never stretch beyond what was normal for you before you became pregnant. If you are at all unsure, you should seek advice from a professional pre and postnatal exercise specialist. Attending a prenatal pilates or yoga class will help you with this.

WHEN TO RELAX

During pregnancy, being relaxed and working out regularly but moderately is key. You have to think about what your objectives are – which is to build and birth a healthy baby and be strong enough in order to do that. Being calm and relaxed throughout this process is incredibly important. Connecting to your breath and being able to use your breath effectively during labour is also really important. This should include meditation and gentle stretching to alleviate aches and pains and relax the pelvis. What this also does is promote the same hormones as the one you need to give birth – so relaxed exercise is really important at the end of your pregnancy. Try to find a prenatal yoga class or learn meditation and breathing techniques by attending hypnobirthing classes.

About the author

Jane Wake is a leading pre and postnatal exercise specialist and celebrity trainer having trained Strictly’s Kate Silverton, Pussycat Doll Kimberly Wyatt and Coronation Street’s Helen Flanagan during their pregnancies and after birth. She teaches regular classes in SW London and has an online training programme for pregnant and postnatal mums, janewake.com

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