PREGNANCY can be hugely exciting, but it can also be a scary time: many women are daunted by the huge responsibility of creating another being within themselves. Obviously, the mother-to-be’s own health & fitness, and the ‘fuel’ that she is providing herself and her growing baby are vital. So, the question remains: “can I still exercise during pregnancy?”
Considered medical opinion is that that within a ‘normal’ pregnancy, exercise brings huge benefits. This is supported by the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (RCOG), and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (ACOG). Providing there are no barriers to participating in exercise (such as pre eclampsia, history of multiple miscarriages, or multiple gestation) then a considered, appropriate fitness and nutrition regime can provide:
- Improved circulation
- Reduced maternal weight gain
- Reduced swelling, leg cramps, muscular discomfort
- Eased gastrointestinal discomfort
- Reduction in labour pain
- Easier, shorter labours
YOUR CHANGING BODY
Many changes occur during pregnancy: some are ‘typical’ developments which most women will experience, others will be specific to the individual. Knowledge of these changes and of typical pregnancy milestones is key to creating safe and considered pre-natal exercise programmes. Whether you have been exercising for years or are a complete beginner, you are now experiencing a ‘new’ and ever-changing body, so both technique and performance will necessarily be fluid, needing to be adapted month by month. For this reason I would always advise working with a trainer during the pre-natal period: together with your trainer, you will need to look at current medical records, lifestyle habits and exercise regime (if any). This will then form the baseline for exercise prescription & nutritional advice for the following months.
If you are working with an experienced and reputable trainer, they will surely draw your attention to some of the standard ‘musts’ for pre-natal exercise:
1. every pregnancy is different. Full and constant communication between trainer and client giving feedback on how each movement feels and how mum herself is feeling are vital to ensure safe progress.
2. during the first trimester ‘vascular underfill’ may cause waves of fatigue, dizziness, nausea, racing pulse, pallor, sweating and more. For those experiencing any of the above, workouts should be arranged around the times of day that these symptoms are least prevalent. When the workout does take place a slow and gradual warm up is essential; transitions between lying, sitting, and standing must be slow; good hydration is vital.
3. during the second half of pregnancy the mum-to-be should avoid exercises lying supine (on her back) due to possible pressure on the vena cava. The supine position can cause this major blood vessel to be compressed by the weight of the growing foetus, in turn disrupting blood flow to both mother and baby. Most exercises that would usually be carried out in this position can be easily and safely adapted.
4. the second trimester is when release of the hormone relaxin peaks. This allows ligaments in the pelvic area to relax and the cervix to soften and widen in preparation for the coming birth. Relaxin will also affect the elasticity of the pelvic floor muscles, and allow the abdominals to stretch even more. Women must be aware of this increasing “looseness” in the pelvic area and exercises should be adapted accordingly. Sudden changes of direction may be dangerous and should be avoided, and ‘split stance’ poses should be approached with care. An example is that the client might be advised to avoid walking lunges and could replace these with static lunges, (preferably supported).
5. as the foetus and uterus are growing and the mother is ‘showing’, postural changes become apparent. The increasing weight of the foetus in front of the mother begins to enforce an arched back (lordotic posture), creating an increased stretch through the abdominal muscles, a possible tightness in the errector spinae (columns of muscles down the length of the spine), increased length in the hamstrings and tightness in the hip flexors. All this makes it increasingly difficult for the expectant client to ‘feel’ her way through exercise technique, especially as she will now find it difficult to sense any ‘tightness’ in the abdominal muscles. Postural reminders must be consistent and constant.
SO WHAT IS THE VERDICT?
No two women are the same, hence no two pregnancies are the same. The fear of “Can I still exercise during pregnancy?” is a real one, yet the potential benefits of a structured exercise programme during the lead up to child birth are many and varied. The safest way to ensure positive benefits with exercising during pregnancy is by working with a trainer to create a personalised plan that suits YOUR pregnancy, based on your exercise history, your anxiety levels and your goals for your pregnancy and beyond. This will help you to relax and enjoy these nine months of change, safe in the knowledge that mum and baby are doing well. Building a trusting and open relationship with your trainer can honestly totally transform your ability to achieve your pre-natal goals for health and wellness.
We mustn’t forget this added bonus: if you build a good rapport with your trainer during these nine months, you will feel far more ready to trust him or her to help you regain fitness levels post-pregnancy, when you will have yet another ‘new body’ to deal with…plus an extra mouth to feed and a few sleepless nights!