I’ve noticed there’s a tendency for newly pregnant women to go one of two ways when it comes to exercise and there seems to be very little in between. There are those who are paralysed by the uncertainties of getting it right, and in a bid to keep safe they do nothing.
After all, better to do nothing than the wrong thing, they assume. And then there are the fitness enthusiasts – the marathon runners and CrossFit aficionados of this world – who decide that it’s not a “mere” pregnancy which is going to stand in the way of their fitness fix. And to be fair, both these standpoints are perfectly understandable: after all, there are so many mixed messages bandied around regarding how to keep fit and healthy when expecting that it’s no wonder women are confused.
So what are the pregnancy fitness rules of engagement?
First of all it is wrong to suggest that there is a one size fits all approach to fitness in pregnancy. Every woman will come to her pregnancy with her own level of fitness and her likes and dislikes. So whilst running might well be absolutely fine in the earlier stages of pregnancy for regular runners, this would most certainly not be the case for a woman who is new to exercise.
Likewise, it is pointless trying to convince a woman used to participating in CrossFit – however controversial this activity may be – that she should suddenly quit her Olympic weights and do some breathing exercises for labour. The key is that every woman should genuinely listen to her body, scale things down when her body is telling her to do so, and never ignore any tell tail signs.
So for the “fitness guerrillas” of this world, please don’t see pregnancy as a condition to be conquered. If there’s one thing for sure it is this: the body is going to change, the abdominals are going to stretch and lengthen and weaken, tiredness will more than likely kick in at some point and should be heeded, the posture will be affected by that growing bump and all of this is perfectly normal.
So go with the flow and don’t fight it. Seasoned runners might well be able to happily run for months and then from one day to the next the body says “no thanks”. Listen, stop running and do something else that feels good.
And for those whose fitness ground to a halt on discovering the happy news? They shouldn’t feel that way because – for most - it’s perfectly possible to exercise safely in pregnancy and not only that, it will protect the body from all sorts of pregnancy niggles, will help with a speedier postnatal recovery and has even been shown to have benefits for the growing baby.
For the belt and braces approach it’s always going to be best to go to a fully qualified pregnancy exercise expert who will know exactly how to adapt exercises as pregnancy progresses and for common conditions such as pelvic girdle pain and carpal tunnel syndrome.
But what are the best forms of exercise for pregnancy?
Given the opportunity to advise on the best exercises for pregnancy there’s no doubt that water-based fitness is perfect for giving women a feeling of lightness, especially in late pregnancy. Aquanatal, swimming and aqua jogging are all great options with certain provisos such as no breaststroke when suffering from pelvic girdle pain.
Pregnancy Pilates is the perfect antidote to back pain and tension, can also help manage pelvic girdle pain and gives women a significant head start when it comes to recovering those all-important tummy muscles once the baby has arrived.
Pregnancy yoga, incorporating breathing exercises is excellent preparation for labour and birth and offers much needed relaxation for busy working mums-to-be.
Walking is low impact and – as I often say – good for the soul. Being outdoors will lift the spirits and ease away the tensions of the day. Studies have also shown it to be effective in managing back pain, although those suffering from pelvic girdle pain will have to give it a miss.
Last but most certainly not least, pelvic floor exercises might not automatically spring to mind when thinking of fitness but there is no doubt that if there’s one set of muscles that shouldn’t be ignored both during and after pregnancy, it’s these.
About the Author
Dr Joanna Helcké
Founder and Director
“The online pregnancy and postnatal fitness expert”
Joanna is the mother of three boys and has been a pregnancy and postnatal fitness expert for over 6 years. She was honored with the prestigious FitPro Award of Excellence in Fitness in 2014 as well as Best Sports Health or Fitness Group of the Year 2013, and is passionate about the wellbeing of mums-to-be and mums.
Expectant mums are, of course, keen to do the very best for their babies but often find it hard to know what exercises they should be doing as pregnancy progresses, and where to turn to for help and advice.
With this in mind Joanna spent over two years developing a truly unique online fitness subscription service that delivers pregnant and new mums weekly videos that provide an exercise routine that has been especially designed to support each stage, week by week, of their journey to motherhood.
Alongside the videos, all members receive a bespoke weekly “to do list” with useful extras, are welcomed to take part in the weekly forum and ask questions to the guest expert, and are invited to join Joanna’s closed Facebook group for friendly community support. Members have Joanna’s personal support with weekly newsletters, her Mumday Monday blogs and the opportunity to email with personal questions.