The combination of pregnancy and exercise has long been the subject of controversy in medical and running circles. In the past pregnancy has almost been treated as an illness,with the afflicted advised to put their feet up and refrain from any exertion.

In recent times, however, both elite athletes and ordinary members of the public who wish to exercise whilst pregnant have shown that it is possible to do so sensibly without any ill effects to either mother or child. Indeed, exercising up to a point whilst pregnant can be beneficial to both.

Sarah McClurey, a personal fitness trainer and mother of two-week old daughter Gabriella, can give important pointers for those wanting to continue to exercise whilst pregnant. First of all it is important to understand:

 

What happens to your body when pregnant?

When you become pregnant, your circulatory system changes, hormones are released into your body. Your body temperature increases, as does your metabolism, whilst bone density is maintained and your ligaments relax.

In the first trimester.

In early pregnancy all of the above changes can cause a woman to feel quite awful, experiencing nausea, fatigue and dizziness. Any of these factors can result in you not wanting to exercise in this time, but it is important to remember that exercise can offset many of the unpleasant aspects of early pregnancy.

For those wanting to exercise in this early period but who do not know where to start, here’s a possible solution:

First Trimester, example training programme:

Day 1: Warmup, 20 minute brisk walk with abdominal & pelvic floor exercises, then stretch.  Day 2: Rest day.  Day 3: 20 minute swim.  Day 4: Rest Day.  Day 5: As per Day 1.  Day 6: Rest Day.  Day 7: Long Leisurely Walk. In the second trimester.

At this point you may find yourself feeling better and more energetic, and therefore more able to cope with more exercise with slightly more intensity:

 Second Trimester, example training programme: 

Day 1: 30 -40 minutes brisk walk, abdominal & pelvic floor exercises (after Month 4 miss out any exercise which means that you have to lie on your back)   Day 2: 30 minute swim.  Day 3: Rest Day.  Day 4: 30-40 minutecycle/swim/walk/jog  Day 5: As per Day 1.  Day 6: Rest Day.  Day 7: Leisurely Walk. In the third trimester.

As you are getting larger you may feel more tired and disinclined to exercise. Accordingly, the exercise programmes for the First & Second Trimesters should be adapted according to how you feel

If you really feel that that:

1. You don’t have the time.

2. You don’t have the motivation, or

3.You don’t want to risk a lot of exercising, try the following:

  • Use stairs not lifts or escalators whenever possible.
  • Walk wherever you can.
  • Aim to be active for at least 20 minutes per day.
  • Why exercise when pregnant at all?

Previous wisdom has suggested that pregnant women should not exercise at all, and should be treated as fragile, almost as if pregnancy was an illness which they had contracted. However, exercising can have the following benefits:

  • You will feel better about yourself.
  • Labour should be easier because you will be fitter, stronger and generally better equipped to handle it.
  • Your recovery from giving birth will be quicker.
  • You will gain less excess weight while pregnant.
  • You will be more positive about yourself and your body.
  • Do's and Don'ts of exercising when pregnant.

Do:

  • Exercise with a friend if possible – this will dispel any boredom and help if you get into any difficulties.
  • Make sure that you drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
  • Pay attention to any discomfort whilst exercising and stop immediately.
  • Make your exercise fun. Look at it as quality time for yourself and not a chore to get through –enjoy yourself!

Don't:

  • Ignore fatigue. Restif you feel tired – listen to your body!
  • Continue if you are in pain, especially in the pelvic and abdominal region.
  • Be rigid with your programme. Adapt & change it according to how you feel.
  • Overheat.
  • Pelvic floor exercises

Half of the women in the UK today have problems with their pelvic floor which causes discomfort and distress for those affected.

The pelvic floorsupports the pelvic organs & their contents. Pregnancy causes additional pressure which can result in stress incontinence and/or a prolapse. In order to strengthen the pelvic floor and reduce the chances of pelvic problems during pregnancy, try the following:

Imagine that you are desperate for the toilet, holding and then relaxing the pelvic floor as often as possible throughout the day. This will help strengthen the pelvic region. A weak pelvic floor can be very distressing but something can be done to avoid it. It makes no difference what age you are or how many children you have already had, it’s never too late to strengthen your pelvic floor!

Abdominal exercises.

In order to cope with the increasing size of the uterus, the abdominal muscles must stretch a great deal. Abdominal exercises can be performed throughout pregnancy but great care must be taken. Most women can continue their abdominal exercises quite comfortably until the 4th month of their pregnancy, but it is not recommended to lie on your back after this time.

Recommended exercises beyond this time are:

1. Pelvic Tilt

Standing with feet hip-width apart, tilt the spine forward, holding in your abdominals for 2-3 seconds. Then release spine back into neutral position.

2. The Cat

On all fours, raise the spine up (like an angry cat!) and hold for 2-3seconds, then release spine back into neutral position.

3. Abdominal Contractions

Standing/sitting/lying down, pull in your abdominals for 2-3 seconds then relax.

Guidelines for exercise during pregnancy

(American College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (ACOG))

  • Regular, moderate intensity & duration exercise sessions are preferable.
  • Recommended exercise including stretching, stationary cycling, swimming & walking.Other types are either contradicted or require modification.
  • Don’t lie on you back after 4 months of pregnancy.
  • Five minute periods of warm-up & stretching are recommended, but don’t stretch to the point of maximal resistance.
  • Women with sedentary (generally inactive) lifestyles should begin with short duration, low intensity activity & gradually increase this.
  • Stop exercise when fatigued. Consult a physician if any unusual symptoms occur.
  • Increase your calorie intake to cover the demands of the exercise & take fluids liberally before, during & after exercise.
  • Avoid environments with excessive heat & humidity when you exercise.
  • REMEMBER! Pregnancy is a normal physiologic state & NOT an illness. The benefits for both Mother & Baby are huge!

Sarah McClurey is a personal fitness instructor.

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