Lots of us put career plans on hold for a few months when we spot that little blue line but it doesn’t mean you have to hang up your trainers or lose the lycra, exercise when you’re pregnant is a very good idea indeed.
You’re going to put your body through quite a marathon of a different kind in the next 9 months and while there’s no guarantee that being in good shape will give you a good labour, it’ll put you in the best position for afterwards. Also, it’s not just your – ahem – lady parts that take a battering, the whole experience of pregnancy puts a lot of strain on your pelvic floor and your stomach muscles.
So if you’re nursing a hope of getting back into that little black dress some time over the postpartum months, exercising during your pregancy is one of your best bets, because while we all know about the celebs who are squeezing back into red-carpet outfits within a few weeks, the reality is often a little bit different.
“Walking and swimming are good, because they’re low-impact and not too heavy on the joints,”
Physical activity is also good for you emotionally. Exercise is a key part of our mental well-being – all the mental health organisations recommend incorporating a bit of regular, moderate activity – and that’s particularly important at a time when we’re prone to mood swings at best and depression at worst.
By keeping your body busy doing something else, it will help you hang onto a bit more sense of ‘self’. And if you’re doing an activity with other pregnant women there’s also a social spin-off, which can be a huge source of support further down the line when you all have small babies.
If you’ve never exercised much before, one option is a specialist antenatal yoga or pilates class; and in fact even if you’re a regular pilates or yoga-goer you should probably switch to one that is tailored to pregnant women, because pregnancy puts all kinds of stresses on your body (your ligaments, for one thing, get much stretchier as a hormone called relaxin floods your system in preparation for childbirth, and you don’t want to push them too far). Classes like this are a terrific way to tone up, become more flexible and also meet other women whose babies are due at around the same time as yours.
However, they’re not particularly aerobic – they don’t work your heart and lungs – so don’t forget to move as well. “Walking and swimming are good, because they’re low-impact and not too heavy on the joints,” recommends antenatal and postnatal personal trainer Mary Huckle.
West London-based prenatal exercise instructor Gill Clegg, who recently had her own baby, is a huge fan of outdoor lidos, of which there are plenty all around London, however there are certain things to remember.
“If you’re swimming breaststroke, don’t do the legs – just do little crawl-style kicks or use a kick board, as the ligaments in your pelvis are very stretchy. In fact, I used little training fins to kick and my legs got very strong for labour.”
Some activities – or levels of activity – are, obviously, off-limits. This isn’t the time to take up a completely new, strenuous activity and even if you’re pretty fit already, don’t push yourself too hard. “Keep your heart rate to around 140 beats per minute,” advises Clegg. After three months, avoid contact sports where you might be hit – that includes squash and judo – and also ones like riding, skating and skiing where a fall could injure you; and don’t lie flat on your back, as this may make you feel faint (so a conventional yoga or pilates class is out). And while swimming is great for pregnant women, scuba diving isn’t because the baby isn’t protected against a potential embolism.
On the other hand, lots of other sorts of exercise are totally feasible. “I think the main thing women worry about is running, but if you’re a seasoned runner you should be fine if you’re careful,” says Clegg. “From my own personal and professional experience, I’d say that as well as keeping your heart rate down (it’s no bad idea to get an inexpensive heart rate monitor), a couple of other things are important too. Keep hydrated throughout, so your baby is hydrated too; whatever the weather, always have water. And don’t get overheated or perspire excessively as that’s an indication that you are just pushing yourself that bit too much.”
Keep hydrated throughout, so your baby is hydrated too; whatever the weather, always have water. And don’t get overheated.
“Generally speaking, if you’re already quite fit and healthy you can more or less carry on with anything you did before,” says Huckle. “Obviously, as you become heavier your cardio-vascular system is working harder and in the last trimester your centre of gravity has changed but in the second trimester you may be feeling pretty energetic. Women in my running group have gone on well into the second trimester and you can definitely do cardio and even resistance too, as long as you’re not using heavy weights.” However, do let any trainers or teachers know that you are pregnant; and indeed, if at all possible, find an instructor who works specifically with pregnant women.
Picking up later
The other thing to remember about life with a baby is that it’s not just about fitting into your old outfits; it’s about coping with a whole new – and rather demanding – person in your life. The more able you are to cope physically with that, the better. “Exercise will set you up for afterwards,” Clegg declares.
What’s more, she adds, even if you’re taking it moderately easy during the pregnancy itself, if you were in fact pretty fit before, your muscles will remember how to get back to your previous levels.
After all, Jessica Ennis-Hill is planning a great return to sport; and plenty of mums – including Paula Radcliffe and Tanni Grey-Thompson – have already shown that her ambition is perfectly achievable.
If you have any concerns, or you’ve been diagnosed with any kind of condition like pre-eclampsia or you’ve had bleeding, please do talk to your doctor or midwife before taking up, or going on with, exercise. There are also conditions like ‘pelvic girdle pain’ (PGP), which are less well-known but can cause problems (if you have a lot of pain in your pubic area, especially when stretching, PGP may be the cause).
Your ambitions may not be quite as high-flying as an Olympic athlete, but one thing’s for sure: keeping active for those nine months can only be a very, very good thing, not only for labour, and your baby, but also for your mindset. So what are you waiting for?