Pregnancy is a time to look after yourself and your growing baby but it isn’t a cue to put your feet up and munch on biscuits for the next nine months. You’ll be faced with a set of rules of what isn’t allowed: only decaf coffee, no alcohol, no cured meats and smelly/ blue cheese ... The list seems to get longer so it’s nice to hear of something you should do. Exhaustion will be the first thing to hit you, followed by morning sickness, so exercise might not be your top priority but it’s so important, not only for your general wellbeing but it’s been proven that simply by exercising you can significantly reduce your risk of developing problems like Gestational Diabetes.
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Your body is unique, especially in pregnancy, developing strengths and weaknesses in different places so, when it comes to fitness, there is no ‘one style fits all’. If you’re not an exerciser pre-pregnancy, don’t go mad on day one. Start with gentle exercise, be it swimming, walking, Pilates or yoga and build up your fitness slowly. Dr Chiara Hunt from The Bump Class compares pregnancy to running a marathon and you’d never stand on the start line of a marathon having never run a mile. You need to be prepared for it “physically as well as emotionally,” says Chiara. “A strong and healthy mother, who is well-prepared for labour and the physical toll of motherhood, will be indirectly doing the best thing for her baby.”
If you exercise regularly pre-pregnancy and feel well, speak to your GP or midwife but, in early pregnancy, there shouldn’t be anything to stop you keeping up your normal routine so long as you feel comfortable. However, now is not a time to push yourself. If you’re too breathless to hold a conversation while exercising you’re doing too much. Liz Laverick-Quinlan, a specialist at The Portland Hospital, says “If you do regular aerobic exercise 2–3 times a week, you should try and stick to the same type of exercise rather than chopping and changing, as your body develops so much from week to week that you could be more susceptible to injury if you keep trying new things.”
Once you’re past 12 weeks, favourite forms of exercise include yoga and Pilates, and for good reason. Yoga embraces both the physical and emotional needs of a pregnant woman, says Sasha a yoga specialist at Evolve Wellness Centre. It’s all about strengthening muscles to support your growing tummy, improving posture, keeping joints strong and healthy and helping with flexibility and circulation. Many classes also provide an element of antenatal care, working on breathing and relaxation in preparation for birth
Out of bounds
Whilst most regular exercise is safe for pregnant women, there are some to be avoided. Scuba-diving, gymnastics and heavy-weight training are off limits so keep them to enjoy post pregnancy. If you can, stay away from high impact sports or sports where you might fall or become unbalanced. If you love cycling, move indoors to a stationary bike so there’s no risk of falling off and, after the 12-week mark, avoid lying on your back for too long.
No time to exercise?
You might be reading this thinking ‘I just haven’t got the time’. Perhaps childcare or work commitments restrict you but don’t fret, there are some great online options and DVDs to keep you going. Joanna Helcke, who is a specialist in Pilates, says “keeping Mama fit is as easy as 1,2,3” with her specialised, online fitness programme, with weekly workouts, helpful forums and all-round support all from the comfort of your own home.
Not exactly a keep-fit exercise but a vital one to keep on top of when pregnant (and beyond) is your pelvic floor. Once you’ve located the particular muscles, the exercises to keep them tight are very easy to do but easy to fall to the bottom of your list too. That’s why the Squeezy app from the NHS, which prompts you to tighten them daily, is well worth the £2.99 cost. The NCT website also gives a good explanation of how you engage those muscles. If you haven’t yet started, now is the time. You’ll thank me in the end.
The final push
As you reach the third trimester, your ever-growing baby gets so heavy and makes most cardio exercise very difficult, which is where the joy of water comes in. Taking the weight off your joints and the wonderful feeling of weightlessness is a real treat. There are no restrictions on pregnant women swimming, providing you’re not attempting to match Rebecca Adlington’s 800m freestyle, so swim at the speed that you’re comfortable with. It might be an idea to get into a routine of going to an Aqua (including Aqua spinning) class. Aqua Allure in Docklands has introduced a new pre-natal class to their 2016 schedule run by a resident midwife, who is also a trained instructor.
Personal trainers qualified to train pregnant women are a great way to get you on the right track and will not only offer advice and encouragement but will ensure you’re doing it right. Maternally Fit, Frame and Reebok Club all run wonderfully well-balanced classes using weights, resistance training and some light cardio, teamed with familiar yoga and Pilates moves to strengthen and challenge your body and all under the watchful eye and careful choreography of a qualified pregnancy instructor.
Dance and Barre are popular fitness choices too. PregDance demonstrates how gentle ballet moves can make space in your body and create a more flexible and stronger you in preparation for labour, plus there is also a social antenatal element too. The not-so-gentle Barre phenomenon doesn’t always have specific pregnancy classes but welcomes pregnant women provided you inform the instructor. The classes combine cardio with core strength and stamina.