Pregnancy & Exercise – How Much Should You Do?

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‘Take it easy’, ‘don’t over do it’, ‘don’t lie on your back’, ‘do you really think you should be running?’ Familiar comments to a pregnant lady. But are these comments dated and what are the ‘rules’ of exercise during pregnancy?

It is safe to say that there are no hard and fast rules, there are no guarantees and there are many factors and considerations to take into account and at the end of the day, you have to listen to your body as everyone is different.

Our Personal Trainer (and mother), Katie Brighton-Jones and our Women’s Health physiotherapist, Sophie Pearce (due with her baby in December) share their thoughts and knowledge on the subject.

If you are already fit and active, continuing with exercise is not a problem, but you may need to curtail some of your activities if they are too high impact, contact sports or simply feel wrong. Katie stopped cycling during her pregnancy as it made her feel unwell, but continued with most other activities (running, weight training, stretching, core work) to the end. Sophie has stopped her gymnastics at club level due to insurance issues and also stopped mountain biking due to risk of falling, but has continued to train at home with the movements she is happy with and is continuing to play tennis, walk, and practice Pilates and high intensity exercises. Both ladies have modified their exercise, and despite being qualified to design their own exercise routines, they are in the same boat as any other pregnant lady – adapting their exercise in line with how they feel.

The NHS offers advice, and states: The more active and fit you are during pregnancy, the easier it will be for you to adapt to your changing shape and weight gain. It will also help you to cope with labour and get back into shape after the birth.

Keep up your normal daily physical activity or exercise (sport, running, yoga, dancing, or even walking to the shops and back) for as long as you feel comfortable.

Exercise is not dangerous for your baby – there is some evidence that active women are less likely to experience problems in later pregnancy and labour.

For the full guidelines see, at http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/pregnancy-exercise.aspx.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the NCT and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence all recommend moderate exercise during pregnancy.

A fitness routine will also give you time out from a busy lifestyle to actually focus on your body and pregnancy, so this can only be a positive thing for mother and baby.

Katie and Sophie offer some guidelines to consider:

  • It isn’t advisable to take up a new activity or sport in the first 3 months, but do continue with what you have been doing to date.
  • Be a little wary of crunches and sit-ups into your second trimester, as the abdominal wall can divide. But Pilates and core exercises can be continued under the guidance of your instructor.
  • Due to progesterone levels, your body is more sensitive to C02 and you will feel more out of breath – you are not getting unfit, it is just your body’s response to C02.
  • Relaxin – the pregnancy hormone which is released around 4-6 weeks and peaks around 13/14 weeks. It is responsible for relaxing ligaments and tissue to allow the pelvis joint to expand. Be aware that while you may feel more flexible throughout your body, it is not time to over extend joints through too much stretching.
  • The baby’s heart-rate will increase along with yours during exercise, it is normal and causes the baby no stress. But excessive exercise can have a negative impact, so ideally don’t exercise for longer than 90 minutes and keep your heart-rate at a sensible level.
  • Modify your exercise as pregnancy progresses. Omit high impact moves and excessive jumping from your second trimester. Lying on your back is still OK, but be aware that the weight of the uterus can impede blood flow and may cause dizziness or nausea – so stop! Gradually reduce your weights if you weight train, and avoid over-head lifting as this can raise your blood pressure too much and cause too much strain on the body.
  • Stay hydrated, don’t overheat and eat well (you are fuelling your body and your baby’s)
  • Core, Pilates and Yoga are all good for strength, flexibility and mindfulness and therefore great forms of exercise during pregnancy. They also all work with engaging the pelvic floor to some degree too – which is so important during pregnancy. Most instructors are trained in pregnancy exercise – but do check this first. All of our instructors are experienced in teaching pre and post-natal clients.
  • One further area to touch on, is pelvic girdle pain, Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction. The anterior section of the pelvis becomes more unstable due to relaxin and can cause considerable discomfort and pain. Avoid exercises that favour one leg at a time (lunges, leg stretches) if they become painful or uncomfortable, as well as breaststroke swimming. If you do develop SPD or low back pain, don’t suffer, seek the help of a specialist physiotherapist, such as Sophie to help manage the symptoms. Hilary Smith, chiropractor is also a specialist in this area. A useful link is that of the Pelvic Partnership, https://www.pelvicpartnership.org.uk/

So, to sum up, do continue with your exercise, but ultimately listen to your body (and your baby) and moderate it. Staying fit and healthy certainly helps towards a good pregnancy and birth.

The exercise golden rule – if it feels too much, don’t do it!  If you feel unwell, stop!

For further information or advice, please contact us at the clinic.

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