When I found out I was pregnant at the start of December 2013 I was ecstatic but also nervous. I had taken redundancy from the “good pensionable job” (aka the bank) a couple of months beforehand to run my fitness business full time and to study. The early weeks of pregnancy are a scary time for every mother-to-be but when your job is as physical as mine is it can be even more worrying. I had built up a great business over the previous 6 years and didn’t want to lose any of it yet didn’t want to put my baby in jeopardy either. I also didn’t want to have to stop exercising for my own health, fitness and enjoyment either and strongly believed that it was possible that I didn’t have to. So I started to research it during my pregnancy. After having Frankie I then went back to college to do a fitness related degree. Part of my studies during the past year have included further research into pregnancy fitness. So you could say I’m slightly obsessed with it and a little bit annoying to get into a conversation about it with.
I would strongly recommend that any pregnant woman who wants to continue to exercise safely during pregnancy reads the guidelines attached from both the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
These two are my bibles when it comes to what is and isn’t safe. The general advice is that once you have received medical clearance to exercise (which will usually require that you have a normal, healthy pregnancy with no complications) then exercise is both safe and beneficial to you and your baby. Both guidelines advise that your exercise intensity should not exceed that of pre-pregnancy levels. A proper balance of nutrition, hydration, exercise and rest is essential. Imbalance in any one of these areas can result in safety concerns for both mother and baby.
Both advise that you should avoid the following:
- Sports that are likely to involve contact e.g. hockey, soccer, basketball
- Recreational activities that involve a high risk of falling e.g. horse riding, gymnastics
- Anything that increases the risk for decompression sickness e.g. scuba diving
- Physical activity at high altitudes (above 6,000 ft)
- Exercising in the supine position (on your back) after the first trimester
Talking to your Medical Team
During my pregnancy I received mixed messages from the different doctors and nurses I met at my medical appointments. One would tell me it was good to keep exercising, another would be very cautious. The most frustrating part was that every time I asked why I couldn’t do something I was told it was just better, just safer. I’m the type of person that needs real, factual answers when it comes to diet and exercise and I can’t just be happy with generalisations and being told ‘because that’s how it’s done’. Obviously you should take your GP or practitioner’s advice very seriously but if you’re unsure as to why they are advising something then ask them why and look for a real answer. If you have a normal, healthy pregnancy then it would be unusual for them to tell you that you couldn’t continue to exercise at some level. From my experience there is a lack of confidence amongst pregnancy practitioners as to what exercise pregnant women should and shouldn’t do. It’s understandable as they fear litigation if something goes wrong but I see a day coming when the litigation will be for the advice not to exercise rather than to continue. I would love to see Ireland streamline the pregnancy exercise advice it gives to expectant mothers and really encourage pregnancy health and fitness.
So what can you do?
The guidelines advise the following (in addition to getting medical clearance):
- Previously active women with no complications can remain active during pregnancy and modify their exercise routine as medically indicated.
- Previously active women with a history of complications during pregnancy should reduce their activity in the second and third trimester.
- Previously inactive women and those with medical/obstetric complications should be medically evaluated before commencing an exercise program (but can exercise if cleared).
Breaking down exercise into the categories above here is some advice on safe and effective ways to exercise:
Previously active women
This is the category I fell under and it is probably the most complicated one. This will really depend on what level of activity you were doing previously. If you were a person who exercised moderately then you should be fine to continue as normal. However if you were exercising to a high intensity you may need to make some modifications.
While many women are now choosing to continue to lift heavy weights it’s important to consider the impact that they may have on your muscles and joints due to the fact that the relaxin hormone is released during pregnancy to allow the pelvis to widen for birth.
Running is very popular now and while I personally continued to run until late into my pregnancy it’s important to consider your pelvic floor muscles and the pressure that running and impact in general can have on them and your pelvis.
I talked about my post pregnancy shoulder injury in a previous post and acknowledged that I believe my high intensity exercise program during pregnancy may have contributed to the injury. However I know of other women who exercised to the same or higher intensity than I did and they had no problems at all so it’s such an individual experience. I think it’s very important to talk to someone in the know if you find out that you are pregnant and want to continue to exercise. That might be a physiotherapist or an instructor who has experience and education in working with pregnant clients.
Previous active women with a history of complications
I won’t offer advice in this category as only a doctor can really know a woman’s medical history and how it will impact her exercise choices.
Previously inactive women
For previously inactive women who have medical clearance and even for previously active women who want to reduce their intensity there are still lots of options.
Pregnancy Pilates & Yoga – great choices for core strength, resistance exercise in general, flexibility and relaxation. Some experienced instructors with a pregnancy exercise certification may also allow you to join a mainstream class and give you specific modifications.
Swimming & Water Aerobics – the low impact nature of both can make them good choices for pregnant women seeking aerobic exercise.
Walking – we’ve kind of forgotten all about walking with the current running craze but it is still a very beneficial form of exercise particularly for pregnant women. Just make sure that if you are looking to get the cardiovascular benefits then you need to be walking at a pace that makes holding a conversation a little hard. You should always be able to talk when exercising during pregnancy but if you’re able to regale your walking partner with the full Eastenders storyline then you are possibly not walking fast enough to get the goods.
Diet & Weight Gain
Exercising during pregnancy wasn’t all about looking good for me nor is it for many women. It’s about staying fit and healthy, keeping your baby healthy and not having to struggle with a lot of weight gain afterwards. Some weight gain is normal and necessary during pregnancy. However a lot of women mistakenly believe that they need to ‘eat for two’ during pregnancy. No doubt this is part of the reason many women put on too much weight during their pregnancy and then struggle with it afterwards.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but the truth is that the average pregnant woman will only need about 200-300 extra calories per day on top of the recommended 2000 calories. (1 tablespoon of peanut butter is 100 calories so that’s not a lot!) If you were consuming more than the recommended amount before pregnancy, which can often be the case, then no extra is required at all.
On the flip side it’s important to remember that if you decide to remain physically active during pregnancy you may need to increase your intake of calories to meet the energy output. Eating regularly as well as an hour before and straight after physical activity will help to keep your blood sugar regulated and help you to avoid getting dizzy or even worse fainting. Pregnancy really is a time to try and follow a diet that is as healthy and balanced as possible so that your baby gets all the nutrients it needs. Believe me you are most definitely not going to be at your dietary best in the weeks post pregnancy so during is the time to keep it in check!
If you are going to exercise during your pregnancy be sure that you are 100% comfortable with your decision. If you have your medical clearance and you exercise safely then there should be no reason why it would have an adverse affect on you, your pregnancy or your baby. However if you are not fully confident of your decision and something very unfortunate does happen you don’t want to end up with feelings of guilt.
This post was really hard to write as there is so much I want to tell you about. However I realised that nobody wants to read a post as long as it would have been so I will be adding to this post in the coming weeks.
Please feel free to contact me through my facebook page if you have any questions at all and I’d be happy to help you.