Why exercise during pregnancy?
Research has shown that regular antenatal exercise not only keeps you fit, it also helps with birth and postnatal recovery. So while we were once told to put our feet up and rest during pregnancy, that’s no longer the case.
Growing concerns about obesity and the harmful effects it has on both mums and babies have led to NICE (National Institute of Clinical Excellence) issuing guidelines about how important exercise is in maintaining a healthy weight during pregnancy and the postnatal period.
What can exercise do for you?
As an exercising mum-to-be you’re likely to:
- Feel less tired
- Have a healthier weight gain
- Reduce bloating and swelling
- Reduce back pain
- Decrease your time in labour
- Regain your pre-pregnancy figure in half the time.
And it’s not only you who will benefit. There is growing evidence that exercise has physical and mental benefits for your baby. He's likely to be stronger, a healthier weight and there is even evidence to show that he could be more intelligent!
Before you start, check with your midwife or GP that it’s OK for you to exercise. You can do this on your first antenatal appointment. For the majority of people there are rarely any problems but it is important to make sure.
Then try and build or maintain regular, moderate-intensity activity, for at least 30 minutes, 5 days a week. This can be in the gym or swimming but it could even be walking to work.
It’s the intensity that’s the important bit – you should feel energised but only moderately challenged and still be able to talk throughout.
There are also specific exercises that are important to follow. These include exercises for the pelvic floor and deep abdominal muscles and specific strength and conditioning exercises to help support your back during pregnancy and prepare you for giving birth.
When exercising you should stop immediately if you have any of the following symptoms and seek medical attention:
- Dizziness or fainting
- Vaginal bleeding
- Sudden water discharge
- Signs of labour
- Decreased foetal movement
- Chest pain
- Calf pain or swelling
Before exercising keep well hydrated, drinking at least 2 litres of water a day and always make sure you have eaten a meal 1½ to 2 hours before you exercise or at least a small snack such as a banana ½ hour before.
Most importantly, listen to your body. If you feel any discomfort, stop and seek professional help.
Postnatal exercise - straight after birth
One common question is when you can start working out again once your baby is born? It may be surprising but there are actually exercises that you can do immediately after the birth.
As with your antenatal plan, you need to check with your GP or midwife first to ensure it's OK for you. If you have had a complicated birth or a caesarean then you may be advised to wait a little.
Exercises designed for straight after birth are designed to promote healing and involve gentle reconnections to the pelvic floor and deep abdominals.
Postnatal exercise - a few weeks after birth
When it comes to other forms of exercise, you really need to go at a pace that’s right for you. In the first few weeks you often have far too many other things to think about! But when you can, aim to start with gentle walks, just 5 – 10 minutes to being with and bring along your baby in his pram. Holding good posture is important here and again you should listen to your body.
If you have any increased bleeding or pain STOP.
By about 6 weeks you may feel able to resume more vigorous exercise – the sort of exercise you were doing antenatally is often ideal to start. This is an individual thing, though, and its important to make sure you do what feels right for you at the right time. If you're at all unsure, seek guidance from professionals.
With both antenatal and postnatal exercise you should be looking to build things slowly, gradually and consistently. Research has shown that exercise done frequently and at a lower intensity is far more beneficial during this time than higher intensity bouts of exercise done less often.
Little and often is the key - good luck!
Pregnancy fitness expert, Jane Wake, has two new DVDs available, Antenatal Exercise & Wellbeing Programme and Postnatal Exercise & Wellbeing Programme
Follow our 5 testers trying out Jane's DVDs on our forum where you can share your experience and let us know your exercise tips.