Hitting-up the gym may take an extra dose of oomph and motivation in pregnancy, but trust us when we say the well-being dividends will pay off. A regular exercise regime will support sleep, minimise constipation, reduce nagging aches and pain, and even lower the risk of gestational diabetes. Plus, working out floods your body with endorphins – those ‘feel good’ hormones that boost your emotional well-being and strive to keep pregnancy and postnatal mood disturbances at bay. Here’s your guide to pregnancy and exercise: what’s safe?
Will exercise harm my baby?
Thanks to a smorgasbord of myths and old wives tales, many women fear strenuous exercise could harm their little babe and trigger a miscarriage. But there’s no concrete evidence to suggest physical activity is associated with this. That being said, there are some caveats to exercising: elevating your core temperature may harm the fetus, so don’t workout in the heat of the day, and avoid panting and puffing so hard that you’re unable to talk.
Pregnancy and exercise: what’s safe?
When it comes to working out in pregnancy, there’s some key advice you should heed: if you were super active before pregnancy, stay super active. And if you weren’t, now is a brilliant time to become fit and active. For beginners, you may want to jump-start your workout efforts with 30 minutes of brisk walking, three days a week.
Running is a powerful weapon to build endurance and get your heart pumping during pregnancy. Plus, traversing green spaces and scenic parks will ensure you reap the mood-enhancing benefits, too. If you’re already a runner, your body will communicate when it’s time to switch it up to walking. Listen to it. Oh, and don’t worry about shaking your little nut, either. She’s got plenty of amniotic fluid to swim around in when you jog. Calf cramps? Try running on the treadmill in the gym first – this way you can control the terrain and inclines.
Want another excuse to turn up the radio and boogie on down? Listen up. Dancing to your favourite tunes – in a group class or the comfort of your own home/kitchen/living room – is a fun and invigorating way to get your pregnancy body moving. It’s fantastic food for your mood, too, making it a brilliant tool to bust some of those pregnancy blahs. Top tip: avoid routines that incorporate twirls, jumps or leaps.
Looking for an exercise that trims, tones and turbo-charges your heart health? Book yourself into an aerobics class. Better still, join a pregnancy-specific class and relish the camaraderie of working out with other mamas-to-be. Plus, you can feel reassured that every single move is safe for you and your blossoming babe. Brilliant.
Swimming is often touted as being one of the best activities for pregnant women. What makes it so conducive to pregnancy is that it exercises large muscle groups (both legs and arms), reduces swelling, and delivers immense cardiovascular benefits. Oh, and did we mention your feel weightless, too? Another big selling point when you’ve got a growing bun in your tum. Added bonus: if you’ve got lower back pain, swimming is just what the doctor ordered.
Of course, you don’t need a gym membership or a pool to adequately workout during pregnancy. Good old-fashioned walking can do the job quite nicely. Walking keeps you fit without compromising your ankles and knees. You don’t need anything fancy to get started, either. Just put on a pair of supportive shoes, place one foot in front of the other, and get moving! You can walk throughout all nine months of your pregnancy, too.
Strength training and flexibility
When your little nut enters the world, you will need as much upper body strength you can get. Just think about all that lifting you’ll be doing soon. One way to prepare you for this is with weight training. As long as you take the correct precautions (read: controlled, slow movements), strength training with machines, free weights, and body-weight is a brilliant activity to build and bolster your muscles. Warning: doing crunches on your back in a big no-no during pregnancy. Squatting, on the other hand, is totally fine. And no – it won’t induce labour.
Yoga is a tried-and-tested pregnancy go-to. Prenatal yoga not only improves flexibility and strengthens your core, but its focus on meditation and breathing busts anxiety and fosters a sense of calm. In the second half of pregnancy, avoid spinal twists, exaggerated movements that pull on your belly, and inversions like shoulder stands and headstands.
Besides being a great workout for your body and mind, Pilates could also help to prepare your body for labour. By maintaining abdominal muscle tone, Pilates supports your blossoming stomach, reduces back pain, and gives you more momentum for pushing during birth. That said, mat-orientated classes could be challenging after the first trimester since so much of it is done on your back. Opt out of these exercises or sign up for a pregnancy Pilates class instead.
What exercise should I avoid?
Besides horse riding, scuba diving and any contact sports that may traumatise the abdomen, there’s relatively little women can’t do during pregnancy. When you’re exercising, however, you should monitor potential problematic signs. Be mindful that exercise usually isn’t the ‘cause’ of issues during pregnancy, but it can sometimes bring things to the forefront. Be sure to listen to your body. Don’t overdo it. Stop if you experience pain, abdominal cramping, light-headedness, excessive nausea, extreme headaches or vaginal bleeding. Watch for dehydration, too. Aim to drink eight to nine large glasses daily – and adjust your fluid needs for the intensity and duration of your workouts.