Creating a new life is exciting and an enormous responsibility for all Moms-to-be. In an ideal world, Moms-to-be should follow a good fitness and health routine for at least twelve months before they intend being pregnant, however, life often gets in the way of the best laid plans. Whether you are an exercise bunny or you haven’t done any exercise in a while, regular pregnant exercises will benefit both you and baby. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists says, “A woman’s overall health, including obstetric and medical risks, should be evaluated before prescribing an exercise programme. Generally, the participation in a wide range of recreational activities appears to be safe during pregnancy; however, each sport should be viewed individually for its potential risk.”
Most doctors recommend thirty minutes of moderate exercise a day. The definition of ‘moderate’ will largely depend on how much exercise you did before the baby bump. If you haven’t been exercising in a while, then start by walking and gradually include other forms of exercise such as Pilates and yoga. Pregnancy is not the time to decide you are going to be a long distance runner, when the last time you ran was in the 100m race on school sport’s day. The obvious activities to avoid are those where falls are likely such as skiing, horse riding and sky diving! Scuba diving is another fun past time which doctors say should not be enjoyed whilst pregnant; small sacrifices for the end result. During pregnancy there is an increase in the levels of the hormone relaxin which is produced by the ovaries and placenta.
Relaxin is responsible for relaxing the ligaments (the connective tissue between the bones) not only in the pelvic area, thus preparing it for childbirth, but in all ligaments in the body. The effects of relaxin are still in place up to five months after baby is born which is why Moms-to-be have to be cautious and not overstretch, as strains are easy to come by during this period.
CYCLING WHILE PREGNANT?
Cycling while pregnant is an exceptionally controversial subject as just as many medical practitioners say ‘yes’, as say ‘no’. The NHS in the UK says an emphatic ‘no’, however various doctors, who are also cycling enthusiasts believe it is fine as long as the Mom-to-be is sensible. Dr. Andy Ward says, “If a pregnant woman was a confident cyclist prior to getting pregnant, I would have no problem with her continuing to ride during pregnancy. You are just as likely to fall off as you were before! I would make her aware that there is a potential risk if she did crash – BMX racing might not be the best idea!” Writer and cycling adventurer Josie Dew continued cycling during both her pregnancies and agrees with Dr. Ward, “I wouldn’t career headlong down a steep rocky hillside off-road, but I think normal cycling is fine - and is actually beneficial." What to remember while cycling when pregnant:
- Listen to your body. During the first trimester your body is working exceptionally hard and you will experience an unusual amount of tiredness. Perhaps switch your ride to early morning, to allow yourself the evening to relax or have an early night. If you feel tired, then don’t push yourself.
- If you find you are suffering from morning sickness in the first trimester then you can always be kind to yourself and say that you will start cycling again when the morning sickness has passed.
- Steer clear of bumpy, uneven tracks.
- As baby and the bump grow, so you should alter the handlebars on your bicycle so you can ride in a more upright position which will give you better balance on the bicycle and help prevent back ache.
- If cycling is contributing to back pain, then give it a few days rest and try some Pilates or yoga to relieve the pain.
- Overheating is detrimental to baby’s growth, so ensure you stay hydrated.
- Fitness levels and endurance will decrease as the pregnancy progresses, so don’t set yourself unrealistic goals.
RUNNING WHILE PREGNANT?
Running is generally considered to be safe during pregnancy as long as there are no complications and you’re not having triplets. Remember, this is not a time to introduce running into your life, if it is something you have never done before, rather take up walking which is exceptionally beneficial to body and mind. Dr. Sheeva Talebian is a maternal health expert and reiterates that running is beneficial, as it reduces stress levels, increases heart health, helps to lower blood pressure and keeps excess weight down. Dr. Talbien added the benefits of running and general exercise for pregnant ladies, “Women who exercise while pregnant have lower rates of diabetes and pre-eclampsia, and they are less likely to gain an unhealthy (and potentially dangerous) amount of weight. There’s even some data to suggest babies born to women who worked out while expecting have stronger cardiovascular systems.”
- Stay hydrated. Overheating and dehydration can seriously affect baby’s development, especially in the first trimester.
- Concentrate on the amount of time you have run each day, not the distance. You will not be able to run as fast and that is fine.
- Rest or walk. If you are feeling tired, then stop and rest until your feel able to go on or slow it down to a walk. Every woman experiences tiredness, especially during the first semester, so, whatever you do, don’t push yourself.
- Running and morning sickness do not go together. If you are feeling particularly nauseas, then give yourself a break and go running another day.
- Don’t get out of breath. Doctors say that you should be able to carry on a conversation while running, if you can’t, then slow down.
- Recognise the time when you should give up running until after baby is born. It’s really important that you listen to your body as it will tell you when to stop. Remember it is only for a few months and the rewards are enormous.
Wear comfortable clothing and good supportive shoes and invest in a larger size reflective running vest or reflective running belt for you and baby to share while doing some pregnant exercises.
For those of you not familiar with Pilates, it is an exercise system developed by German born Joseph Pilates while he was interned in England during World War I. He began with the mat work and developed the apparatus after his move to New York in 1926. Pilates concentrates on your core muscles, promoting strength, flexibility and balance. Correct breathing and relaxation are an important part of a Pilates workout. It is important that you go to a studio where the instructor is qualified to teach pregnant ladies as there are certain exercises which are not suitable for Moms-to-be. There are Pilates studios which have classes specifically for pregnant women. The important benefits of Pilates:-
- Pilates promotes good posture which reduces muscle tension in the neck and shoulders.
- It increases and improves the blood supply to all areas of the body.
- It boosts the efficiency of the autonomic nervous system which has the knock on effect of increasing the efficiency of the reproductive system.
- Pilates reduces the strain on muscles and ligaments, which is especially important during pregnancy, due to the relaxing effect of relaxin.
- Pilates strengthens your tummy muscles, allowing you to carry your growing baby with ease. Strong tummy muscles help stabilise your back and pelvis, thus reducing the possibility of back ache during pregnancy.
- These strong tummy muscles will also help prevent diastasis rectus which is a common occurrence in pregnancy and is the separation of your outer most abdominal muscles.
- It strengthens the pelvic floor, helping prevent those little leakages during pregnancy and afterwards.
- Pilates teaches you controlled breathing and relaxation which is incredibly useful during labour and childbirth.
- By doing Pilates before and during pregnancy, your body will remember that muscle strength and will therefore recover quickly after baby is born. The strength of your body during pregnancy is directly related to how quickly you can get into your jeans again.
Pilates exercises can generally be started after your six week check if you had a normal pregnancy and delivery. However, if you had a C-section, a wait of between eight and twelve weeks is generally recommended. Ask your physician when you go for that six week check.
YOGA Many Moms-to-be actually start yoga when they hear they are pregnant. Gyms and antenatal clinics throughout the world hold yoga antenatal and postnatal classes. It is thought that performing yoga throughout pregnancy helps prepare not only your body for what is to come but also prepares your mind and helps you to connect with your unborn child. It helps you to build stamina and strengthens and increases flexibility in the muscles that will be used during childbirth. Yoga is also a great stress reliever. British midwife, Manijeh Nedas says, “In my experience, I believe that yoga plays a very important role in pregnancy. Generally pregnant mums who do yoga exercises appear healthier, both in mind and body. Their bodies are more flexible, which enables them to adapt to various positions when in labour and the ligaments are more elastic, which in turn can help reduce labour pain.”
The Most Important Benefits of Yoga:
- It gives Moms-to-be a greater awareness of breath and how to use it during labour and to generally avoid feeling stressed.
- Improves circulation. You and baby are sharing the same blood supply, so good circulation is important for both of you.
- Enables your body to stay supple and aligned while you go through this amazing physical change.
- Yoga prepares the legs, hips and pelvic muscles for labour and childbirth.
- The breathing techniques used during yoga help reduce stress caused by violent fluctuations of hormone levels.
- Regular yoga during pregnancy means a quicker return of your pre-baby shape.
It is important to go to a class which is geared towards pregnancy as there are certain poses which should not be attempted while pregnant. Many medical practitioners feel that yoga should not be performed during the first trimester, especially if you haven’t done yoga before. It is best to totally avoid Bikram yoga while pregnant as studies have shown that overheating is not good for baby’s development. Yoga can be resumed six weeks after baby is born but it is advisable to use the antenatal modified poses for at least another four to six months, to give your muscles and ligaments time to readjust and avoid any strains.
AFTER BABY IS BORN
Your gynaecologist will tell you when you can start exercising again. Moms who had straight forward labour experiences can begin gentle walking within days of baby being born. Doctors believe this is exceptionally beneficial and helps prevent blood clots. When you visit your gynaecologist for your six week check up, ask about exercise. Generally, if you had a normal labour and delivery, you will be given permission to start exercising, albeit gently at first. If you have had a C-section, you need to wait longer and have your gynae’s OK before you resume your former regime.