In preparation for pregnancy – Fitness
The decision to have a child is one of the biggest that anyone can make. When preparing for pregnancy, there are many factors you should consider, including your overall physical fitness.
Getting into your best possible shape will benefit you and your baby, but we realise that this isn’t always an easy task. Our busy lifestyles often mean that, despite good intentions, regular exercise gets pushed to the bottom of our to-do lists.
So, if you consider yourself less than fit, a pre-pregnancy fitness plan can be really useful.
Getting a head-start
When you’re pregnant you need to be in tune with your body and when it comes to keeping fit in pregnancy, the earlier you start, the better. If you create and start keeping to a fitness plan now, then your body will thank you for it later on. Regular exercise will help improve your posture, keep back pain at bay, and build the strength of key muscles, as well as improve your stamina, so that when the day finally arrives for you to go into labour, the whole process will be much easier on you.
Regular exercise will also help you achieve a healthy weight if you are not already in the recommended BMI range. Continuing to exercise throughout pregnancy could also mean you’re more able to handle many of the unpleasant symptoms of pregnancy that most women encounter at one point or another – such as nausea, constipation, stress, and disturbed sleep.
What activities should you choose?
If you’re already an active person who gets frequent exercise, then you may well be able to continue what you’re doing without too many adjustments, however, this depends on how high-risk or high impact the activities are – see below for some particular pursuits that are best avoided during pregnancy.
For the less experienced, and complete beginners, you might be at a loss as to which form of exercise is best. Below is a list of keep-fit exercises which, when done correctly and safely, can be beneficial, are recommended by medical professionals, and (as we hope you’ll agree) enjoyable, before, during and after pregnancy.
- Swimming – Relaxing and safe, a visit to the pool is one of the most recommended exercises for pregnant women – just forget diving if you think you may be pregnant.
- Walking – Yep, just plain old walking can be a great low-intensity exercise. The pace can be as leisurely as you wish, but try to make it a moderately long walk of around 20-30 minutes (or more if you want). You may even want to get yourself a pedometer to keep track of your steps, but don’t get too obsessed by beating your personal records.
- Light jogging – If walking is feels a little slow, you can pick up the pace. Be careful not to lose your balance, though. This may be a less suitable option later on in pregnancy.
- Aerobics classes – Joining a class specifically geared towards pregnant women is a great way of making sure you’re workout stays fun and safe.
- Aqua-aerobics – If you enjoy the buoyancy of water as you exercise, then an aqua-aerobics class may be the best option. Again, once you are pregnant find an ante-natal class for complete safety.
- Yoga – A very popular choice with mums-to-be, yoga will help you relax your body and mind.
- Pilates – Helping strengthen your core muscles as well as your pelvic floor, Pilates is great way to prepare your body for childbirth.
- Dancing – With several styles to choose from, dance classes offer a lot of variety for expectant mothers (and their babies) who like to feel the rhythm. But bear in mind that some dances are far more suitable for beginners than others
- Weight training – Not the best idea for novices (unless it’s very low intensity and you get the greenlight from your doctor), but if weight training is part of your regular fitness regime, you may still be able to keep some aspects of it going. But shift the focus to maintaining current levels and building muscle stamina rather than making lifting gains.
If you aren’t fit, your exercise regime needn’t be demanding for you to get benefit from it, so don’t try to take on all these activities at once.
It’s helpful to have a mix of cardio exercise – walking or jogging – and something that will strengthen your muscles, such as Pilates. Part of the reason why swimming is such a great choice is because it develops your cardio-respiratory fitness and effectively works your major muscle groups as well – while being almost non-impact, so your joints don’t suffer.
Feel free to experiment a bit – why not try a taster session of any of the above exercises which appeal to you.
Above all, remember that if you think you might be pregnant or you have any pre-existing medical condition, it’s always wise to speak to your GP before embarking on any new form of fitness regime. Generally, health practitioners agree that moving more and eating less is good for us, but there will be some exceptional circumstances in which exercise needs to be taken under the advice of a specialist.
Make a plan of what you’re going to do and on what days – for many people this can be the best way you ensure you stick to a plan.
Goals should be realistic and practical
Don’t try to take on too much throughout the week or to cram a lot of activities into one day. You want to aim to do a 30-minute session four times a week, but this may be too challenging to begin with, so you might have to start doing shorter sessions only three times a week and then build yourself up from there.
Create a fitness diary
Note down the intensity of each exercise and how you felt afterwards. It’s good for the exercise to be somewhat challenging, but if you’re gasping for air by the end of the 30 minutes and feel like collapsing, then this is a sign you’ve overexerted yourself and potentially put yourself, and your baby, at risk. Lower the intensity accordingly. This is why attending a guided class can be a safer option, as an instructor should know to keep everything at the right level of difficulty for everyone (always let the instructor know you are pregnant if the class is not specially for pregnancy).
If for some reason you are unable to do your exercise for a day, don’t worry about doubling up the intensity or duration at the next session, as this could cause you to overwork yourself.
If you find yourself struggling to find the motivation to commit, you could try adding rewards to your plan. Treat yourself to something special, because you’ll have earned it.
Some women find that keeping the fitness diary and charting progress helps them forge commitment. But, especially if you are pregnant, be careful about pushing yourself to continually improve. Listen to your body and try to establish the best regime that allows you to get fitter without being too stressful on your body.
Is there anything you shouldn’t be doing?
As you might expect, having a baby developing inside you means you have to be extra careful in how you treat your body.
While there are many exercises you can fully enjoy with only a few alterations and extra precautions, there are some activities where the high amount of risk outweighs any benefit that you might get from them.
Even if you’re experienced and relatively confident, the following activities are not recommended while you’re expecting:
- Contact sports – For obvious reasons, you should avoid doing any exercise that risks you getting hit in the stomach. This means that sports such as football, rugby, hockey, judo, boxing, and kickboxing should all be avoided.
- Sports – where there is a high chance of falling – Again, sustaining an impact can be dangerous, so activities such as horse riding, skiing, gymnastics are best postponed until after giving birth.
- Exercise at high altitudes – Less oxygen is available to you when exercising at a high altitude, and changes may also be caused to your heart rate and lung capacity
- Scuba diving – Thought to be very risky because of the possibility of suffering decompression sickness, which your baby is not protected against.
Following the above advice will help put you on the right track towards achieving your fitness goals and help make your pregnancy journey as unproblematic as possible. Most importantly, it will hopefully maximise your chances of giving birth to a healthy, happy baby.
Always talk to your doctor or midwife about exercise in pregnancy – they will be able to ensure you are doing the best for you and your baby.