Making strides with your exercise in pregnancy
At 13 weeks pregnant, you’re now entering your second trimester. For most mothers, these next three months will be easier than the first ones. Known affectionately as your pregnancy’s “honeymoon period”, weeks 13 to 27 are when unpleasant side effects from the first trimester, including fatigue and nausea, start to subside and you may find that your energy levels begin to return.
Now that you don’t feel as tired, you may feel that it’s is the perfect time to take up a low intensity exercise regime. Walking is one of the simplest yet most effective forms of cardiovascular exercise for pregnant women, and the risks involved are all relatively low.
However, despite walking being one of the least risky exercise choices for pregnant women, it’s still important for you to discuss any new routine with your doctor or midwife, as there are a few conditions that can mean even mild exercise may cause complications for some women.
How walking helps you put your best foot forward
One of the great things about walking is how easy it is to do and how accessible it is for all mums-to-be, regardless of their current fitness level. Even if you’ve never done any planned exercise routine before, the ease of walking means that it’s a great starting point that’s not too challenging, because you remain in complete control of how strenuous it gets.
And, unlike other types of exercise, it’s very easy to fit a good walk into your everyday activities. For instance, your daily exercise could be as simple as a trip to the local shop and back, or you could fit it into your lunch break while at work – anything to get the circulation going and to give your muscles a bit of a workout.
As well as keeping you generally fit and healthy, regular walking has several added benefits for pregnant women:
- Keeps your weight in check – Staying active keeps your body weight in control, which will also help your baby achieve a healthy birth weight.
- Reduces risk of complications – Regular walking will also reduce the risk of developing pre-eclampsia, a condition that causes high blood pressure, and gestational diabetes which is caused by high blood sugar.
- Reduces stress – When you do any form of exercise, your body releases endorphins. Endorphins trigger positive feelings and can help lift your mood. Regular walking can therefore reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.
Staying safe on your stroll
If you’re new to exercise, then take it easy at first. Taking a short stroll, at a comfortable pace, a few times a week is better than doing nothing at all – now is not the time to push yourself over your limit. However, if you do too little, then you and your baby won’t get the full health benefits. The NHS recommends that you walk for half an hour five times a week, bringing your total exercise time to 150 minutes per week. If you’re struggling to manage this, then set yourself a lower target and see if you can work up to it.
The most important thing is to stay comfortable. Make sure you’re wearing shoes that fit (it is not uncommon for expectant mothers to experience swelling of the ankles and feet, so you may have to buy a new pair of appropriate walking shoes).
You also shouldn’t be overdoing it to the point of breathlessness. A good way to measure this is by seeing if you’re able to talk without major difficulty. If you’re unable to comfortably hold a conversation because you’re having to gasp for air, then this is a sign to lower the intensity or to stop completely and take a quick breather.
As with all exercise, proper hydration is key. Carry a water bottle with you so that you can take frequent sips to cool you down, and if the sun is shining, remember to protect your skin by wearing sunscreen with the right protection factor sunscreen. But if the sun is shining a bit too much and it’s a very hot and humid day, then it might be best to give the walk a miss altogether and wait until the weather is more suitable. You don’t want to risk overheating and possibly fainting.
How you walk is also important. Your expanding belly during the second trimester may make you vulnerable to back strain. To avoid this, focus on giving yourself the correct posture while walking. This means keeping your back straight, shoulders back, and head and chin level. Look straight ahead at where you’re walking to, and you can swing your arms by your side for balance.
Is it OK to pick up the speed?
It may be that you’ve already started an exercise routine in your first trimester. As long as you stay wary of the danger of falling, then any exercise that you were able to carry out in your first trimester should still be OK to do in your second. So, if you have been a confident runner and have kept up your routine thus far (under your doctor’s supervision, of course), then there is little reason that you can’t continue into your second trimester. But remember that as your baby grows your centre of gravity will shift, making it easier for you to lose balance.
However, if you have not previously gone for runs on a regular basis and lack confidence, then it is recommended that you stick to walking.
If you do intend to run, then it’s a good idea to stick to a smooth, straight track to minimise the danger of stumbling. This means you may have to adjust your route so that you bypass sharp turns or uneven terrain.
In the event that you do fall, you should avoid landing on your stomach. Instead, try landing on your hands and knees or on your side. After any fall or stumble, try not to panic. Get up slowly and take a breather – make sure you haven’t injured yourself and then, if you can, carry on. Be aware of any aches and pains and if you start to feel uncomfortable or experience any vaginal bleeding, then contact your GP or mid wife immediately.
Walking is an easy and enjoyable way to get sufficient exercise while you’re pregnant. Following these guidelines will ensure that you remain safe and comfortable as you help maintain the health of you and your baby.