Dr Joanna Helcké, pregnancy and post-natal fitness expert and founder of FitBumpBox, has put together five exercises to see you through a healthy pregnancy
If there’s one thing for certain, it’s that choosing what exercise to do in pregnancy is never easy. When expecting we suddenly find ourselves on the receiving end of a veritable avalanche of information from all quarters, yet when it comes to fitness it is hard to know where to turn for sound advice. As a result, many women choose not to exercise at all in pregnancy (“to be on the safe side”) reflected in recent statistics highlighting that only 15% of expectant mothers are exercising sufficiently to meet government health guidelines.
So what are the top forms of exercise recommended by the professionals for pregnancy?
1. Brisk walking has to come top of the list for many reasons: for starters, it’s what our bodies are designed to do and is part of the lives of the vast majority of us. So if you start a programme of walking for pregnancy, you won’t be throwing something new and unexpected at the body but simply building on an activity you already do on a daily basis – one of the recommendations for pregnancy fitness. Walking has so very many benefits, from the fact you can simply start your exercise at your front door or straight from the office in your lunch break, right the way through to being able to easily achieve the magic “moderate exercise” recommendation without it being high impact. The psychological benefits of taking your exercise outdoors are well documented helping to proof you against perinatal depression. However, just a couple of words of caution: if you suffer from pelvic girdle pain (PGP) in pregnancy then walking will aggravate the condition. I would also encourage you to walk with a friend: it’s safe and a whole lot more sociable!
2. Swimming and water-based activities such as aqua-natal and aqua- aerobics (modified specifically for pregnancy) are all excellent exercise options when expecting. Your body is supported by the water thus greatly reducing impact, and particularly in late pregnancy, this can be a huge relief, giving you a much needed feeling of lightness. The advantage of the group classes over swimming on your own is that you are more likely to achieve the desired “moderate intensity” level of exercise. Research has shown that, on average, most people fail to push themselves beyond low levels of intensity when swimming. Moreover, a pregnancy-specific aqua-natal class will also give you the opportunity to meet other mums-to-be making exercise fun and sociable. Again, on a cautionary note, breaststroke should be avoided if you have PGP or lower backache.
3. Many mums-to-be worry about the suitability of performing resistance exercise but if strength work has been part of your pre-pregnancy fitness regime, and if your health care professionals are happy for you to continue, then keeping strong has much to recommend itself when pregnant. During pregnancy, levels of the hormone relaxin are far higher than usual in the body and in general, joints are not quite as stable. This can often translate into aches and pains in areas that have, up until then, been fine. Keeping the body physically strong is a fantastic way of proofing the body against these niggles and will stand you in good stead both for childbirth and for postnatal recovery. Back to the cautionary note: good technique is absolutely key and be sure to gradually reduce your weights as pregnancy progresses.
4. Pregnancy Pilates and antenatal yoga are often lumped together under the same umbrella. The reality is that whilst there is a degree of crossover they also do quite different things. Whilst pregnancy yoga focuses very much on reducing stress, opening up areas of tightness and breathing techniques that can be used during childbirth, prenatal Pilates aims to keep the deep layer of abdominal muscle gently toned to help with a speedier postnatal recovery (from the mummy tummy) and strengthen postural muscles so as to reduce back pain. Both have their value in pregnancy and many find that they work well together. A word of caution: both Pilates and yoga should be specifically designed for the prenatal body by a professional fully qualified in pregnancy fitness. To find fully qualified instructors in your area, take a look at the Guild of Pregnancy and Postnatal Exercise Instructors.
5. Last but most certainly not least, pelvic floor exercises should most definitely become part of your daily pregnancy exercise regime. A strong, flexible pelvic floor is one that is more able to withstand the strain of pregnancy and childbirth and to recover more quickly postnatally. Remember that your pelvic floor and your core (deep abdominal muscles) are the very foundations of fitness: keep them strong and you will be giving yourself the perfect start to recovering your fitness once your little one has arrived. I would highly recommend downloading the NHS Squeezy App (don’t you just love the name?!) to help keep you on track with your all-important daily pelvic floor exercises.