This might not be news to a lot of members of this site, but yet another study (read this great article on it here) has found that exercise in pregnancy is a good thing. Many of you are probably regular visitors here, so already know that, but it’s surprising how many people still think pregnant women should be kicking back with their feet up.
Then there’s the vast mass of confusing and conflicting advice (hello internet!) out there around what constitutes a good amount of exercise in pregnancy. What’s too much? What’s too little? What’s safe for the baby? What’s safe for you?
It’s easy to see why for many women the couch seems a safer place to be. Especially when the advice you get from your doctor or midwife might contradict the advice you get from your mum might contradict the advice you get from your best friend might contradict the advice you read in an online forum or see on Instagram.
New research on Exercise in Pregnancy out of the University of Madrid says the consensus is exercise is of benefit for both the mum and her developing baby. For the majority of women, exercise should be an important part of pregnancy and is not something that should be feared.
In fact, there’s much more to fear when you don’t exercise, including a higher chance of weight retention after pregnancy, a higher than average birth weight for your child and the increased chance of inter-generational obesity.
The University of Madrid researchers believe our historically misguided views around pregnancy (eat for two and don’t exert yourself) are a major contributor to the worldwide obesity epidemic and a whole host of bad outcomes for mums and babies, which can have life-long consequences.
That’s heavy stuff right? So what should you be doing exercise-wise? Official American guidelines (updated in 2015) suggest 20 – 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise most days of the week. You want to avoid high-intensity exercise that makes your heart pump at 90% or more of its maximum beats per minute.
The aim is to get moving but still be able to carry on a conversation. However, studies have found many women aren’t reaching this level of activity, even when incidental exercise like a 10 minute walk to the shops is counted.
I know how hard this, relatively straightforward sounding, goal can be to meet. If you work in a sedentary job your day can easily be swallowed up with a seated commute followed by a long day at a desk and possibly little time or energy to squeeze in exercise before or after work.
But finding the time is key, even if you weren’t exercising before pregnancy. There’s been a commonly held belief that if you didn’t work out before you got pregnant, when you’re expecting is not the time to introduce a regime. But now evidence suggests this is the perfect time to start. You’ll reap the health benefits, plus you might find it easier to stay motivated when you know it’s your baby’s health, as well as your own at stake.
The important thing is to start slowly – 20 minutes might be too much if you’re just beginning so work your way up to a longer workout (or get yourself on the Fit2BirthMum programme, which is designed for all levels and gives you lots of good options to increase your workout as you increase your ability).
Exercise in pregnancy doesn’t just prevent extra weight gain, there’s also the chance it lowers the risk of a caesarean, breathing problems in newborns and maternal hypertension among other things.
There are situations where you do need to be careful or avoid exercise – these include conditions like heart disease, persistent bleeding, anaemia and risk of premature labour. But those with gestational diabetes, overweight or obese mums and women with high blood pressure should be able to exercise. Of course, like all situations involving exercise, make sure you’re getting medical advice tailored to your circumstance before you throw yourself into anything.
There are various forms of exercise that it’s probably best the average pregnant woman avoid – long distance running, frequent heavy weightlifting, contact sports, hot yoga and exercise done lying on your back from the second trimester are amongst them.
And one thing the article doesn’t talk about (why does no one talk aboutthis!?) is the importance of looking after your body in pregnancy and focusing on exercise that prevents diastasis recti and strengthens your core. You want exercises that will help your pelvic floor function so you don’t end up leaking with every sneeze.
If you don’t even know what those terms mean then luckily you’re in the right place, check out these articles for more information then pop your sneakers on and head out for a 20 minute blat around the block.
Gemma Finlay has spent her working life in journalism, marketing and publicity. Since having her daughter, Nina, in 2014 she’s become obsessed with all things pregnancy and baby related. Dealing with the physical side of pregnancy made her hyper-aware of the importance of getting good advice about looking after yourself both pre and post birth. She’s passionate about sharing quality information with other mums. Follow Gemma on Twitter
Written by Gemma Finlay