Do I need to exercise?
Exercise in everyday life - whether you’re pregnant, young or old has its obvious benefits. It might be tempting to just slouch around in trackies, eating anything you want as you suffer from everything from cankles to bloating and constipation.
The LAST thing you feel like doing some days is trying to squeeze into activewear and sweating your way through a workout. Our team has all experienced the pressure of exercise during pregnancy and opted on some days for the couch instead so we are definitely not judging. However, the obvious benefits of exercise cannot be ignored and when you find your groove. Find some form of exercise that you can cope with and you might even grow to enjoy it too.
You might continue these good habits into postnatal exercise and there is a school of thought, backed by some studies, that exercising in pregnancy means shorter labour times and potentially fewer delivery complications. Exercise during pregnancy can help reduce tiredness, improve your sleep and alleviate anxiety and depression. It also helps reduce the likelihood of back or pelvic pain and could have a positive bearing on those swelling feet and ankles. Plus exercise can lower the risk of you developing gestational diabetes and hypertension. So, need we say any more! But importantly, listen to your body - it’s not always possible to exercise while pregnant or carry on with sports or activities that you were doing pre-pregnancy.
What exercise is good in pregnancy?
We recommend 30 minutes of light cardio, 3-5 times each week during your pregnancy. Light cardio is defined as passing the ‘talk test’. This means that if you are struggling to talk while exercising you might be overdoing it. 8 So what counts towards your thirty minutes? Here’s some ideas:
Anyone who’s had an injury or is rehabilitating will tell you that the first thing their physio tells them to get into is the pool. It’s the best way to exercise without putting too much pressure on joints because it isn’t weight bearing. The buoyancy of the water supports your weight - and as you grow in your pregnancy - this is a godsend as it takes a lot of the pressure off your back and pelvis. It’s a safe workout even late into your pregnancy.
A great option for you while you’re pregnant. It’s recommended you use an exercise bike instead of hitting the road because of the risk of falling.
The most popular option among our team and a go-to exercise, especially in the third trimester. Plus, you can drag out hubby, friends, family members or work colleagues to keep you company.
You might have been a runner prior to getting pregnant and want to keep up your exercise over the next nine months. Now is probably not the best time to take up running if you haven’t already got some conditioning. Here’s some things to consider when bringing jogging into your pregnancy cardio workouts: Ensure you are also maintaining your strengthening exercises to help support your extra weight. You might need to get a more supportive sports bra! And be kind to yourself - you will definitely need to reassess your goals and again, listen to your body.
There are plenty of tailor-made pregnancy classes available - especially for things like yoga or pilates. Instructors usually design the class to centre around safe and appropriate exercise for you no matter what stage of pregnancy. Strength Training We recommend strength training, 2-3 sessions each week, that focus on low weights with higher repetitions. You can do these at the gym or even at home with the use of a swiss ball or light weights (2-3kg). Try seven to eight different exercises such as bicep curls, lateral raises or squats to help condition key muscle groups. Do each exercise 8-12 times and then repeat the set three times.
The Pelvic Floor
Alongside strengthening and cardio exercise, there are simple daily ways to exercise your pelvic floor. The pelvic floor consists of layers of muscles that stretch like a supportive hammock from the pubic bone (in front) to the end of the backbone. Why are pelvic floor exercises important? Your pelvic floor muscles are going to come under a lot of strain during pregnancy and in childbirth. Like all muscles, conditioning and strengthening your pelvic floor will help as your baby grows in the womb. A weak pelvic floor means you might accidentally pee a little when you sneeze, cough or strain and it can continue after pregnancy. Regular pelvic floor exercises that are done correctly before you give birth can reduce incontinence in pregnancy by 50% and by 35% in postnatal women.
Pelvic floor exercise
Gently squeeze around your back passage and try and lift, like you are holding in a fart. Ideally you want all your other core muscles to be as relaxed as possible, so no clenching your glutes or thighs according to our health expert Becs Dodson. We recommend you do this exercise 8-12 times (holding for 10 seconds) and do three sets each day.
Technique is the key with this exercise but here’s some things to consider:
• Lying on your side is the easiest position to feel the technique correctly.
• To begin, try holding for just a few seconds then slowly build up to 10 seconds for each hold.
• Try an app called Squeezy. It helps keep you on track with your pelvic floor exercises.
It’s important to note that even women who have done pilates for years sometimes struggle with the technique, says Becs. She says many women regret not having done more to strengthen their pelvic floor before and during pregnancy. Even if you deliver by c-section, there’s still a risk to the pelvic floor so you still need to strengthen it.
Tip: Make it a priority to begin a ritual of daily pelvic floor exercises building up to holding each for 10 seconds. Try the app Squeezy to help you keep on track with these crucial exercises.
On paper this exercise plan sounds perfect but executing it can be a bit harder. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t achieve everything we’ve highlighted. Fewer than 15% of women manage to achieve the minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week while they’re pregnant.
Lots of mums I know say some form of exercise did make them feel better while they were pregnant and this was certainly the case for me. Of course, you should always check with an expert in your prenatal team if you’re unsure about the exercise you’re doing or plan to do. Risks tend to come from inappropriate forms of exercise or from you overdoing it. If you have a higher risk pregnancy you may need closer supervision but hopefully you’ll find some form of exercise that you’ll enjoy during your pregnancy.