Congratulations! Whether this is your first, second or you’re a seasoned mum, your body is undergoing many complex and amazing changes. In addition to your wonderful news is the good news that you do not have to stop training! Buggyfit, FooFooFunClub and my Personal Training sessions are all perfectly appropriate, beneficial in fact, throughout your pregnancy.
Benefits of Exercise in Pregnancy
Many women have concerns around birth, weight gain, staying healthy and the risks of exercise to pregnancy, however exercising during pregnancy can reduce many pregnancy related concerns as well as reduce many of the negative associations of pregnancy (tiredness, excessive weight gain, varicose veins and stretch marks for example).
On average research has found that exercising women had an active labour 30% shorter than non exercisers. (1.)
** Great news!**
Here come the benefits…..
Exercise during pregnancy can increase or improve:
- Cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength and endurance (you keep your body fat down and look good!)
- Functional capacity (you’ll be fit for the job of being a mother!)
- Self esteem, self confidence and mental well-being
- Core strength to help support your baby
- Recovery time after birth
- Circulation and blood flow (varicose veins and haemorrhoids anyone?)
Exercise during pregnancy can prevent or reduce:
- Excessive weight gain
- Muscle imbalances
- Back pain
- Anxiety / depression
- Leg cramps and varicose veins
- Urinary incontinence
- Pregnancy induced hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Gestational diabetes
The First Trimester
The first three months of your pregnancy produces huge hormonal and physiological changes in your body even though outwardly you may show no signs at all. You may feel you want to keep your pregnancy private from friends and family until you are beyond this stage, however it is very important that you let your instructor know as they will be able to advise on any modifications to exercise that you may need to make. Please advise your instructor at the start of every session of any changes that may be of concern.
Common symptoms in early pregnancy are fatigue, nausea, sickness and dizziness and these are brought on by hormonal changes in the body. These symptoms are usually strongest in the first trimester and usually start to abate after this stage.
The increase in oestrogen stimulates growth in the breasts and uterus and can result in water retention and nausea. In fact, breast growth is usually the first outward sign of pregnancy. It is important to wear a supportive, non-wired training bra during exercise for this reason. You may feel the need to use the toilet more regularly at this stage of pregnancy, but it is important to stay hydrated, especially whilst exercising, so keep your water bottle handy and topped up.
The hormone progesterone also increases in the body enormously at this stage. This relaxes smooth muscle tone and allows the blood vessels to stretch to accommodate the extra blood volume that the body will eventually produce. However, the amount of blood in the body in the first trimester remains the same which can lead to a condition called ‘vascular underfill’. Later in the pregnancy (during the second trimester), the blood volume increases and symptoms such as dizziness and nausea tend to subside. These symptoms can be avoided in the first trimester by taking your time when getting up and lying down.
During the first trimester, resting heart rate generally increases by around 8bpm and during exercise, the heart will beat faster at a given intensity to deliver blood to the working muscles. Now is not the time to start upping the intensity in your sessions! Your pregnancy will be increasing the training for you. If you feel the need to decrease the intensity, do so, or ask for a lower intensity option.
Implications for exercise in the first trimester
Intensity: As mentioned, now is not the time to start to increase the intensity of your training. Maintaining or decreasing intensity if you feel the need is fine! Ask your instructor if you are unsure how to do this.
Getting up and down : take your time getting up from exercises performed on the ground, especially if you’re feeling dizzy. If you’re lying in the supine position (face up) roll to one side and push into a sitting position before standing. (This will become even more important later in your pregnancy as your abdomen increases in size).
Abdominal / Core training: Until your pregnancy starts to show as a ‘bump’, core exercises can remain the same. In fact, they will really benefit your body in terms of supporting your growing uterus and baby and maintaining strength in the pelvic floor. Concentrating on your TVA (transverse abdominal muscle) and pelvic floor is key. Correct posture and breathing, automatically activates these deep muscular structures and I’ve explained this in simple terms in the ‘What do we mean by the Core’’ post. l’ll explore these too in the 2nd Trimester post when I’ll be looking at postural changes.
Make ‘tummy button to spine’ your mantra, and excellent posture the norm!
Muscular strength and endurance: As well as your ‘core’ muscles, try and focus your training into areas such as your glutes (buttocks), mid back and legs. Squats, x-rows and lunges are fantastic exercises in pregnancy. Postural changes (more of this in the next handout) will mean that your body will benefit from stretching out the front of your body, paying particular attention to your chest, front of your shoulders and hip flexors.
Hydration: Make sure you drink plenty of water before, during and after your session. Don’t be alarmed or tempted to drink less if you feel the need to use the toilet more often!
Clothing: Wear plenty of loose layers so that your body doesn’t overheat and most importantly, remember that supportive sports bra. Be prepared that you may need to start going up a size! Also check that your trainers fit well. Feet can increase in size and arches can flatten as your pregnancy progresses.
Food: Now is not the time to embark on a weight loss eating plan! With healthy eating and regular exercise, expect to gain on average 10 – 12.5 kg (22 – 28lb) over the entire pregnancy. On average, a woman’s body needs an extra 300 high quality kcal a day to meet the energy demands of pregnancy.
When exercise isn’t advisable
Healthy women with uncomplicated pregnancies do not need to limit their exercise due to fear of adverse effects. However, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has defined absolute and relative contraindications to exercise in pregnancy . 2.
Absolute contraindications (under no circumstances….)
- Heart disease
- Lung disease
- Incompetent cervix
- Multiple gestations (carrying more than one baby) (increased risk of premature labour)
- Persistent bleeding
- Placenta Previa (low lying placenta)
- Premature labour
- Ruptured membranes (breaking waters)
- Hypertension / pre-eclampsia
Relative contraindications (less dangerous, but warrant medical supervision…)
- Severe anaemia
- Poorly controlled Type 1 Diabetes
- Chronic bronchitis
- Maternal cardiac arrhythmia
- Heavy smoker
- Poorly controlled seizure disorder
- Extremely underweight
Finally, it is important that you are aware of the following warning signs. The words in brackets are the POSSIBLE reason, not the definitive one! Please let your instructor know if you experience any of these and seek medical advice:
- Itching all over the body (not just abdomen) (obstetric cholestasis)
- Severe headaches / dizziness (pre-eclampsia)
- Lights / floaters in the eyes (pre-eclampsia)
- Decreased foetal movement
- Unexplained abdominal pain (premature labour)
- Persistent contractions (premature labour)
- ‘spotting’ or more persistent bleeding (premature labour / placenta previa)
- Sudden swelling in ankles, hands, face (pre-eclampsia)
- High blood pressure (pre-eclampsia)
- Inflamed or swollen calf (thrombotic clot)
- Sudden ‘gushing’ or persistent watery leakage (ruptured membranes)
- Pain in the pelvic area / lower back (Pelvic Girdle Pain, also known as Symphis Pubis Dysfunction)
Remember: Always listen to your body and enjoy your pregnancy 🙂
1. Anthony, L. (2002) Pre and Postnatal Fitness: A Guide for Fitness Professionals from the American Council on Exercise, Healthy Learning, Monterey, CA93942
2. AmericanCollege of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists ‘Exercise during Pregnancy and the Post-partum period’ ACOG Committee Opinion No. 267 Obstet. Gynaecol 2002; 99 171 – 173.