Exercising Safely During Pregnancy
Exercising during pregnancy has a huge range of benefits, but you can also do yourself harm if you do not follow a safe routine.
Can I just carry on with my pre-pregnancy exercise routine?
Possibly, yes, but that obviously depends on what this was. If you previously got daily workouts running ten miles at the crack of dawn before scaling a rock face and cooling off in the river then you're probably going to have to change your approach. Likewise, if you used to count reaching for the remote control as a calorie-burner then you too need to have an exercise rethink.
The key consideration is safety. You must not embark on exercise that pushes you to the point of exhaustion, or puts either you or your baby at risk of harm in any other way. You should design an exercise routine that is practical, affordable and that your GP agrees is appropriate for you.
I don't know where to start - I didn't exercise before I got pregnant
Don't worry, it isn't too late to start. If you are not already an exercise bunny then you will need to start gently. Begin with a workout that is only 15 minutes long and aim to build up to 30 minute sessions as you become more comfortable. Sensible exercises to start with include walking and swimming, however do consult your GP for advice first. Regardless of how long you spend exercising, always take the time to warm up and cool down, no matter how little time you have.
Important safety tips
Dehydration is dangerous during pregnancy. Ensure that you start all workouts well hydrated, have a drink to hand while you are exercising and make sure that you replenish the lost fluids with a drink afterwards. Remember that waiting until you are thirsty before having a drink means that you have waited too long.
Begin your workout fuelled and ready to go. Obviously it isn't wise to try and exercise after a three course meal, but a high energy healthy snack will help you to perform your exercises. Try having some nuts and seeds or some fruit. Don't use the exercise as an excuse to have a chocolate bar or any other unhealthy snack. Save those for treating yourself occasionally. Having a light snack after your workout will also help to keep your energy levels up, and it may prevent dizziness or tiredness.
It is important to avoid overheating during pregnancy. Exercise will raise your body temperature so be sensible, unless you are in an air-conditioned gym, don't exercise in the midday heat or in a stuffy heated room. Dress in light, loose clothing. A supportive bra will make you more comfortable but make sure that it is not so tight that it restricts your breathing. Saunas and steam rooms are off the cards too.
Take care to minimise the dangers around you. For example, if you are doing a home exercise DVD, make sure that you have plenty of space and that the floor is clear of objects you might trip over such as children's toys. If you are working out on a slippery floor then make sure that you wear trainers so that you don't slip. If you are on a treadmill, attach the security belt that stops the machine if you slip off the back of it. As you get bigger your balance will become less reliable and you won't always be able to see where you put your feet, it is therefore really important that you make your exercise environment a safe one.
There are many exercise classes available that are specifically designed for pregnant women, such as pregnancy yoga and pregnancy aqua-aerobics. If, however, you choose to continue with a more general exercise class be sure to let your instructor know that you are pregnant before the class begins.
While the uterus does provide a very effective protective wall for the baby, it is extremely important that you avoid any impact to your tummy while you are pregnant. For this reason, rule out any contact sport or exercise with a high risk of falling such as skiing, skating, cycling or horse riding.
If you do have any accidents while exercising, be sure to contact your GP or hospital immediately for advice, even if you feel alright.
Exercising at altitude can reduce your oxygen levels unless you allow yourself to acclimatise properly first. So, if you are heading somewhere high for a break, seek advice first as to how long you need to give yourself before embarking on any exercise there.
On the other side of the coin, heading down under the water is also off limits whilst you are pregnant. Scuba diving is not safe for pregnant women, because the baby has no protection against decompression sickness and gas embolism, which is where gas bubbles get into the bloodstream.
Avoid any exercise that requires you to lie on your back, particularly after week 16 of pregnancy. Spending time lying on your back puts too much pressure on your spine and on your circulatory system, and alternative exercise positions should be used instead.
Just as important as the exercise is the warming up and cooling down. Your warm up routine should gradually build up your heart rate and stretch out your muscles in preparation for exercise, reducing the chances of injury. Once you have finished your workout you should take the time to gradually bring down your heart rate and to stretch out those muscles again. This will reduce your chances of dizziness or nausea and help to prevent post-workout aches and pains.
When to stop exercising during pregnancy
If you find that you are struggling for breath or gasping then you have pushed yourself too far. Feeling slightly breathless during exercise is acceptable but you should still be able to hold a conversation while you are doing it. If you can't, then slow things down until you can.
If you feel dizzy, faint or nauseous then stop exercising immediately. To reduce your chances of these symptoms follow the safety advice above; make sure that you have eaten properly; ensure that you are not dehydrated or overheated and that you do not push yourself too hard. If you are exercising on the floor then get up slowly to reduce the chances of sudden light-headedness.
If you experience any vaginal bleeding then stop exercising and contact your midwife or GP for immediate advice.
If you experience contractions while exercising then stop straight away. If you are at least 37 weeks pregnant then follow the advice of your antenatal team and prepare yourself for labour if the contractions continue. If you experience contractions earlier than 37 weeks then you may be about to go into premature labour, in which case contact your midwife or hospital immediately.
When exercise isn't suitable
Every woman and every pregnancy is different. For a so called 'normal' pregnancy, exercise is safe and beneficial to both the mother and the baby. However, there are a number of conditions under which exercise may be ill-advised. These include problems with previous pregnancies such as premature delivery or if you have any potential or established complications with this pregnancy. Pre-pregnancy health conditions may also restrict your exercise options.
For these reasons it is imperative that you take advice from your GP based on your own personal circumstances before undertaking any exercise routine.