I have the privilege of living in what many consider to be the UK’s sporting capital; Loughborough. With a University that attracts top athletes from across the UK, physical activity and sport is to be seen quite literally everywhere as people jog, run and bike their way around the area. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that as an expert in pregnancy exercise I find myself on the receiving end of lots of pregnancy fitness questions and that many of these are recurrent. Here are the top 5 question that I get asked.
1. I’m suffering from morning sickness. Can exercise help and should I try to work out regularly?
For many, the first trimester is truly miserable with persistent nausea and a deep-seated fatigue. In such instances there is little point in forcing yourself to exercise if you really cannot face it or if it leaves you feeling worse than you felt beforehand. Having said this, if you find there are moments in the day where you feel slightly better, then I would encourage you to have a light carbohydrate snack – a few oat cakes for example – and then squeeze in a bit of exercise. Something as gentle as a swim or a walk will help revitalise you and carry you through the unpleasantness of morning sickness.
2. I haven’t done much exercise, but want to be healthy now that I’m pregnant. What exercises would you recommend?
One thing to bear in mind is that pregnancy is not a time to go on a major fitness drive. In general, the advice is to focus on maintaining fitness levels. However, if you have had a sedentary lifestyle up to now, this does not mean that you shouldn’t take up exercise; try building up a gentle walking or swimming routine, starting with 15 minutes. Alternately, consider taking up pregnancy-specific exercise as this will be tailored for all pregnancies; think aquanatal, pregnancy Pilates or pregnancy yoga.
3. What’s the single most useful exercise that I should prioritise in pregnancy?
This might not be what you want to hear, but pelvic floor exercises should definitely be prioritised both during and after pregnancy. Don’t forget that the pelvic floor is placed under a great deal of strain as your baby grows and even more so during labour and birth. Incorporating a pelvic floor pull-up every time you get up from a chair or sit down – known as ‘The Knack’ – is one of the best exercises to make a habit of.
4. Is it worth buying a birthing ball/fitball and if so, what pregnancy exercises do you recommend?
Many mums-to-be invest in a birthing ball, because they think they should, only to discover that they don’t quite know what to do with it. It usually ends up languishing in the loft! Fitballs are worth getting and not just for pregnancy. Indeed, the beauty of them is that they can be used for the most gentle of workouts right the way through to the most challenging. In pregnancy, using a fitball as a seat at mealtime will help strengthen posture and will gently challenge the deep abdominal muscles which need to be kept toned when expecting. As pregnancy progresses and your bump grows, the lower back might well feel tight and uncomfortable; try doing pelvic tilts or rotating the hips whilst seated on the ball. These two exercises can also be excellent for relieving back pain in early labour.
5. I am a passionate distance runner and am worried about losing my fitness levels. Is it safe for me to carry on running throughout my pregnancy?
From experience, I’d say that distance runners are some of the most focused and committed exercisers out there. Distance running is a way of life and so anything that gets in the way of this passion can become a source of worry. Regarding whether or not it is OK to keep running throughout pregnancy, the answer lies deep within you and this is where you need to be truly honest to yourself; for your sake and that of your growing baby. As long as your pregnancy is a healthy one and running is a pleasurable experience that leaves you feeling energised and revitalised both during and afterwards, then your body is telling you that it is OK to carry on. The likelihood is that there will come a point in your pregnancy when either you feel uncomfortable running – perhaps the weight of the bump is causing you to feel that way – or you no longer look forward to it and feel drained afterwards. That is when it is time to stop and to consider taking up some other form of exercise that feels good; it might be swimming, power walking, pregnancy Pilates or aquanatal. There are many options and you may even learn to love something new!
Dr Joanna Helcké is a pregnancy and postnatal fitness expert http://www.joannahelcke.com/