Yippee, you’re pregnant!!  You now have the perfect excuse to eat for two and put your feet up, right? Sorry ladies, but it’s a ‘no’ from us!! Keeping fit and active during pregnancy will help your body to stay toned, increase your stamina during labour and means you’re more likely to keep the pounds off after the birth, so we think keeping active is really important for you and for your little one.

If you’ve ever wondered how so many celebrities manage to stay so trim during their pregnancy and then seem to bounce back to their old shape in just a few months – the answer is simple. Diet has something to do with it, of course, but the other major factor is exercise, keeping active (and ok, yes, maybe a little airbrushing!!). Not only does exercise help to prepare your body for the marathon that may be your birth, but it also improves your health in many ways:

  • It strengthens hearts and lungs
  • It increases stamina (very useful during labour!)
  • It boosts the immune system (helps our bodies fight illness and infection)
  • It reduces unhealthy weight gain (so even if your craving is for Mars Bars and ice cream, you don’t have to pile on the pounds)
  • It can relieve many pregnancy-related problems, including varicose veins, piles, constipation and backache
  • It makes us feel happier and more relaxed

A brisk walk will help to improve circulation, which helps to prevent constipation, reduce swelling of the ankles and leg cramps. Gentle regular exercise will also help to strengthen muscles and the cardiovascular system, therefore making it easier to accomplish tasks with less effort. Exercise has also been shown to improve moods, reducing depression both prenatally and postnatally.

What exercise should I be doing?

Aim for 30 minutes, 3-5 times a week. Consider brisk walking and walking uphill; gym machines such as the cross trainer and bike; home exercise DVDs; weight training, ante-natal yoga and Pilates classes; swimming and aquanatal classes.

Here are three good exercises you can safely do throughout your pregnancy in the comfort of your own home:

  • The Tummy-Hug. This is an abdominal exercise that keeps your core strong, that’s safe to do throughout the whole nine months. It will help to keep muscles strong for delivery, and will help prevent lower back and pelvic pain: from a standing position, place fingers on hip bones and trace them inward. Then, breathing deeply, imagine you’re wearing a belt or a tight pair of trousers and pull your tummy button back towards your spine. Don’t hold your breath – just pull in that lower part of your tum. Hold this pulling-in movement for 10 seconds, relax and repeat. Do 5-10 of these at a time throughout the day.
  • The Wall Push-Up. This is an effective, safe way to work the upper body to strengthen arms, chest and upper back muscles. Start by standing a couple of feet away from a wall, feet hip width apart, and then lean forward and rest hands against the wall shoulder-width apart. Bend your elbows and lower chest until your forehead reaches the wall keeping back straight. Then straighten elbows and push back to your starting position. Start with 12 repetitions, and slowly increase to 20.
  • Pelvic Floor Lifts. Important for everything from the delivery to preventing stress incontinence, pelvic floor exercises are often overlooked but you can so easily incorporate these into your day. The first pelvic floor exercise is to lift your pelvic floor muscles (as if you were trying to halt your urine flow) to a count of ten. Hold this contraction for 10 seconds (if you can’t hold for 10 seconds, hold for as long as possible and slowly build up to 10 seconds). Relax and rest for 10 seconds. Repeat 5-10 times. The second version is to lift pelvic floor muscles quickly and hold for just one second before relaxing and resting for one second. Repeat this total of 10 times. Do all the above several times a day at least.

Getting active: I didn’t exercise before I was pregnant, how can I start now?

Exercise in pregnancy is highly recommended, but at a level that is safe for you and your baby. Your baby is affected when you perform strenuous pregnancy exercises.  If you get very hot your baby can also get over-heated and this may be dangerous. As you get breathless, your baby’s heart rate also gets faster.  In a healthy pregnancy your baby’s heart rate will quickly return to normal when you rest. However, if there are problems with the pregnancy, it may take longer to get back to normal. Your baby’s heart may beat slower than it should for a time.

Ask your midwife, family doctor or hospital specialist about safe pregnancy exercise if:

  • You have high blood pressure
  • You have any medical conditions such as diabetes, thyroid imbalance or heart disease
  • You have had any vaginal bleeding during this pregnancy (or have had two or more miscarriages in the past)
  • You have a low-lying placenta (seen on an ultrasound scan)
  • Your baby is growing slowly (or previous babies have been slow growing during pregnancy)
  • You are expecting more than one baby

Walking, stretching and gentle swimming are good exercise for almost all pregnant women. If you are pregnant and not used to exercising, the whole idea may seem rather daunting, so you may want to start off gently, becoming increasingly more active week by week..

  • Get off the bus one stop earlier than usual and walk home briskly
  • Take the long way (or the hilly route!) to the shops or clinic
  • Choose a quiet time at your local swimming pool and go for a gentle swim. Some swimming pools offer antenatal swimming sessions (sometimes called ‘aquanatal’ classes) – ask your midwife
  • Borrow a yoga book or video from the library and have a go at home.
  • Better still, try a yoga or stretching class for pregnancy

Added benefits

Pregnancy is a tiring business and at no other time in your life will you feel quite so exhausted or need your sleep quite so much. Yet the irony is that your growing bump, and reduced bladder, coupled with the heartburn, restless legs and all those other pregnancy ‘delights’ make sleep hard to come by. During pregnancy an inadequate amount of sleep can make you feel less energetic and more lethargic, but the good news is by keeping active and exercising on a regular basis you’ll be able to work off excess energy and tire the body resulting in a more restful slumber.