Nurture Article | The Portland Hospital Parenting Magazine
Spring/Summer Issue 2014 | Exercising during Pregnancy
When the Queen’s granddaughter Zara Tindall was spotted out horse riding while pregnant, it reignited the debate: is it good to exercise when you’re expecting?
The answer is a definite yes, according to the experts.
“There’s no doubt that exercise can bring benefits in pregnancy. Women who don’t exercise at all will not manage very well in labour,” says Liz Laverick, a specialist physiotherapist at The Portland Hospital.
“Labour with a first a baby lasts an average of 12 hours and puts great strain on your lungs and heart. If you have not exercised you are more likely to tire easily and need intervention such as forceps or ventouse.”
Exercising can also help ease those common pregnancy complaints such as tiredness, varicose veins and swollen ankles, as well as lifting your mood, making it easier to sleep and reducing stress and anxiety.
Scientists have discovered that it benefits your baby too.
A study presented at the annual conference of the Society for Neuroscience in November last year found that if a mother-to-be exercises for just 20 minutes three times a week (for example, brisk walking, cycling or swimming) it helps boost her baby’s brain development.
Another study, published in the journal Experimental Physiology in October last year, found that the benefits of exercise for babies continue into adulthood. Babies of mothers who exercised between 20 and 40 minutes most days while pregnant had healthier blood vessels and a reduced risk of heart disease as adults.
So what’s the best type of exercise to do during pregnancy and how much is a good idea?
Pregnancy isn’t a good time to take up skiing or contact sports – but running, swimming, cycling, brisk walking, yoga and Pilates are all fine, says Dr Penny Law, a Consultant Obstetrician at The Portland Hospital.
“Until you have an established bump, you can do any sport that is not going to cause you to fall onto your stomach,” she says.
“Running is fine, although it is better to run outside or on a track rather than on a treadmill, as is cycling or horse riding, but down-hill slalom skiing is not a good idea!
“There is evidence that if you have a high-impact injury from skiing, for example, while pregnant it can lead to a placental abruption (where the placenta separates from the womb). If this is small and at the edge of the placenta, in most cases the baby will be fine, but you don’t want to take the risk.
“Increasing the heart rate so that you are slightly out of breath is important as this increases your cardiovascular fitness and lung capacity. So if you are walking, go for a brisk walk that gets your heart rate up. Any kind of exercise is going to help with your labour and flexibility.
“My advice is to carry on exercising as you did before pregnancy but listen to your body. If you weren’t exercising before becoming pregnant, then start with more gentle sports like swimming, yoga or Pilates.
“If you are not able to go out to exercise then one thing you can do at home is walk around your home for 30 minutes before and after a meal. The evidence shows it really helps your body regulate blood sugars and can help prevent the development of gestational diabetes.”
If you are suffering with aches and pains, then Liz suggests you may want to try yoga or Pilates.
“A lot of women develop pain around their pelvis area or in their lower back during pregnancy. This is a sign that the muscles are too weak and you could benefit from strengthening them with a floor class like Pilates or yoga,” she says.
“However, it is important to go to classes designed for pregnant women as your ligaments become more elastic during pregnancy and so it is easier to hurt yourself.”
The Portland Hospital has Pilates and yoga classes run by specially-trained teachers and physiotherapists. Classes cost £25 per session or £125 for 6 sessions (for more information call 020 7390 6553).
The key to exercising during pregnancy is to make sure you do it regularly.
“Try to do something two or three times a week,” says Liz. “The problem with exercising once a week is that, especially after the 20 week stage, your body is changing day by day.”
Consultant Obstetrician Penny Law’s advice on exercising during pregnancy
EXERCISE WILL HELP WITH LABOUR
Exercising during pregnancy is important and will help with labour.
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
If your workout feels too intense slow down or stop.
AVOID HIGH-IMPACT SPORTS
Pregnancy isn’t a good time to do high-impact sports like skiing.
Swimming, brisk walking, cycling, running, yoga and Pilates are good sports to do during pregnancy.
Remember to stay hydrated – keep a water bottle handy.
Wear a sports bra that fits.
Take your mobile phone with you if you go out for a run in case you start to feel unwell and need to be collected.
REGULATE BLOOD SUGAR
Walk around your house for 30 minutes before and after you eat a meal to help regulate your blood sugars.
WARM UP, COOL DOWN
Make sure you warm up and cool down, with good stretches.
Ask your doctor or midwife before you start any regular exercise routines or if you have any concerns.
By Lucy Elkins