Exercise during pregnancy is important for your health and that of your baby. But what sorts of excercise are best when you are pregnant, and are there any types you should avoid?
Cardio exercise in pregnancy
Cardiovascular exercise is activity such as walking or swimming which raises the heart rate. It will benefit both you and your baby as it improves your efficiency in transporting and utilising oxygen, improves blood flow to the placenta and reduces the risks of gestational diabetes and high blood pressure.
Cardiovascular exercise also increases your energy levels, can improve your sleep patterns and, importantly for many women, can control additional weight gain.
Walking is a great way to improve aerobic fitness and help tone your legs. It is easy to incorporate into your day - get off the bus one stop earlier, park the car further away, or take the stairs rather than the lift – just walk!
Your ankles are more vulnerable to twisting during pregnancy so make sure you have the correct footwear for the terrain you’re walking on. Flat shoes for work will help you incorporate walking into your daily routine. If walking n the country use walking boots or waterproof trainers, as wellies do not provide sufficient ankle support.
A good heel/toe action is essential to absorb shock through the foot, and try to keep the legs aligned in front rather than turning out. Walk tall with shoulders down and head up and don’t forget to use your abdominal muscles to draw your baby in.
A good supportive bra is important to reduce breast movement, particularly if you’re walking briskly. As your pregnancy progresses, you will naturally reduce the pace to maintain comfort.
It’s not a good idea to continue running beyond around 20 weeks due to increased impact on the joints, breasts and pelvic floor during pregnancy, as well as increased movement of the abdomen.
Exercising in water supports your bump and is great for your circulation as the pressure of the water on your blood vessels stimulates blood flow and reduces any swelling. It’s also an excellent way to maintain your abdominal tone. Take care not to overwork these muscles with strong rotational movements, particularly in deeper water.
Gentle swimming can be particularly relaxing but if you are experiencing any pelvic girdle pain you should avoid breaststroke leg action. Avoid butterfly stroke as this encourages large spinal movements. Invest in a pair of goggles so you can swim with your head down – swimming with your head lifted out of the water will cause your hips to drop and accentuate the increased curve in the lumbar spine.
You don’t have to be a swimmer to enjoy the benefits of water – contact your local pool to find out about water exercise classes for pregnant women.
Pilates and yoga in pregnancy
Pregnancy is the perfect time to get in touch with your body and there’s no better way to do so than with a mind/body workout such as Pilates or yoga. Check the instructor is qualified to teach pregnant women or, better still, attend a pregnancy-specific class. Find out more about NCT's yoga for pregnancy classes here: nct.org.uk/courses/antenata...
Such classes aim to improve posture through stretching and strengthening exercises which should help to reduce pregnancy aches and pains. However, do be careful not to overstretch.
Pilates is particularly good for strengthening the deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles. Yoga and meditation may help you to relax – deep breathing and relaxation techniques are essential tools to help you de-stress and will be invaluable during labour.
If you prefer a gentler mind/body exercise, you may find yoga breathing and relaxation exercises very helpful – and this will also help prepare you for labour.
If you'd like more information on exercise in pregnancy, visit nct.org.uk/pregnancy/exerci...