pre and postnatal fitness
Health

Keeping fit through pregnancy

Keeping physically fit through pregnancy will help to keep you toned and energised throughout those 9 months and beyond. Pre and postnatal fitness trainer Stephanie Sinnott advises how to stay active safely when you’re expecting.

It might feel like it but pregnancy is not the time to lie back and rest (unless have been advised to by your midwife or doctor). Depending on how many weeks you are, you could be feeling exhausted and fit for bed, or full of energy and delightfully happy. Either way, you may be thinking of what, if any, exercise that you can do during these 40 weeks.

Pregnant women are realising more and more how important physical exercise is, to not only their health, but to the health of their unborn baby. Many women want to keep up some sort of exercise routine, and even women who have never done much exercise before, feel the need to start something during their pregnancies.

The benefits of exercise during pregnancy speak for themselves. Provided your midwife or GP has given you the go ahead, there is no reason why you can’t keep up a light level of fitness throughout your pregnancy.

Some of the many benefits of exercise during pregnancy include:

1. Increased energy levels.

2. Better quality of sleep.

3. You tend to feel great after a workout, and have more energy.

4. It helps you to build muscle and keep up a level of cardio fitness – it will help you avoid excessive weight gain during pregnancy – the more muscle you have the higher your metabolism becomes. In turn this can prevent the onset of gestational diabetes.

5. It prepares you for the later stages of pregnancy – you may not feel as tired towards the end.

6. It alleviates back pain – strength in your legs helps you carry the extra weight of baby and amniotic sac, instead of your lower back carrying the extra weight.

7. It helps with preparing you for labour – physically and mentally.

8. It reduces stress levels – the endorphins produced during exercise are proven to lower stress.

9. It improves your self-image – toning your body makes you look and feel good.

10. It can speed up your recovery from childbirth.

11. It can help you to regain your pre-pregnancy body faster – high metabolism, healthy eating and looking after yourself all help you to get back into those pre-pregnancy jeans quicker and easier.

Keeping fit through pregnancy

If you have been doing regular exercise, you can carry on. If you are new to exercise, once you are past the 12-week stage, you can now look at beginning an exercise routine. This should be a light exercise regime – now is not the time to get super fit and start losing weight. Having said that, it is better to exercise regularly, as opposed to sporadically. Your body will become better accustomed to exercise if it is used to moving often.

Do’s & don’ts of keeping fit through pregnancy

Do:

1. Make sure you have cleared with your GP/midwife/physiotherapist that you are okay to exercise.

2. Listen to your body – if you feel weak, light-headed, dizzy or unwell, stop straight away and take a rest.

3. Make sure you warm up for at least five to 10 minutes before.

4. Get up from the floor slowly, rolling onto your side first.

5. Cool down for at least five minutes, and make sure you stretch after your workout. Again, don’t overstretch.

6. Walk – it’s one of the best ways to keep fit during pregnancy.

7.  Swim – water supports your joints and creates resistance for strength.

8. Do aqua aerobics – make sure that you inform the instructor that you’re pregnant.

9. Do a strength routine using dumbbells or dynabands – make sure to keep your arms below shoulder height, don’t raise your arms above your heart. Use weights under the supervision of a trained fitness instructor. A good way to maintain tone is by using the resistance of water in aqua fit classes, or using your own body weight as resistance. 

10. And do your pelvic floor exercises. It is so important and your 60-year-old self will thank you for starting now. Ask your physiotherapist if you are unsure how to perform these exercises.

Don’t:

1. Overheat your body. Avoid becoming overly sweaty – you heat from the inside out, so your baby will be very warm in there.

2. Lie flat on your back for longer than 30 seconds – a growing baby can lie on your vena cava and slow blood flow to the heart, causing dizziness.

3. Do any extreme jumping or bouncing exercises – have one foot on the floor at all times.

4. Never do sit ups, ever. This can cause diastasis recti, the separation of the abdominal wall.

5. Do step aerobics – it can throw off your balance and it’s easy to fall off the step.

6. Cycle after the second trimester – this activity can also affect balance.

7. Overstretch – relaxin, the hormone which relaxes your joints and muscles, is present, and stretching too much can cause a muscle to tear.

8. Run or jog after 20 weeks – a big debate I know. Running is a high impact exercise, and can have a reverse effect on all those pelvic floor exercises you should be doing. Joints and ligaments relax during pregnancy, so running can cause pain.

Keeping fit through pregnancy

Be aware of your limits

Exercise safely but know your limitations. Always listen to your body and adapt as you need to. It will help with the recovery after the birth. A gentle walk every day will help with your pregnancy. If you feel pain and it persists, seek advice from a chartered physiotherapist.

How does exercise benefit the baby?

1. Exercise in early pregnancy stimulates placental growth.

2. Exercise in late pregnancy improves placental function.

3. Babies from active mums tend to be leaner with stronger muscles.

4. Sound and vibratory stimuli before birth may accelerate development of baby’s brain.

Make exercise fun and safe

1. Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothes as well as a bra with good support.

2. Choose shoes that are designed especially for the type of exercise you are doing.

3. Proper shoes will help to protect against injury.

4. Drink water before, during and after your workout. Never exercise to the point of exhaustion.

More you might like:

Yoga during pregnancy
Overweight and pregnant
The do’s and don’ts of pregnancy

Ask Allison

Q My sister-in-law and I both work three-day weeks and we help each
other out with child minding on our working days, which up until recently has worked out really well. Between us, our kids are aged between five and nine years – the problem is that it’s now become quite apparent that we have very different parenting styles. I prefer my two daughters (seven and nine) to have a structured day. For example, in my house, we have allocated times for television and iPads, etc. My sister-in-law, however, lets the kids run loose after school – homework is ignored and my kids end up wired after eating sugary treats all afternoon. I am considering looking at after-school childcare for the kids, but I’m worried that this is going to cause a family argument. Is there a diplomatic way that I can ask my sister-in-law to introduce some discipline into her child-minding days? It certainly doesn’t do her two kids any harm when I am minding them in my own house!

A
In a word, no, there is no diplomatic way to do this as it may very likely seem like your saying that your parenting style is better than
hers. As L’Óreal says, ‘now here comes the science bit.’ Dr. Kaylene
Henderson, a child psychiatrist, wrote a very interesting blog about ‘the
science behind the Mummy Wars’. She explains that before she had
children of her own she hadn’t been aware of how parents have a
very specific sense of the right parenting style. She also found that parents could be very definite in defending their chosen parenting style. Dr. Henderson, who describes herself as a curious, scientific, open-minded person, was surprised at how defensive parents could be and, at times, of their judgemental attitude towards each other. She explained the neurology of the Mummy Wars; okay, I’ll need you to bear with me for a second. Warning; I’m about to use some neuro-techie language.

Why do we judge each other?
As we have all had different experiences, this means that we all have very different memories stored in our brains. Most of our memories are ‘explicit’ memories – these are ones that we can recall easily such as important dates that mean something to us; important birthdays, special events or stories of and about our lives.
There is another type of memory called ‘implicit’ memory that plays a
key role in our parenting. This type of memory is the stuff that you do on autopilot. Psychologists call these heuristics or rules of thumb –
such as tying your shoelace, or driving your car (once you have learnt
to do both first!). Otherwise we’d really waste a huge amount of time
pondering over tasks that we have readily available to us. This seems to be where the science bit of our parenting style kicks in. This implicit memory goes all the way back to when you were an infant being parented by your parents. This is when you started the process of storing up how they did it into your memories.
Unless you make a conscious choice and effort to parent differently, what you saw and unconsciously learnt will be your automatic go-to parenting style.

We learn habits
This can really kick into gear when we feel our parenting style is
being mirrored or highlighted by disapproval from another parent. I know the cold sweat you feel when your child decides to make their outstanding bad behaviour performance at, of course, the most public and worst time. The implicit autopilot of how your parents dealt with these outbursts will flow unconsciously from you if you haven’t worked super hard to be aware and consciously change the old habits.
What’s happening for the on-looking parent is that they see you doing something they are used to doing, but you are doing it all wrong. Simply, because that is not how they know how to do it.

Find a way that works
You both have different parenting styles – who is to say which type is correct? You just need to know what works best for your family and that’s the bottom line. The irksome feelings won’t go away. You can talk to your sister-in-law, but I’m adding a caveat that it would be hard not to hurt her feelings. What we’re possibly looking at is that you prefer a more structured form of parenting, whereas your sister-in-law has a more permissive style. I’m not sure the two styles can mix, the mixture is a bit like oil and water.
If a collaborative shared form of parenting style can be agreed upon, then that is great, but our learnt hardwiring may prove difficult to change despite the intent to do so.
Perhaps, your own instinct of changing childcare might work best for you. In terms of making childcare work; the fit is ultimately the most
important aspect as you want a cohesive congruent feeling of the other caregiver to just ‘getting it’, like in any good partnership. Best of luck
with this and I wish you both well.

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Ask Tracey

Midwife Tracey Donegan answers your questions about pregnancy and birth

Q When should I have my first pregnancy scan? And how many scans should I get throughout my pregnancy?

A
Your first scan is known as your dating scan and is routine in all hospitals. Most mums will have this scan at their booking visit, which can be anywhere between 12-18 weeks. The earlier the scan the more accurate it will be. If you have experienced recurrent miscarriages some hospitals will scan you earlier. Contact your antenatal clinic for more information. In Ireland, most women will have two scans in a healthy pregnancy – a dating scan and an anomaly scan at around 20 weeks. However, some units provide a dating scan only. Private scans are also available in most cities and many parents use these services for additional reassurance and to find out the sex of their baby.