Something our readers often ask us about is exercise during pregnancy. What’s safe, and what’s not. Dr Joanna Helcké is the lady behind the newly launched online subscription service. When I hear the word ‘subscription’, I immediately worry, but this really looks interesting. You can access a designed week by week pregnancy and post natal fitness programme, that’s tailored to support your changing body during pregnancy, birth and beyond. The great bit a bout it is that you can do it with ease from home. You get weekly videos with routines designed to support each stage. At such an important time in your life, that support is a good thing to have. 

Pregnancy is the perfect time to think about health and is, in fact, for many the very first time that wellbeing is considered in any serious way. It suddenly dawns on women that it’s not simply a question of looking after themselves but also the little being growing inside them. This can be quite a daunting prospect and so it is hardly surprising that many women feel quite anxious about the decisions they have to take. Eating and exercising the right way are often seen as two of the key ways in which their unborn babies can be given the best possible start in life.

As a pregnancy fitness expert I often come across women with older children who tell me that they stopped exercising once they realised they were expecting, for fear of adversely affecting their pregnancy. What a terrible pity to miss such a wonderful opportunity as research shows that keeping fit and active in pregnancy has multiple benefits ranging from mental wellbeing through to far fewer aches and pains, better quality sleep, reduced chances of gestational diabetes and – dare I say it – a smaller gain in maternal body fat.

Armed with the key dos and don’ts of pregnancy fitness, most women will be able to exercise through pregnancy knowing that they are doing both their babies and themselves good.

1. Exercising during pregnancy can be very beneficial but it should be to maintain fitness rather than to increase fitness levels. Now is not the time to go on a major fitness mission, so be sensible. Having said this, if you have been inactive up until now, that does not mean that you have to remain so. Consider taking up walking, starting with a few 15 minute walks every week and gradually building up your speed and distance.

2. Research has shown that moderate exercise has no known adverse effects on your baby. On the contrary there are even some studies suggesting that regular exercise enhances baby weight. Remember that what is moderate for you may be hard (or even easy) for someone else. So use your base fitness level to judge what moderate exercise means for you.

3. As long as you have been exercising right up to the beginning of your pregnancy, you can simply carry on with your fitness regime during the first trimester – without going over the top, of course. So if you are a runner and feel good running, then feel free to carry on! Likewise, if lifting weights if your thing then just keep going and you’ll keep strong. Having said this, if you have a history of miscarrying then please stop the exercise during the first three months and wait for your health care team to give you the green light to exercise once everything has stabilised.

4. Throughout your pregnancy it is important to keep reassessing your exercise routine, according to how your things are progressing. There are all sorts of reasons why exercise might suddenly no longer be appropriate, such as having a low lying placenta in late pregnancy. So the main thing is to keep checking with your health care practitioners that it is OK to carry on.

5. It is important to eat well when you exercise in pregnancy. A light carbohydrate-based snack one or two hours before exercising is ideal especially if morning sickness is a problem. How about a couple of oatcakes?

6. Be sure to maintain fluid intake when exercising. Water carries nutrients through your blood to your baby, and also helps prevent some common pregnancy problems such as haemorrhoids and constipation, as well as helping to prevent dehydration. So keep a bottle of water with you when exercising.

7. Do NOT overheat or exercise in hot conditions as research suggests that this can have adverse effects on your baby’s development. You are able to regulate your body temperature but the foetus is not, so keep your cool…

8. Do not hold your breath when performing exercises as, again, this is not good for your baby, and it also places pressure on the pelvic floor. There will be quite enough pressure placed on your pelvic floor during the 9 months of pregnancy followed by birth, so don’t make matters any worse!

9. During pregnancy – especially early pregnancy – you may feel faint when standing up suddenly – so get up slowly from the floor if doing mat-based Pilates or yoga exercises. Blood pressure is frequently low in early pregnancy as your blood vessels dilate and it takes a while for your body to catch up with this new situation.

10. In the first trimester you can carry on with higher impact exercise, such as jogging, aerobics, dancing, circuits – whatever your fitness favourites are – just so long as this was something that you were already doing. Similarly, if you are used to using free weights, and have excellent technique, then by all means carry on if your body feels comfortable doing so. But don’t take any of these up as new forms of exercise in a bid to stop the pregnancy pounds from piling on. Starting new forms of exercise and acquiring new techniques is asking a lot of your pregnant body. Stick instead to power walking, aquanatal and swimming instead, if you are new to exercise.

11. In trimesters two and three lower and non-impact exercise is advised, although some mums-to-be who have, for example, been running consistently through pregnancy may feel fine to carry on. It is always a case of listening to your body. Power walking, aquanatal classes, and specialist pregnancy Pilates classes are all great options. Aquanatal will give you great freedom of movement, and a wonderful sensation of lightness as your bump grows. It’s the perfect antidote to fatigue and heaviness in late pregnancy. Pregnancy Pilates is excellent for keeping your body – especially your back – as ache and niggle-free as possible. Pregnancy is a time when all sorts of pains can emerge, and pregnancy Pilates will help keep these at bay, by encouraging strong posture and keeping your deepest layer of abdominals toned – ideal for helping you recover a flat tummy quickly once your little one has arrived.

12. You will often here it said that from 16-20 weeks onwards you should avoid lying flat on your back when exercising. This is because the weight of the baby may place pressure on a major blood vessel (the vena cava) thus making you feel faint and dizzy. The latest advice is, however, that you can lie on your back to exercise for a while just so long as you feel 100% fine.

13. During the third trimester your balance will be affected and you should be aware of this when exercising – so no attempts at performing balancing acts please!

14. Training with weights poses no problem, as long as you have excellent technique, are used to working with free weights, and remember to keep breathing throughout your exercises. Keeping strong will help protect your joints and stave off aches and pains.

15. I’m going to put you on the spot now! Are you doing your pelvic floor exercises? Yes? That’s great news, so keep up the good work. No? Best start them now! Latest research shows that the best way to work the pelvic floor (PF) is to incorporate your PF pull ups into other exercise movements such as lunges, squats and cat stretches.

By Dr Joanna Helcké