Bump & grind: Exercising while pregnant
Exercise might be the last thing you feel like doing when you're pregnant but it has so many benefits writes Claire O'Mahony
In much the same way that 'eating for two' has now been debunked, so too has the notion that pregnant women need to take it incredibly easy throughout the nine months. That's not to say that you should be overexerting yourself but the expert advice is that staying active during pregnancy has multiple benefits. You're less likely to put on excessive weight for example, with research indicating that pregnant women who work out gain, on average, 5lb less than those who don't exercise. Women who are regular exercisers are more likely to have an easier labour and delivery than non-exercisers, and on a day-to-day basis, you'll enjoy greater energy levels, ease or prevent back pain and sleep better at night.
It's generally recommended that pregnant women get 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, on several but not all days of week - although it's important to get the go-ahead from your doctor before you start any type of fitness programmes. Walking, swimming and low-impact aerobics are all recommended ways of staying in shape. If you're someone who prefers to schedule in your exercise, pregnancy-specific fitness classes, which are specially designed to factor in your bump and other health considerations, are worth considering. At Baby Body Fit, which has classes in Dublin, Galway and Cork, all levels of fitness are catered for. The classes include light cardio work, using dumbbells, Dyna-bands and stability balls to strengthen your legs, arms, upper and lower back to help with labour, and lifting and carrying car seats, for example. They also work on core muscles and posture, making it easier to get strength back in your abdominals.
Baby Body Fit founder, Stephanie Sinnott, has learnt from experience; a variance in fitness levels resulted in her having two very different pregnancies. "For my first pregnancy, I wasn't fit whatsoever and I had an awful, long labour, it was really difficult and I was tired throughout," she says. "This time around, I kept up fitness and the midwife said when I was in labour that it made a huge difference. She could tell that I was fit, the labour went so fast because I was strong. I wasn't tired - I was able for it."
Muscle-strengthening exercises such as pregnancy yoga and Pilates are also great options for mums-to-be. "During the course of your pregnancy, the biggest problem is that you run out of space and the area between your ribs and hips gets really tight. Pregnancy yoga works on creating space, lengthening muscles and at the same time supporting all the joints that are naturally loosening due to all the hormones in body," explains Rachel Gaffey who teaches pregnancy classes at My Wellbeing on Dublin's Dame Street. Pregnancy Pilates meanwhile is excellent for strength. "It also does a lot of work on your pelvis floor, not only to hold the pelvis together during pregnancy but also when the baby pushes down on a strong pelvic floor, it helps speed up the labour," says Gaffey.
The breathing techniques you learn can also help with labour and midwives can often tell if a woman in labour has done yoga or Pilates. There's the support factor as well, which is hugely importantly from a psychological perspective, especially on days when you may feel like your partner or work colleagues don't understand what you're experiencing. "It's like a little sorority," says Rachel Gaffey. "Everybody around you is pregnant and going through the same thing."
When it comes to exercise, whether you choose to do your own thing, or opt for a class, you can be guaranteed that you're doing yourself and your baby the world of good. And you're also preparing yourself for the biggest workout ever that lies ahead - labour and delivery.
Pregnancy Fitness Do's and Don'ts
Don't: Sweat it
Breaking into a small sweat is fine, but you don't want to overheat because this can be dangerous for the developing foetus.
Do: Keep hydrated
Drink before, during and after your work out, otherwise you risk raising your body temperature. Also, don't gobble down a huge meal beforehand. "Don't eat heavily before a class because you're much more prone to cramping in pregnancy," advises My Wellbeing's Rachel Gaffey.
Don't: Exercise on your back
The weight of your uterus can put pressure on the blood vessel running along your spine. This can cause dizziness and nausea and briefly reduce blood flow to your baby.
Do: Avoid anything where you might lose your balance
This includes contact sports or any movements involving high kicks or jumps.
Don't: Be over ambitious about upping your fitness levels
If you weren't previously doing 10K runs, don't start now. "If someone is starting an exercise regime now that they're pregnant, now is not the time to jump in and try and get super fit," says Baby Body Fit's Stephanie Sinnott