Pregnancy is no reason to bump workouts off your routine
Exercise is good for mum and baby in moderation, says Tanya Sweeney
Amid the euphoria of pregnancy, many women harbour a niggling concern, not just about their changing lives, but about their changing waistlines.
If you're a woman whose figure is your fortune, you're bound to worry more than most. Since announcing her pregnancy last month, Kim Kardashian has been (very) open on how "terrified" she is about gaining too much weight in the next six months.
Recently, she tweeted in the dead of night: "Can't sleep & I'm googling double chin exercises! I'm petrified to get one!"
So great is her concern that she has reportedly been pushing herself to attend punishing daily workout sessions. With the help of celebrity trainer Tracey Anderson, she seems determined to spend as much of her pregnancy in the gym as possible. Anderson appears to be quite the taskmaster, recently intoning: "A lot of women use pregnancy as an excuse to let their bodies go, and that's the worst thing."
After gaining 70 pounds during her first pregnancy (with daughter Maxwell, who turns one in May), expectant mum Jessica Simpson has also been pounding the treadmill, and is often papped heading glumly to the gym.
For decades we've been told expectant mothers should rest up, eat for two and enjoy those final days of freedom while they can. Now, celebrity culture has issued a startling guideline – spend your pre-baby days locked in a tussle with your figure, enslaved by the scales.
After recently completing the Galway Ironman Triathlon while a few weeks pregnant, personal trainer and co-owner of Bodybyrne Fitness Siobhan Byrne knows a thing or two about exercising for two. Yet despite signing on recently to be a Puma brand ambassador, she's an advocate of the happy medium between regular workouts and simply being a bit kind to yourself.
"Working out every day is unnecessary, but it is good to do some sort of activity for 20 to 30 minutes a day like walking, running or swimming," she says. "You should allow your body time to recover. Where Kim is probably training a different body part each day with her trainer, you would not want to overtrain your muscles during pregnancy when you are more likely to cause injury due to the Relaxin hormone that the body produces while pregnant (in order to make the body 'looser')."
With four months to go before the birth of her first child, Siobhan is working out three or four times a week with a strength-training programme.
For the rest of us mere mortals, she advises easing into a regime, particularly if you're a fitness novice. A light swim or walk will banish those feelings of tiredness and provide an energy boost
"Check with your doctor first," she says. "I would never try anything new while pregnant, but keeping active is important. Non-stressing exercise like swimming or walking can be ideal.
"If you are used to working out, you will benefit greatly from keeping up a workout routine while pregnant. It will keep your muscles strong. This is very important while pregnant, because most women will suffer lower back problems due to the added weight around the tummy. Any exercise plan that involves working out the muscles and core will help avoid issues like these.
"Resistance and weight training are the Holy Grail of training. Many workouts will try to give you the benefits and results, but for me and my clients it is the best possible workout for keeping the body strong and in shape. Pilates and yoga workouts can also have great benefits for pregnancy. Find what you enjoy best before you get pregnant and stick to a less intense routine. Avoid anything with jerking or twisting movements that could cause injury."
AND so to the key question, the one on many an expectant mum's mind: what is the optimal amount of weight a woman should gain during pregnancy?
"If you had a healthy weight to begin with, you can allow that your body will gain between 25 and 30 pounds – one to five pounds in the first trimester, and about one a week for the rest of the pregnancy," says Siobhan. "I was at my healthiest when I got pregnant, so I gained no weight in the first trimester and only started to gain some pounds halfway into the second."
Relaxing forms of exercise such as yoga and pilates will stand a pregnant woman in even greater stead at crunch time – in the delivery room.
"Doing any exercise where you are using your muscles and core will help during labour," says Siobhan, "but most importantly, keeping these muscles active will help you bounce back into shape quicker."
Even when that bundle of joy finally arrives, getting back into those skinny jeans is still of paramount importance for new mums, euphoria or otherwise.
"I encounter clients eager to lose their baby weight all the time," says Siobhan. "It is one thing that women struggle with, especially after their second child. It is most important to get the body into a routine. This can be difficult with one or more children, but you need to allow your own time for eating and exercise, whether that is a long walk every day with the baby or a home workout DVD or, if you are lucky enough to get to a gym for 40 minutes, great."
Acres of headlines devoted to celebs getting back in shape in record time have led to a sort of competitive weight loss scenario where returning to pre-baby perfection isn't just impressive, it's the norm. The latest culprit is Gisele Bundchen, who this week showed off a washboard stomach two months after giving birth for the second time.
Stories of extreme measures are rife, from celebs undergoing a quick liposuction session to fat-grafting (removing fat from one area on the body and transferring it elsewhere, like the derriere). A Fox News report even noted that some stars eat their metabolism-boosting placentas to help their weight loss regimes along.
With the double threat of paparazzi and glossy magazine deals ever looming, there's barely a celebrity left standing who wouldn't give anything to ping back to their pre-baby glory. However, some celebs overlook this and prefer to concentrate on the joy of motherhood –to their apparent peril. The way some media outlets tell it, stars are all but required by law to return to their pre-pregnancy fabulousness.
It all sounds a bit barmy to most people, yet when celebrities such as Claudine Palmer lose their jelly bellies in record time (13 days in Claudine's case), others invariably start to feel the pressure to keep up. Perhaps more alarmingly, this way of thinking starts to filter down to civilian circles.
"We're even noticing it pre-pregnancy," says celebrity trainer Karl Henry. "Women are training right up to a couple of weeks before they give birth. Generally, you're not allowed to exercise six to eight weeks after giving birth (seven to nine after a caesarean), but we've had women come into us two weeks after the birth looking to start working out. We never take them on, as you need a GP letter first. Your body is still only recovering at that stage."
THE chasm between celebrity and civilian is ever more pronounced when it comes to new motherhood. Celebrities have a battalion of aides to help them achieve their pre-baby bodies. Non-celebs have a husband (and if they're lucky, a family member on speed dial).
"As WAGs and celebs have shown, you can get your old physique and body back," says Stephen Ward, trainer at the Irish Strength Institute. "You just have to be willing to work hard, be disciplined with your diet and have a round-the-clock nanny to rear your children so you can eat, sleep and be healthy. Besides, you can't start a restrictive diet at a time when your body needs nutrients the most."
Extreme and rapid weight loss is possible (with the right amount of work), but that doesn't make it sensible or sustainable. The age-old mantra holds firm – slow and steady wins the race.
VHI medical director Bernadette Carr offers some sound advice: "A happy mum makes a happy baby, and that's what's most important. Enjoy the baby, eat healthy, get out and get some regular exercise and sleep when you can. You've got a new person to look after who needs you to be healthy and happy."
In the face of such a huge life change, leaving workouts to the side seems like perfectly good sense. Only time will tell if Kim Kardashian will get sufficiently bitten by the baby bug to stop worrying about double chins.