A new study has found that exercising during pregnancy can protect offspring from obesity later in life – the first time that has been demonstrated for non-obese women. Dr Daghni Rajasingam, consultant obstetrician and spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, says there are many benefits for the mother-to-be, including weight maintenance, improving sleep and mood, helping to cope with labour, and reducing high blood pressure. At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week, in bouts of at least 10 minutes, based on fitness level and comfort, is advised throughout pregnancy. Rajasingam also recommends seeking medical advice, especially for women with health conditions.
The NHS advises keeping up normal daily activity for as long into pregnancy as is comfortable. Rajasingam says, as a general guide, women should avoid any exercise that leaves them overly breathless. “They should listen to their body and only do what feels right for them.” Charlie Launder of the personal training service Bumps & Burpees stresses the importance of breaks and rest days, saying: “You may not be able to push yourself as hard as you could before.”
Contact sports such as kickboxing or judo should be avoided, says the NHS, while activities with a risk of falling, such as horse riding, gymnastics and cycling, should be approached with caution. Although you should not fear being active, says Launder, “now is not the time for crazy high-intensity workouts or new PBs in the gym”. Camilla Lister, a personal trainer who specialises in prenatal and postnatal fitness, says there are a lot of misconceptions about what can and can’t be done safely during pregnancy that do not apply to everyone; again, do seek medical advice.
“Not only is each pregnancy different, but the body can feel completely different from one day to the next,” says Launder. Both she and Lister advocate strength training (especially of the back, leg and core muscles) to prepare for the physical changes of pregnancy, though warming up and cooling down is vital. NCT antenatal teacher Cathy Finlay says that, during pregnancy, “your joints become looser and your centre of gravity shifts”, meaning you could be more prone to muscle strain or sprain. Rajasingam recommends incorporating stomach exercises to strengthen abdominal muscles, which may help to ease backache, as well as pelvic floor exercises.
Launder says pregnant women sharing their exercise routines on social media “is giving women the confidence to go to the gym with their bump”, but cautions against following someone else’s programme. Lister proposes modifying a pre-existing routine: “Going from hero to zero in exercise during pregnancy would be both ridiculous and soul-destroying.” If starting an aerobic exercise such as running or swimming, Rajasingam advises no more than 15 minutes of continuous exercise, three times a week.