Pregnancy used to be the ultimate excuse for putting down the kettle bells and cracking open the kettle chips (eating for two, yay!). But it's now well established that moderate exercise during pregnancy has countless benefits for mum and baby (oh, and the whole eating for two thing isn't really true either - sorry!).* "Exercise while pregnant boosts your cardiovascular and muscular strength, improves your circulation and posture and decreases your risk of back pain," says Fiona Donald, nutrition and fitness specialist at Urban Energy Fitness. "It also increases the likelihood of a shorter, easier labour, with less medical intervention, and leads to healthier babies." All pretty convincing reasons for getting that bump moving! Here are some key facts to know about exercise during pregnancy...
1. Get the all clear
It goes without saying, but ensure you check with your doctor before starting any exercise regimen while pregnant. Although research has shown that exercise is usually extremely beneficial for all pregnant women - including those who were previously sedentary or are overweight - as well as for the foetus, it's not right for all pregnancies.
Read more: The Best Prenatal Fitness Classes in Dubai
2. Aim for at least 30 mins of activity per day
For low-risk pregnancies, at least 30 mins/day of moderate activity is recommended by the UK's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). This can include swimming or brisk walking. If you have not exercised routinely up to that point, begin with no more than three 15-minute sessions a week, increasing gradually to daily. 30-minute sessions.
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3. Note: It doesn't have to be Yoga
Although Yoga and Pilates are often the go-to exercise for mums-to-be, the researchers behind a major 2017 study** on prenatal exercise published in the Journal of American Medicine Association say that the main benefits of these techniques are more to do with improvements in mental health and pain reduction, rather than fitness (although that's great too!). Their ideal recommendation is for a fitness regimen that combines moderate aerobic and strength training in each session, lasting 45 to 65 minutes per session, spread over three or four days a week.
4. You can continue your previous fitness routine (within reason)
"If you've been regularly exercising prior to falling pregnant, it is fine to continue with your normal fitness routine, especially for the first few weeks," says Fiona Donald, nutrition and fitness specialist at Urban Energy Fitness. "As long as you have the all clear from your doctor, you may also continue as your pregnancy progresses, with modifications made for your growing belly." However, experts at Camilo José Cela University advise that long-distance running, intense weight training, jumps, impact exercises and exercises with risk of falling (i.e. spinning/horse riding) or in an outstretched supine position (lying on your back) must be suspended.
5. But skip the planks and ab crunches (or risk mum-tum for life)
"Avoid ab crunches or planks from around the 12-15 week mark," says Fiona. "these place too much pressure on the tummy muscles, which may lead to abdominal separation (diastasis recti)." Although this separation of the stomach muscles is extremely common for all pregnant women, ab exercises during the last two trimesters can make it much worse and harder (or impossible) to correct afterwards, which can lead to the dreaded post-natal ‘when are you due?’ question. "Other core exercises are recommended from the second trimester, such as glute bridges, or opposite arm/opposite leg reaches," says Fiona.
6. Never work out too hard
"Keep in mind that exercising whilst you are pregnant is a time to maintain your fitness levels, not to make any fitness gains," says Fiona. It is important - especially in Dubai - to stay hydrated and not to get too hot; overly strenuous exercise may increase the risk of hypothermia, dehydration or reduced uterine blood flow with the associated risk of compromising the foetus' health, say UCJC researchers. Fiona recommends this rule of thumb: "As long as you can still continue a conversation, then the exercise is okay. If you are so out of breath that you cannot talk then you are working out too hard." and if you feel unwell or out of breath, stop.
7. If you take classes, ensure your instructor is prenatally trained
Although it can be tempting to just continue in the classes you are used to attending, an instructor without specific prenatal qualifications will not know when you're being pushed too hard, or when certain exercises could be harmful for you - and the competitive nature of some classes can mean your push yourself harder than you should. "A qualified pre and postnatal fitness instructor has studied the specific needs of a pregnant woman through all stages of her pregnancy through to the postpartum period. They will have greater insight into the research that has been done surrounding exercise during pregnancy, including pelvic floor dysfunction and function and the role and function of the deep core unit," says Fiona. "They will know what exercises are appropriate for you through all trimesters, be able to advise what exercises may be contraindicated for you and will be able to recognise when you should avoid working out and/or if you need to speak to your physician."
*You can up your energy intake by 200 calories a day, but it's only necessary in the third trimester, acording to The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).
** Study by Camilo José Cela University (UCJC)