Six months pregnant Jenny Wright recently caused controversy whilst out jogging in her local park. Critics claimed that such strenuous exercise is selfish and reckless and accused her of putting her vanity before her unborn child. But Jenny, the wife of a fitness instructor, argued that at least 30 minutes of brisk exercise a day during pregnancy is safe and actually beneficial to the baby. She was shocked by the negative reactions and said that staying fit would help prepare her body for labour.
Jenny suggested that obesity in pregnancy is more of a cause for concern and the need to ‘eat for two’ is a troubling myth. She said, “it’s time society changed this naive and dangerous view and realised that exercise and weight-management are hugely important for the sake of the mother and her unborn child.”
In light of this, Sportsshoes decided to investigate the facts and interviewed some qualified pregnancy and postnatal fitness instructors to ask for their thoughts. They agreed that prenatal fitness is very important to get right and stressed that pregnant women must listen to their bodies as there are many changes going on and their centre of gravity will have shifted upward.
The fitness instructors warn that running can do a pregnant woman more harm than good. This is because women produce a hormone called relaxin during pregnancy which affects the whole body and allows for pelvic and cervical expansion. The baby can lie heavily on her pelvic floor and there is a danger that the bouncing motion of running will cause the pelvic muscles to overstretch, which can lead to stress incontinence. It is debatable how long relaxin remains in a pregnant woman’s system after birth but it’s generally thought to be during breastfeeding.
Trainer Margarita Bennet urges pregnant women not to put excessive pressure on themselves and to embrace their weight gain as it will help with breast feeding. She does agree, however, that eating for two is not necessary; calorie intake doesn’t need to change until your third trimester and even then it only needs to increase by 200 calories a day.
Margarita stresses that pregnant women can really benefit from exercise such as speed walking, pilates and strength training as this encourages good posture and gets the body ready for the endurance marathon that is birth. She says “You will really benefit from training your muscles this way; it can help with constipation, blood pressure and weight gain.”
Once a woman has given birth it is important to wait for the green light from the doctor before exercising, as strenuous activity too soon can lead to infection. The time varies but is roughly 6 weeks, or 12 weeks after a C-section. After this exercise should be gentle but it is vital. Margarita says, “After birth, everything has stretched out like a balloon so there is nothing holding you up. Poor core stability impacts everything and can make everything ache and many women suffer lower back pain. Core stability exercises can really help to knit you back together but sit-ups are a definite no-no as they can exacerbate the problem. “
Buggyfit trainer, Kelly Basset, agrees and points out that getting fit after birth is personal and depends on the woman and the delivery. She says, “Work with someone qualified. It helps to have someone look at your posture, for example many women who walk with a pram bend too far forward and take the pressure on their shoulders. It is better to have hips to the handles. It’s all about pulling it all back together. Pilates is fantastic for getting your belly back.”
Kelly also recommends being cautious about running for at least 6 months after birth. “You don’t have to run to get a cardiovascular workout, instead do deep squats, bicep curls, lunges and uphill power walks – your buggy will offer useful resistance.” She advises trying to breastfeed before exercise and wearing a good sports bra and comfortable running shoes.
The experts understand that it’s hard to build motivation to exercise when you have a family and household to run and are exhausted from lack of sleep; it can seem like a huge mountain to climb. However, achieving a healthy level of postnatal fitness can be worth the effort when you consider the benefits:
- The release of endorphins can help improve postnatal depression
- It allows you an hour a day to focus on yourself
- Physical activity combats the pregnancy stress hormone Cortisol, which makes you crave sugary foods
- Exercise is a good reason to get out of the house and get some fresh air
- Your energy levels will improve
- Strengthening your core helps prevent later injuries
- Joining fitness clubs like Buggyfit will mean you meet new people and can compare notes with other mothers
It takes 9 months to make a baby and, with achievable fitness goals and a nutritious diet, there is no reason why a pregnant woman can’t get her figure back in 9 months. Exercise is clearly crucial to a mother’s health but personal fitness varies hugely and should be enjoyable. Margarita advises pregnant women to be kind to themselves; “Try not to turn your fitness into a big deal, speed walk with the baby, get that heart beating, dance in the kitchen like a lunatic. Remember that your life has changed and enjoy your baby.”