Although the benefits of remaining fit and active during pregnancy are well known over 70% of expectant mothers do not exercise regularly, viewing pregnancy as a time to scale back on physical activity.
A recent report in Practising Midwife highlights the need for health professionals to encourage women to maintain their fitness during pregnancy, citing benefits including preparation for labour and a speedier recovery as well as relief from many common pregnancy complaints such as lower back pain, varicose veins, tiredness and even depression, which can affect as many as one in three pregnant women.
It appears however, that there is still confusion, even amongst midwives, as to how much exercise is safe, what exercise to avoid or even if it’s safe to exercise at all. The report states ‘The message does not appear to be reaching a lot of women....in the face of mixed messages regarding the safety of different activities it appears that many women err on the side of caution and opt for inactivity.’
Whilst a “common sense” approach to what activities are appropriate should be taken, a wide range of recreational exercise is recommended including jogging, brisk walking, cycling, strength conditioning exercises, yoga and swimming.
Medical experts, including the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and their American counterparts, agree that that women should aim for at least 30 minutes exercise on at least five days a week saying ‘all women should be encouraged to participate in aerobic and strength-conditioning exercise as part of healthy lifestyle during pregnancy.’
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have identified the period after pregnancy and childbirth as the time when women are most likely to struggle with weight gain. Regular exercise that helps to maintain a healthy weight gain during pregnancy reduces this risk and helps to prevent women entering a further pregnancy whilst still overweight.
Jane Munro, quality and audit development advisor at the Royal College of Midwives said,"It is important to keep physically active during pregnancy - moderate exercise will not harm the woman or her baby.
“Recreational exercise such as swimming or brisk walking is known to be beneficial with the aim being to keep fit rather than reach peak fitness. If women exercised regularly before pregnancy, they should be able to continue with no adverse effects.
“The exercise they take should reflect their previous exercise regime. So for example it would not be appropriate for a woman who has done no exercise for many years to suddenly start running long distances in pregnancy.
“If women have not exercised routinely they should begin with no more than 15 minutes of continuous exercise, three times per week, increasing gradually to daily 30-minute sessions.”
Senior Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, Mr Ashok Kumar, agrees with this approach and adds, “Keeping active during pregnancy is hugely beneficial for both mother and baby and perfectly safe and natural.”