Safe and natural exercise best for mother and baby
Doing what feels right for your body is the best approach to fitness during pregnancy
Starting a new sport when pregnant is a bad idea, but swimming and yoga are exceptions. Photograph: Getty Images
Hi Grit Doctor
Last October I decided I needed to get fit. The turning point was taking a health quiz and scoring only average. The write-up under my score told me to go back over the quiz to see the sections where I scored low. It was a light bulb moment, there in black and white. While my diet was super healthy, I did no exercise whatsoever. My motivation to start was that at 60 I would like to be sprightly and healthy. I am only 32 but I see too many older people with health issues who are unwell or who can’t move about . I don’t want to be one of them.
So I got off my butt and started running. Slowly. It started off as two- minute running/walking/spluttering intervals around the circumference of the park (I was seriously unfit) and has slowly increased to 1.5 miles every weekday. My aim is three miles every weekday.
Now I am six weeks pregnant and I have a couple of questions. For the p ast month I have struggled to run every day , although I have still increased my distance. But I am six week s pregnant, not six month s. C an early pregnancy affect my performance? If so, is there anything I can do to combat it?
I know eventually pregnancy is going to stop me being able to run . Am I mad to try to better my running now, only to be back at square one a couple of months after I give birth? Or should I keep going? Or should I do something else?
A Firstly, congratulations on the pregnancy, and for taking stock of your lifestyle and making fitness and exercise a priority. You certainly won’t regret it. And what fantastic timing. Improving your fitness during pregnancy will stand you in such good stead throughout it: for managing your weight gain, for labour and for regaining your strength post-birth, not to mention for all the jobs of motherhood.
However, it may be that learning to run right now is not the answer for you. The reason it feels so hard is that at six weeks pregnant, your body is in full-on work mode, creating a life-support system for your growing baby – the placenta – which is taking up all its energy.
Plus, new hormones are running wild, challenging your mood and appetites and tiring you out, so it is to be expected that you would find your 1.5-mile circuit hard, nigh on impossible as a newbie to the sport.
Pregnancy is like running a marathon minus the training while carrying an ever increasingly heavy rucksack back to front. Just being pregnant can often leave you feeling as though there is nothing left in the tank. And that’s before you throw learning to run three miles a day into the mix.
There is no doubt that some women run all the way to six months, and beyond, but these tend to be seasoned runners whose bodies are used to the regular exercise. Others, like me, stopped as soon as I discovered I was pregnant, on my GP’s advice and my body’s voice. If your body and brain are fighting the running, as mine most certainly were at your stage of pregnancy, I would shift down a gear. The bottom line is, listen to your body.
That being said, there is no doubt that the more active you are during pregnancy, the easier it will be for you to adapt to your changing shape and life thereafter.
I converted my running circuit into a shorter walking circuit, which was about 1.5 miles, and this might work for you too. As the pregnancy progressed, I slowed down. It felt great, a perfectly safe form of exercise that I was able to continue until the end. I walked every day. It always relaxed me, and the endorphins and serotonin helped offset mood swings .
Starting a new sport when pregnant is a bad idea, but swimming and yoga are exceptions. The water supports the weight of the baby and you can enjoy that weightless feeling even when heavily pregnant. Both sports will develop your fitness and improve muscle tone safely, at your own pace.
Whatever you do, don’t exhaust yourself, and if you are in any doubt about your exercise plans, consult your maternity team. If you are determined to continue running, talk to your GP or maternity nurse first.
As a general guide, whatever exercise you are doing should feel safe and natural, and you should be able to hold a conversation while doing it. Drink plenty of water and fluids and eat well.
I’d save learning to run until after the birth. It is such a fantastic way to get in shape afterwards and you can even do it with the baby if you get a jogging buggy.
The Grit Doctor says:
Whatever daily exercise you choose to do during your pregnancy, do not ignore your pelvic floor exercises. And get plenty of rest. Now is not the time to be gritty.
Ruth Field is author of Run, Fat Bitch, Run and Get Your Shit Together