Exercise & pregnancy: Myths and Guidelines

Find out about safe and unsafe practices in this post. If you are keen to learn about new ways of exercising read the ‘saf(e)funky activities’ section. I am trying out cool and less conventional pregnancy-suited activities in Dubai as the weeks go!

Keep in mind that scientifically, exercise has not been proven to be a direct cause of miscarriage. In most cases, a miscarriage in the first trimester (up to 13 weeks) is correlated with abnormal chromosomes in the baby’s genome or an abnormal development of the placenta. In the second trimester, underlying conditions in the mother are the main culprits. Read more about the main causes of miscarriages on the NHS website if this is something you are scared of.

THE STORY

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When I was 6 weeks pregnant I started experiencing some sharp lower abdominal pain. I was teaching heavy hours and was worried that my professional activity might cause a miscarriage. The pain was unrelated to my practice, the doctor said. Yet he was adamant: I had to stop exercising right away. I was dumbfounded. Not exercising meant not working, and during my Pre- and Post-natal Pilates course I had learned how to exercise safely throughout pregnancy, depending on the trimesters.

A few weeks later, I was training a client on the reformer. She told me that she was still going to her favorite BodyPump class and lifting on average 15-20kgs per session. Her doctor, who happened to be mine at the time, was just as adamant: when you were pregnant, you could lift heavy weights.

Both reactions sounded radical to me.

There are as many opinions as there are doctors and pregnant ladies. And listening to your body and levels of energy is probably the best guide there is. But the two radically opposed medical positions led me to investigate further. I read articles listed on the NHS website, consulted with midwives, asked doctors around. And the following guidelines are based on what most of them agree on, and what I felt, given my experience of exercise and pregnancy so far is safe not only for baby, but also for my own post-partum body.

WHAT TO AVOID

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  1. Starting something completely new, or deemed harder than what you were used to doing beforehand. In the ‘saf(e)funky’ section, I mention aquabiking and jumpboard. If you have never cycled before, pregnancy may not be the right time to try this out. Your body is already coping with a lot of changes and you are at higher risk of dehydration when you exercise more intensely than you are used to.
  2. Sports that comprise a risk of falling or being hit like kickboxing, cycling, climbing, water or snow skiing…
  3. Sports that require adjustments to a change in altitude Hiking at heights over 2,500m puts your baby at risk of altitude sickness. Scuba diving is also not recommended since your baby is not protected against gas bubbles in his blood, also known as gas embolisms.
  4. Exercising on your back -particularly after 20 weeks.
  5. Doing crunches or any abdominal work that involves flexing the spine.
  6. Lifting heavy weights. Some pregnant ladies literally flex their muscles at us on Instagram doing so. If you have had a miscarriage in the past, lifting weights may be considered too strenuous or risky. But mostly, the reason why I don’t recommend lifting weights during these nine months is that it can damage your spine. Your spine becomes more lordotic (i.e. arched) during pregnancy and this puts you at risk of disk injuries. Who wants to chance not being able to lift their baby post-partum?

The American Pregnancy association features a number of interesting links available if you want to educate yourself more on this issue.

WHAT TO DO

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  1. Activities performed in water. Water absorbs shocks and allows your ligaments -at risk of overstretching because of the relaxin hormone your body produces, and joints -under pressure because of your weight gain, to be safe.
  2. Activities that entail pelvic floor exercises and deep-core strengthening. Working your deep abdominal muscles helps stabilize your posture, protects you from lower back pain and sciatica, and speeds up recovery after labour. So do pelvic floor exercises. By performing the latter religiously you can dramatically reduce the risks of post-partum incontinence. If you know what they are, use the /// app. If you don’t, contact me so I can help you connect with these deep muscles.
  3. Chest expansion exercises  because your pecs are likely
  4. Lower body strengthening exercises
    • Quads and VMO to support the knee joint (the relaxin hormone will make you more unstable and at risk of overstretching and damaging your ligaments)
    • Gluts to support your back (and look hot!)
    • Inner thighs to move around freely and find the perfect position during labour
  5. Anything that pleases you and does not go against the « what to avoid » principles. Make adjustments if your favorite activity is on that list. If you are used to boxing, try training without a partner in or out of water. No risk of being hit then. If you like to cycle, try indoor classes. As long as you feel okay (no bleeding, no pain), you ARE OKAY!

SAF(E)UNKY ACTIVITIES!

  • Aquabiking
  • Stand Up Paddle (depending on your weight gain)
  • Tango classes
  • Barre classes
  • Pilates (Prenatal after 18-20 weeks)
  • Playing rackets in water
  • Swimming 
  • Jumpboard on the reformer
  • Walking

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