looks at the many benefits that come with exercising during pregnancy.
AGE-OLD myths surround exercising while pregnant — that exercising throughout pregnancy could “hurt the baby” or affect its development in the womb. Scientific research has helped to dispel these myths.
A 2011 study carried out by the University of Georgia found that a low to moderate intensity weight training programme is safe and beneficial for women with a low-risk pregnancy. Also in 2011, researchers at University College Dublin and the National Maternity Hospital, Holles St, found that three quarters of pregnant women in Ireland fail to keep fit and 12% do not carry out a basic workout or walking.
Fionnuala McAuliffe, professor of gynaecology and obstetrics at University College Dublin and the National Maternity Hospital, was involved in the research and said there are “significant benefits to mild and moderate exercise while pregnant”.
Celebrities, such as Khloè Kardashian, Serena Williams, Chrissy Teigen and Jessica Alba have all followed pre-natal exercise routines. A celebrity lifestyle offers many advantages, a major one being the ability to “buy time”. While the celebrity mum-to-be attends the gym, it is probable that a housekeeper is doing the laundry and a chef is preparing the evening meal.
Catherine O’Sullivan employs neither a housekeeper nor a chef. She has a four-year-old daughter and works in an administration role for the HSE. She is also a fashion and fitness model with Lockdown Models and Event Management. Keeping fit is a way of life for her. When she found out she was pregnant for the second time, she consulted her GP who told her the worst thing would be to stop exercising because her body was accustomed to it.
“She said it was fine to carry on what I am doing, once I listen to my body.”
The GP also advised her that by going to the gym, labour and delivery would be a lot easier, that there’s a lower risk of getting gestational diabetes by exercising and you’ll have more energy later in pregnancy.
With her baby due in May, Catherine is in her second trimester. She works out five days a week. “My routine hasn’t changed, only that I modified my exercises”.
She attends spinning classes four days a week and a weights class, once a week.
“There are certain things I don’t do in the spinning class, like, the press-ups on the bike. Pre-pregnancy, the class would have been high intensity for me. Now, I don’t do as much. I reduce the intensity of that workout.”
She also exercised while pregnant with her first child, Niamh, who was born in 2013. “I exercised up to the week before I gave birth. I went to the gym four to five evenings a week. I was able to bounce back a lot easier after the pregnancy.”
During her first pregnancy, she had “days where I was tired so I made sure I listened to my body. Some days, I didn’t train.”
She returned to exercise five weeks after giving birth to Niamh.
“The first thing I did was go walking. I started to build up slowly. I started going back to classes. I took my time, because, your body goes through so much. Within six months, I was back doing my old routine.”
For cardiovascular fitness she attends Shane Long’s spinning class at Dennehy’s Health and Fitness in Blackpool.
Long is an experienced personal trainer and has worked with several women who want to train safely during their pregnancies.
If a woman has been training pre-pregnancy, he says, “you are more than capable of continuing working out throughout your first trimester of pregnancy”.
If you haven’t trained before pregnancy, “you can still exercise but make sure you consult your midwife or doctor before committing to anything. If you do get the go ahead, book an assessment with a qualified trainer to plan out your training regime so he or she can tailor it to your needs”.
He advises his clients to perform exercises for the posterior chain, a group of muscles made up of the lower back, glutes, hamstrings and calves.
“Everything is a pull related exercise,” he says. “It helps to improve posture throughout pregnancy and helps reduce lower back pain. It’s an advantage to do strength training at a reasonable, steady pace — lightweight, high repetitions.”
Long also recommends pilates, yoga and water aerobics as potential activities to try during pregnancy. He advises women to perform pelvic floor exercises as this “helps with delivery and also improves recovery time, after the birth”.
Is there a stage when a pregnant woman should stop training? “Yes and no. It depends on how your pregnancy is going. Some women stop in their second trimester for a number of reasons but, on the other hand, a lot of women could train all the way into their third trimester,” he says.
“It is likely you will slow down naturally and make modifications to some exercises as your body continues to grow. The aim at that stage would be to train gently while still benefitting from it safely.”
Apart from maintaining her fitness levels, Catherine O’Sullivan has enjoys lots of other benefits of exercising during her pregnancies.
“There are so many benefits. It reduces stress, increases your mood, increases your energy, helps you sleep better, helps reduce back pain and swelling,” she says.
“Regular exercise is one of the most effective ways to improve your mental health. They were major factors for me.”
Shane Long’s top tips for exercising during pregnancy
“At least three times a week, if possible.”
“Never work yourself to exhaustion. Taking long rest periods during workouts will reduce fatigue during a session.”
“Stay hydrated to avoid your body from over-heating. Avoid saunas and steam rooms after workouts.”
“Avoid abdominal exercises and high intensity exercises. Avoid jumping exercises in the second trimester. Avoid heavy lifting. Keep weights light with high repetitions.”
“Make sure you are not making drastic changes to your diet, like reducing or cutting out foods.”
“Try to log what you’re doing exercise and food wise, to keep your midwife and doctor updated throughout your pregnancy.”
“Consult your midwife or doctor. Meet with a trainer to get the right programme.”