Pregnancy and postnatal exercise – Versha Patel, PT and nutritonist, tells us what is OK and when

Versha Patel works exclusively with women and specialises in pre and postnatal, as well as weight loss and body transformations

Working-Out-During-PregnancyIt's typically OK to continue training during pregnancy, but you can also join pregnancy-specific exercise classes

Versha Patel is the founder of Birth And Beyond Fitness, a group women can go to that’s centered around health and fitness leading up to and following giving birth. Focusing her training and nutritional plans largely around pre and postnatal, Versha has given us her expert advice around pregnancy and postnatal exercise.

Versha Patel is the founder of Birth And Beyond Fitness in Leicester
Can you exercise during pregnancy?

It wasn’t that long ago that pregnant woman were encouraged to rest and do nothing physical throughout their pregnancy, thinking this was best for mother and baby.

However, more recently research has supported the many woman who want to exercise through pregnancy and it is now encouraged for all healthy pregnant woman to do so. Though there are exceptions to those woman who have contraindications to exercise (any conditions that exercise is not recommended for). You should always check with your health care provider that you are OK to partake in any particular exercise.

Can I run or continue with my fitness classes during pregnancy?

Pregnancy is a special time and exercising throughout can change the experience positively. Improved mood and energy levels are just some of the many benefits.

It is recommended by the RCOG (Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists) to continue with the exercise you have already been doing until around the beginning of the second trimester, or longer depending how you feel. Therefore, continuing with running and/or fitness classes you have been doing is fine until around then. However, reduce the pace and intensity to a level where you are not overheating and able to speak throughout.

It is, however, recommended that you do not start something new or intense that your body is not used to. The only new fitness workout I’d recommend introducing are pregnancy-specific exercise classes. These are usually adapted to ensure all abilities can benefit from the exercises.

If able to, continue workout until your second trimester, just adjust your training
Why should you exercise during pregnancy?
  1. It prepares you for birth – physically and mentally. Both labour and birth require significant stamina, body and mental strength.
  2. Increased energy levels – which help you feel great
  3. Improved sleep & mood – the endorphins released during exercise will raise your spirits and the physical will fatigue you enough to improve the quality of sleep.

Exercising into the third trimester can be the best prescription of action to take in pregnancy if you’re able to do so, and will serve you well through the early weeks after delivery too.  Not to mention exercise will help with weight management.

What are the best prenatal exercises?

Below are three great exercises that can be done at home or in the gym:

  1. Squats – for leg and glute strength
  2. Pelvic tilts – to strengthen the inner core muscles and keep the pelvis moving
  3. Thread the needle – torso rotation
Pelvic tilts are advised during pregnancy to strengthen your inner core muscles

These are all great exercises to do over again during pregnancy, along with regular walking.

What exercises can I do to help my pelvic floor?

These muscles are central to exercise, especially during pregnancy and after delivering a baby. This group of muscles support crucial organs (bladder, uterus & intestine) in your lower torso. Keeping them working, flexible and strong is key to help prevent urinal incontinence and possible prolapse in the future.

Running and high impact exercise are not recommended during pregnancy unless your body is used to this form of exercise before becoming pregnant. That being said, they both place pressure on the pelvic floor muscles and the joints, both of which react differently now there is the hormone ‘relaxin’ circulating your body, which is also at its highest level in the first trimester.

My advice is to find something else, like stationary bike cycling, using a cross trainer or taking up a prenatal exercise class.

How long should I wait to exercise after having a baby?

It is recommended to wait at least until after your six-week health professional check and you’ve been given the OK. You can start sooner, though the common view is to allow your body to get on with healing first. Simple gentle exercise and stretches are safe though, like doing pelvic floor exercises.

Why should you do some sort of postnatal exercise?

There are many reasons to undertake postnatal exercise, including:

  1. Beat the baby blues – endorphin release post exercise will help with this
  2. Core and pelvic floor function – these are central to the body and addressing these parts of the body first usually means you are less likely to have future issues
  3. You’re doing something for yourself – most outings are for baby, leaving mums last!
  4. To combat the additional weight – not everyone’s body springs back into place
What are the best postnatal exercises?

Any exercise should be gentle to begin with so your body can adjust and knows what’s coming. Some nice and easy postnatal exercises to start with are:

  1. Static lunges
  2. Single leg circles – one foot on the floor
  3. Lying leg sliders
Static lunges are a great postnatal exercise
How long should I wait before I go for a jog or run after having a baby?

I’m often asked about beginning running soon after having baby, and I recommend waiting a while to restore the foundation muscles of your body (core, back and pelvic floor muscles). Through a combination of time-lapsed and suitable exercise, I would usually say no sooner than six months or even longer, depending on your pelvic floor strength.

Returning to running should begin with fast walking with intervals of jogs, building up from there.

Lauren wrote a fantastic piece recently on getting back into running after having a baby, now that her daughter is six-months old. 

Should I follow a postnatal-specific exercise programme?

Following a postnatal-specific exercise programme can help women better navigate the mixed information out there as to what is suitable for their conditions. Weak tummy muscles are very  likely and some woman develop a separation of the abdominal muscles (diastasis recti) and or weak pelvic floor.

In order to help postnatal women begin their journey of fitness, it is important to build their foundations of strength through nurturing healing, strengthening their weakened core and pelvic floor first without creating other issues in their body. Then women can move forward to consider other more intense exercise.

Each body is different and therefore consulting a specialist fitness professional in pre and postnatal can make all the difference to the results you’re after using safe exercise methods.

Sam Walker
the authorSam Walker
Sam is a regular gym goer who loves a strong spin or step class. Her main fitness goal is to tone up and be a healthier / fitter version of herself.

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