Since I was a young girl I had a dream to compete for Australia in the Olympic Games and to one day start a family. In March of this year, I was very excited to learn that I was pregnant. Every week since has been full of new experiences and growth in more ways than one 🙂 I look forward to sharing some key learnings in this Physio Smart Blog Series.
- In the absence of complications, exercise during pregnancy is safe.
- A thorough clinical evaluation should be conducted before commencing an exercise program whilst pregnant
- Regular consultation about your exercise program with a healthcare professional is advised.
- Everyone is different, there is no precise formula for how to train when pregnant. Also, as your body changes during pregnancy, so will your exercise routine.
- As a guide, if there are no complications, up to 150mins of moderate exercise per week is great!
The search for an appropriate pregnancy fitness program
Prior to falling pregnant, I began to seek information on exercise and pregnancy as well as implications for returning to training post-partum. Aware of the controversy surrounding these topics, I was keen to find the facts to not only inform myself but to confidently educate physiotherapy clients, my coach and others in the community. Quite early in this process, I found myself baffled at the level of ambiguity surrounding an area of health that is relevant to so many and at the limited research available. Without hesitation I enrolled in Taryn Hallam’s Women’s Health and Maternity Physiotherapy Course, to be held in June of 2019.
Knowledge is power
‘Regular physical activity in all phases of life promotes health benefits. Exercise during pregnancy can improve or maintain physical fitness, help with weight management, reduce the risk of gestational diabetes in obese women and enhance psychological wellbeing’ (ACOG, 2019).
A long and insightful chat to my GP prior to my first Obstetrician appointment reinforced my belief that in the absence of complications it is safe to exercise during pregnancy. Furthermore, exercise could benefit Mum and bub in a variety of ways. Big tick. It wasn’t long before I found myself sitting amongst physiotherapists from Australia and New Zealand in Hallam’s 5-day intensive course. I was twenty weeks pregnant with a hunger to learn more and an appetite for carbs to match!
Since the mid-1980s, new studies have led to a shift in attitudes towards pregnancy and exercise. Whilst additional research is needed to clarify the optimal intensity and frequency of exercise, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) created the following recommendations based on information that is available.
- Women with uncomplicated pregnancies should be encouraged to engage in aerobic and strength-conditioning exercises before, during and after pregnancy. Some modification to exercise routines may be necessary because of normal anatomic and physiologic changes and fetal requirements.
- A thorough clinical evaluation should be conducted before commencing an exercise program to ensure that there are no medical reasons to avoid exercise. Women with complications should be carefully evaluated by their obstetric care providers before recommendations on physical activity are made (ACOG, 2015).
Having enjoyed sports from a young age, I acknowledge its important role in my life from a physical health perspective and also for my mental wellbeing. To hear positive reinforcement from a medical perspective was music to my ears – now I just needed to find out “how” to approach exercise over the next 6-12 months.
Every woman & every pregnancy is unique, as should be one’s exercise routine
‘Walking, swimming, stationary cycling, low-impact aerobics, modified Yoga and modified Pilates are considered safe activities to initiate or continue when pregnant. Jogging or running and racquet sports may be safe for pregnant women who participated in these activities regularly prior to falling pregnant’ ACOG, 2015.
‘Yoga positions that result in a decreased venous return and hypotension should be avoided where possible as should sports whereby a pregnant woman’s changing balance may affect rapid movement and increase risk of falling’ ACOG, 2015.
I will admit that I had hoped for a recipe – some form of a system whereby I could plug in my previous level of physical activity and my pregnancy status to receive a step-by-step method of the type, duration, frequency and intensity of exercise that I could safely undertake for any given day. What I have learnt is that whilst guidelines and recommendations exist, there is no precise formula for how to train when pregnant. Given that my program to this point has always been individualised (hence the importance of having a coach) it was naive of me to believe that a different training approach would suddenly be appropriate. If anything, the changes in my body have become more difficult to predict than ever before, suggesting that a “fixed” program would be a recipe for disaster.
‘An exercise program that leads to an eventual goal of moderate-intensity exercise (able to talk throughout) for at least 20-30 minutes per day on most if not all days of the week should be developed i.e. 150 minutes per week’ ACOG (2015).
Throughout my learnings, it has become clear that a highly adaptable plan is the ultimate way to approach training during this phase. My exercise regimen throughout the first two trimesters has evolved through taking responsibility, self-education, astute monitoring of fatigue and physical signs during and after exercise, communicating with my Obstetrician, running coach and gym trainer on a regular basis, attending check-ups with relevant health professionals and good old intuition.
Taryn Hallam’s informative course validated the clear benefits of an active pregnancy and provided research-based recommendations for women wanting to exercise during a very special time of their lives. Regardless of your situation, I hope you found this information beneficial!
- The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ACOG). ‘Committee Opinion 2015. Physical Activity and Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period’, Number 650, December 2015
- The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, 2019. ‘Frequently Asked Questions Pregnancy’, https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Exercise-During- Pregnancy?IsMobileSet=false (Accessed August 2019)