health matters

health matters – may 2009 – exercising when expecting

HOW CAN pregnant ladies stay active and healthy?

We all know that exercise is important to our overall health; unsurprisingly it also retains importance for women during their pregnancy too. If your life prior to pregnancy has been a vigorous and highly active one, then you may need to temper some of your energy busting exercises to those that are more moderate and low impact. However, the advice for all pregnant ladies is to consult their doctor prior to starting a new exercise regime or maintaining a current one. Any exercise programme that is undertaken should be geared towards the individual, taking into consideration their pre-pregnancy health and exercise regime together with their health during the pregnancy – exercise programmes should also be modified as the pregnancy progresses.

Exercising during pregnancy has, however, been shown to have benefits to expectant mothers. It may help to keep excessive weight gain at bay and can help to improve sleep and energy levels.  Additionally, exercise may help to boost your mood and aid in preparations for labor, as well as recovery after birth.

Swimming, walking, yoga and pilates are all forms of exercise that pregnant women may wish to consider. Kirsty Nelson, a Pilates Professional at The Hundred Pilates Studio has some advice for expectant ladies thinking of taking up Pilates. “Pilates during pregnancy is only recommended if the mother has had previous Pilates experience, is past her first trimester and has medical clearance from her doctor,” she says, adding: “The first trimester is the most delicate and any sudden bumps or knocks could cause complications with the pregnancy.”

Conscious of the unique and individual requirements of pregnant ladies, The Hundred Pilates Studio tailors its classes to suit their needs and only has a maximum of 4 ladies per class. “Due to the fact that during pregnancy ladies are discouraged from lying on their backs for long periods of time, most of the session is conducted either seated on a Swiss ball or on the equipment, lying on their side or standing.  As the baby grows, we adjust the exercises to accommodate the mother as some previous exercises could become uncomfortable or even contra-indicated,” Nelson explains, continuing: “We encourage our pregnant ladies to drink lots of water during their workout and we keep our sessions about 45-50 minutes as a 60 minute class would be too exhausting for most expecting mothers.”

Nelson also points out the benefits that women can attain through their pregnancy and into their labor by participating in Pilates classes. “Pregnancy Pilates is very beneficial to the mother as we focus with great detail on the pelvic floor muscles.  Strengthening these muscles before delivery will help with better recovery after birth and will also keep the pelvis more supported during pregnancy. The deep breathing will also help with decreasing blood pressure which could be raised during pregnancy.”

Nelson and her colleagues at The Hundred Pilates Studio are, however, conscious of not overstretching or overexerting pregnant ladies and she says that they advise all women to keep a close check on their health throughout the classes and their overall pregnancy.  “We do encourage the expectant mothers to monitor their blood pressure and if it is too high, we recommend that they discontinue Pilates until it is under control.  In general, most ladies would feel lower back discomfort during pregnancy and sacra-iliac joint pain is also common. We are therefore very careful to never overstretch our pregnant clients or use exercises that would aggravate their tender spots,” she explains.

Alongside, monitoring blood pressure and being aware of any painful tweaks and twinges, pregnant women should also be conscious of any shortness of breath, contractions that continue after they have stopped exercising, chest pains or dizziness.  Women should also take into consideration the fact that their mobility/flexibility levels and centre of gravity will change throughout their pregnancy, and should adapt their exercise programme accordingly to avoid falling over or overstretching. The possibility of the latter is also exacerbated by a hormone called relaxin that is produced during pregnancy. It loosens the joints and muscles in the body, in preparation for the birth, but at the same time also increases the risk of straining your body.

Expectant mothers should also ensure that they drink plenty of fluids whilst exercising, take regular breaks, and avoid exercising during the hottest periods of the day.

For all pregnant ladies, however, remember that you are an individual and what works for one person may not work for another, therefore listen to what your body is telling you. Exercise to a level that is comfortable for you and if your body is saying slow down, then do so!

Pregnancy classes at The Hundred Pilates Studio are charged at Dhs 80 per session.

Download the PDF