How to exercise during pregnancy

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how to exercise during pregnancy
You might think that being pregnant is the perfect excuse to put your feet up, but a little bit of exercise is good for you and your baby - and it may even make the birth easier!

The benefits of exercise during pregnancy

Regular, gentle exercise can be a great help during your pregnancy - and the fitter you are the better you'll be at coping with the demands of a newborn baby.

Stretching and toning exercises such as Yoga and Pilates can help keep your body flexible and ready for labour. Plus, anything that gets your heart going is good for you and your baby's health as it pumps oxygen, blood and vital nutrients more efficiently around the body and to the womb.

So, unless you've been advised by your GP or midwife not to do any activity then it's a good idea to do something you enjoy.

What exercises to avoid during pregnancy

Of course, you have to be sensible and not push yourself too hard and there are some sports that you really need to avoid. If you're into extreme sports such as rock climbing and scuba diving then you need to stop those activities. If you go horse riding or cycling you'll also have to give these up too.

Always tell your GP or midwife that you're going to start exercising and if you ever feel unwell then you must stop.

Swimming when you're pregnant

Swimming is one of the most relaxing exercises you can do and being relaxed can help calm your baby too. It's also a good all-round exercise as swimming can lower your blood pressure, ease joint and muscle pain, burn fat and can be a cardiovascular workout too.

Best move:

Breast stroke is a good swimming style because this opens and strengthens your chest, ready for when you need to control your breathing in labour. And it opens your hips and encourages flexibility of the pelvis. Remember to keep your back and neck straight - if you have difficulty, use a float under each arm or under your chest. Do as many lengths as you can but if you feel tired, stop.

Need to know:

At many community swimming pools there are special classes for pregnant women. Look in your local phone book to find your nearest pool.

If you don't like swimming lengths but you want a way to tone and flex your muscles, get a float or hold on to the side bar and do the same stretches you'd do at home or at an exercise class.

Yoga in pregnancy

There is growing evidence that Yoga can really help with the birth as it increases flexibility, can open the vaginal muscles and train you to control your breath more easily. Because of this there are specialised Yoga classes just for pregnancy - ask your midwife to recommend somewhere.

Best move:

Try these two postures:

The pelvic lift
Kneel on all fours, breathe out slowly and arch your back upwards, keeping the lower back flat. Breathe in and curve your back downwards, again keep the lower back flat. Repeat 5 times.
This move strengthens the uterus, encourages deep breathing and eases lower back strain - you might even find this a comfortable position during labour.

The wall squat
Lie on your back and place the soles of your feet flat on to a wall. Spread your feet widely apart, bend your knees and gently pull your knees out. You might feel a bit silly and that you're not doing much but this exercise is great for opening up the pelvic area, promoting elasticity of vaginal muscles and possibly helping with an easier labour.

Need to know:

Let your Yoga teacher know that you're pregnant and if any of the positions are difficult or make you feel unwell, don't do them.

In a Yoga class it can be easy to put pressure on yourself to do as much as other people, but this can do you more harm than good - just stick to what feels comfortable for you.

Pilates in pregnancy

Pilates is a bit like Yoga, it's fairly gentle and concentrates on holding postures, but its focus is much more on what the experts call core strength. This means the deep muscles that support your pelvis, spine and back muscles and it's these muscles that help with posture, back ache and are used in childbirth, so it makes sense to give them a bit of a workout before you give birth.

Best move:

Try the elbow plank, but go carefully. If you feel it's too much strain on your back, then stop.
Lie on your front and raise yourself up onto your elbows, keep your back and legs straight - you should be supporting yourself on your toes and your elbows. Breathe slowly and steadily and hold the position for a count of five - if you can. Afterwards get into a kneeling position, bend over and put your head between your legs and stretch your arms out in front of you.

Need to know:

Take it slowly - you might not feel like you're doing anything, but most people say the next day after a Pilates class they really feel like they've had a workout and that their deep muscles feel stronger.

Many of the moves are performed lying on your back so after your 20th week of pregnancy it could be harmful for you to spend too much time lying on your back so speak to your teacher about alternative moves.

Walking in pregnancy

Walking is free and one of the best exercises for cardiovascular health (gets your heart pumping) and toning your legs and bum. You don't need to go on a big hike, just a short walk to the shops or round your local park is a good place to start.

Best move:

A medium-paced stroll in the park. It sounds so obvious, doesn't it? But going for a stroll in the park, where there's lots of greenery is the best place for a walk because the air is cleaner than, say a neighbourhood street or high street and green scenery is very relaxing, and a chilled out mum makes for a chilled out baby.

You don't need to go for a strenuous walk, go at a medium pace and swing your arms. If you get out of breath, slow down. To give your legs and bum a workout vary your walk by going up/down a hill.

Need to know:

A few simple stretches before you go for a walk is a good idea to make sure that you don't pull any muscles.

Continued below...

Walking is a great exercise to do when you are towards the end of your pregnancy and other forms of exercise are difficult.

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