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If you are used to exercising regularly you'll want to continue your fitness programme into your pregnancy. As long as you follow certain guidelines this can be perfectly safe and there are proven benefits for you and your baby's health.
Moderate exercise can ease many minor discomforts in pregnancy - such as leg cramps and nausea - as well as reducing your risk of developing gestational diabetes. Staying active will reduce the likelihood of excessive weight gain and put your body in a better position to bounce back after the birth. Research shows that the benefits to your blood flow and circulation are not just good news for you but also beneficial to your baby.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the recommendations are that you work within these guidelines and adapt your routine as follows:
• During your pregnancy you can continue your mild to moderate exercise routines; it's best to exercise a minimum of three days a week.
• Don't exercise in the supine (flat on your back) position after the first three months, as this can make you feel dizzy and decrease blood flow to your uterus. Also, don't stand motionless for long periods as this can cause blood to pool in your leg veins and cause varicose veins.
• Your aerobic capacity will be lowered during pregnancy, so you'll have less oxygen available for your baby if you push yourself too far. Use the 'talk test' (if you can easily hold a conversation while exercising, your baby is getting enough oxygen). If you wear a heart monitor, aim to keep your rate to under 140 (and at this level for no more than 15 minutes maximum) to ensure you don't over exert yourself. However, you should be aware that monitors can be quite inaccurate, so use them in conjunction with the talk test. Stop exercising when you feel tired.
• Choose non-weight-bearing exercises, such as cycling (safer on stationary bikes in the gym) or swimming. These are easier to continue throughout your pregnancy and carry less risk of injury to your softened ligaments.
• Don't do exercises in which you could lose your balance, especially during the third trimester.
• Avoid exercises that could cause any kind of abdominal trauma, for example, ball games or contact sports.
• Make sure you stay cool during exercise; drink plenty of water, wear loose clothing and exercise at the coolest part of the day.
• After the birth, gently start to pick up your pre-pregnancy exercise routine, gradually building up as your physical capacity increases.
• Pre- or post-natally, get yourself checked out by your doctor or midwife before you start your exercise routine.
The key to your fitness programme should be your pelvic floor exercises (see Your Pregnancy, 0-12 weeks, pelvic floor exercises), which will help keep strong the major cradle of muscles around your lower body. Standing pelvic tilts, calf pumps, toe flexes, cat curls and leg circles (on your side) can all be incorporated safely. Book a session with a personal trainer or take a specific antenatal exercise class to be shown how to do them efficiently.
Power walking and swimming are two very efficient ways of maintaining your strength and aerobic capacity without stressing your body during pregnancy.