Mums-to-be, there are plenty of exercises you can do safely throughout your pregnancy.
Exercising during pregnancy helps to ease labour and pregnancy-related aches. Photo: TONO BALAGUER / www.123rf.com
Neo Ko Hui was a school track star in her teens who went on to play touch rugby.
But when she found out she was pregnant five years ago, the physical education teacher ended up “just walking for long periods of time”.
In contrast, her second pregnancy last year saw her running and lifting weights right up to her last trimester.
“I realised that it was easier to get back into shape if I maintained or lessened the more strenuous workouts. It was tough with the daily demands of work and taking care of my first child, but the importance of staying healthy by eating right and keeping active kept me going,” says the 34-year-old, who started with lighter intensity workouts in the first trimester before resuming her normal pace from the second trimester.
If you’ve always been active like Ko Hui and don’t have medical or obstetric complications, it’s perfectly safe to continue until you give birth.
According to guidelines by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise a day on most, if not all, days of the week is recommended.
“Exercise improves stamina and keep muscles supple, which help ease the progress of labour,” explains Dr Irene Chua, senior consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Irene Chua Clinic for Women. “It also helps strengthen back muscles to cope with weight gain in pregnancy, thus easing backaches.”
However, bear in mind that the changes in hormonal levels will inevitably affect your stamina, coordination and strength. So, always listen to your body, say fitness experts who work with expectant mums.
“Exercise also releases endorphins, which boost the mood and help one sleep better,” Dr Chua adds.
But if you’ve never or hardly worked out before, she advises that you consult your doctor and start only after the first trimester – ideally in a group or under the guidance of a qualified instructor.
Another advantage of joining a fitness class: mums-to-be can exchange pregnancy tips and experiences, observes Morgan Smith, an instructor at Pure Yoga.
Here, we ask the industry experts to recommend workouts and courses for mums of different fitness levels and interests.
IF YOU’VE DONE MARATHONS
Chances are, you can still run a reasonable distance. If you feel up to it, you can run during any stage of your pregnancy, says Kareen Lai, a former PE teacher and founder of Mums In Sync, which designs fitness and nutrition programmes for pregnant women and new mums.
“But if your body says ‘this doesn’t feel right’ – stop and don’t push yourself. This is not the time to test the ‘no pain, no gain’ theory,” she adds.
She doesn’t recommend even the fittest of pregnant women embarking on new workout programmes or resistance training. “Stick to a routine that you’re familiar with, at a comfortable pace.”
JOIN A COURSE
• Core Connections is a three-hour programme that guides mums to activate, restore and energise their pre- and/or postnatal bodies. Even if you feel fit enough to run, you need to know that your pelvic floor muscles, for example, are taking on more load during pregnancy – up to four to eight times more when running! Visit www.mumsinsync.com.
IF YOU CAN FIND TIME ONLY ON WEEKENDS
Pregnant “weekend warriors” should keep it safe and simple. Mohd Nasrudy, a fitness instructor at Ritual, says he is trained to look out for this group of people because they risk injuries when they push themselves too hard. They tend to cram a week’s worth of exercise into one or two days.
“With pregnancy, coordination can wane, so I recommend mums-to-be opt for low-impact sports such as swimming or aqua exercise,” Nasrudy shares. “Water takes the load off their body and as a result, is easier on their joints.”
If you really want to keep strength-training, he advises lighter weights and no more than 20 repetitions. Instead of a set of dumbbells, use a resistance band. (Learn to use gym equipment properly.)
JOIN A COURSE
• The beginner’s programme at Ritual emphasises low intensity exercises with simple, fluid movements to get mums moving. The gym also has nutritionists onboard who can recommend hearty, healthy meals to complement your workouts. Visit www.ritualgym.com.
• Fit Bumps by Radiance Physiofit is an eight-week customised programme for expectant mums at all stages of pregnancy, based on their goals. You’ll also learn about back care and other pregnancy-related concerns. Visit www.radiancephysiofit.com.sg.
IF YOU WANT TO TAKE IT SLOW
Low-impact exercises like prenatal yoga help prepare your body (physically), breath (energetically) and mind (mentally) for labour, delivery and motherhood, says Morgan from Pure Yoga. You learn to relax, rather than tense up when you feel uncomfortable.
As a rule of thumb, avoid postures that need you to lie flat on your back and stomach, be inverted and twist the hips. You shouldn’t practise hot yoga or hold your breath during practice, either.
JOIN A COURSE
• The Pilates instructors at Options Studio are trained to teach pregnant women. They modify many of the regular moves by using equipment to suit the changes in your body. Visit www.options-studio.com.
IF YOU DON’T EXERCISE REGULARLY
Don’t be afraid to start being active now, says Kareen of Mums In Sync. A safe – and possibly the easiest – activity is walking. Just put on a pair of comfortable shoes, head out for a leisurely walk and take in some fresh air.
Your body temperature may be slightly higher during pregnancy, so bring a bottle of water with you, she says. Drink regularly to keep yourself hydrated and avoid activities under the afternoon sun.
Get fit safely
Exercise during pregnancy is important, but don’t overlook these safety tips, says physiotherapist Katherine Macfarlane.
• Start slow. Begin with as little as five minutes per day and add five minutes each week, until you can stay active for 30 minutes a day. You may find it useful to consult a physiotherapist who is used to helping expectant women exercise, for their advice on getting you started.
• Always warm up and cool down.
• After the first trimester, avoid doing exercises that require you to lie flat on your back.
• Avoid brisk exercise in hot, humid weather.
• Wear comfortable clothing that will help you remain cool.
• Wear a bra that fits well and gives lots of support (especially when your breasts become larger towards the third trimester).
• Drink plenty of water to help keep you from overheating and becoming dehydrated.
• Make sure you consume the extra calories you need daily.
• Empty your bladder before exercising. The combination of increased fluid intake and the pressure of the enlarged uterus on the bladder can lead to urinary incontinence.
A version of this article appeared in the November 2015 print edition of Young Parents, with the headline ‘Bump up your workout’.