The Pregnancy Diaries: The First Trimester
Exercise during pregnancy, regardless of the incredible amount of information out there, can be confusing, daunting and a little conflicting. Why? Every pregnancy journey is unique, therefore it can be difficult to understand or feel confident in doing what is right for you. Here at Tone and Sculpt, we want all women to feel empowered, strong and able to exercise, feel fit and healthy. This is the first in a short series of blogs to provide advice and guidance for you as you begin your pregnancy journey. Listen to your body and your health professionals and if in any doubt, please do not hesitate to speak to your doctors.
Your ‘pregnant’ state of mind.
The journey of wanting a baby, to finding out that you’re pregnant can often make women feel vulnerable, excited and scared all at the same time. It is entirely life changing and completely alters your mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. Not only are women focusing on nurturing, protecting and growing a little human, they’re also having to deal with their own bodily changes, image, food choices (the way your appetite can change in pregnancy is mind blowing!) and ultimately, having to give birth to a human in 9 months! No amount of words or time can fully explain the changes a woman goes through in pregnancy. As much as women (and men) can try to understand and empathise with the prenatal journey, it is so difficult to fully appreciate what a woman goes through, the highs and lows, as every pregnancy is so different. For me, the scariest part was the lack of control I had over my body and upcoming birth. I had a birth plan and did all the recommended reading and classes out there, but ultimately for the entire gestational period (and beyond), your baby and body often have different plans!
However, the one thing that helped me take back some control was exercise. Often, when women find out they are pregnant, many choose not to exercise simply because they are unsure about what they can and can’t do, or they want to protect the bundle of joy growing inside them. There is an answer for both: firstly, our blogs at Tone and Sculpt, along with our experienced professionals can help guide you with your pregnancy exercise journey. Equally, it is definitely worth contacting any local pre and postnatal exercise specialists along with your doctor for advice and guidance. Secondly, exercise can actually aide a healthy pregnancy, mum and baby. Along with several physiological benefits for mum and baby, exercise during pregnancy has a similar effect on our body and mental state as it would if you were not pregnant. As long as you have been cleared by your doctor, midwife, gynae and/or other recommended health professionals there is no reason not to reap the benefits of a workout when with child!
What are the benefits for me?
Although every woman is different, below are many reasons why all women should continue to exercise during pregnancy:
- Reduced fatigue
- Increase in energy and body positivity
- Cardiovascular endurance and strength
- Strong pelvic floor muscles
- Postural benefits
- Reduction in lower back and pelvic pain
- Relieves indigestion problems (common in pregnancy)
- Better sleep
- Prevents excessive prenatal weight gain
- Possibility of a shorter delivery, reduced rate of induction and operative births
- Possibility of a shorter recovery time, postnatally.
- Good placenta health for mum and baby
What are the benefits for my baby?
Now that there are two of you, exercise not only takes care of you, but it can also be beneficial for your baby in the following ways*:
- A healthy infant birth weight
- Can increase cognitive development into adulthood
- Elevated mood for baby and mum
- Reduction in complications and pain during delivery
*These are not definitive and may not apply to all pregnancies.
Studies into pre and postnatal health have been conducted over many years and there are several of them. The positive correlation between exercise and a healthy pregnancy and delivery are very reassuring. Overall, it is safe to say that as long as you have been cleared by a health professional to exercise, listen to your body and be as active as you can. A good analogy to remember is that birth is like a marathon; you would rarely turn up to run over 26 miles with no training and if you did, you’d likely find it a struggle. Just like you would need a training plan for a marathon, an exercise plan for pregnancy is hugely beneficial both physically and mentally. In many ways, it gives you back control and helps combat feelings of vulnerability and anxiety.
So, how do I train during my first trimester?
This varies from person to person (no surprise there). The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend 150 minutes moderate-intensity exercise per week, while the NHSrecommend building up to 30 minutes a day, 3 times a week if you are new to exercise. Although you could divide these times in a way that suits you, it helps to stay active on a daily basis when pregnant so perhaps think of it as 20-30 minutes per day. However, do not feel overwhelmed by this figure if you’re beginning your exercise journey during pregnancy. To begin with, 20-30 minutes could be anything from a brisk walk to taking up prenatal yoga or Pilates. Don’t forget your NEAT activity either: the acronym stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis; in other words, every day activities from cleaning the house to taking the stairs instead of the lift!
Often, you will find women who have always been very active continue to exercise in a similar manner. Equally, those who exercise 2-3 times a week will continue to do the same. However, your first trimester of pregnancy is often where women feel their most vulnerable and fragile with bodily changes, increased fatigue (you just want to nap ALL the time), a larger appetite (all the carbs!) and of course, the dreaded morning sickness. Even the most active of women can experience all of these in varying degrees. You may also experience:
- Low blood pressure
- An increased sense of smell
- Muscular pain
However, some women may not experience any of these either!
In the first trimester, listen to your body; rest when you need to rest and exercise when you can. It is also important to know that continuing to exercise does not increase the risk of miscarriage or birth defects: seek medical advice if you are worried about anything in the first instance and ensure your doctor confirms that it is ok for you to keep active. It would be beneficial to tell your doctor the types of exercise you do so they can advise appropriately. Equally, it is just as important to tell you your personal trainer, class instructor and anyone involved in your present exercise regime that you are pregnant – they can adapt exercises and be mindful of your pregnancy too. Many women may want to keep their pregnancy to themselves in the first trimester, which I fully appreciate. However, when it comes to exercise and nutrition, it is safer to inform anyone responsible for guiding your health and wellbeing regime.
What types of exercises can I do in my first trimester?
If you have been cleared by your doctor to exercise as you ‘normally’ would (be mindful of what your ‘normal’ is) and you feel able to exercise as usual, then continue. However, if your usual exercise involves contact sports, high impact or aerial sports (rock climbing or perhaps jumping out of a plane!), it is best to avoid these. Equally as much as yoga and Pilates are recommended, there are several moves you should avoid and your instructors should provide alternatives. For example, you don’t want to spend too long lying on your back without moving, or moves that involve bending backwards, lifting your legs and feet above your head or exercises that put a great deal of pressure on your abdomen and pelvis. These may feel ‘ok, but remember your body is changing. The hormone, relaxin, causes connective tissue to soften and your pelvis to widen in preparation for childbirth and growing a baby. This will have an impact on your muscles and energy output. Similarly, as much as bump doesn’t necessarily ‘show’ in the first 12 weeks, it is important to begin strengthening and preparing your transversus-abdominal (TVA) muscles and pelvic floor muscles to be mindful of Diastasis Recti and prepare your body for the greatest workout yet – childbirth!
Below are a list of exercises to choose from and these can be done before and during your first trimester. Perhaps choose a few at a time for each 20-30 minute workout you do and bear in mind this is a guide – do what works for you!
- Brisk walking
- Uphill walking
- Cycling or spinning
- Prenatal Pilates
- Prenatal Yoga
- Glute bridges
- Swimming (check pool temperature is sufficient for pregnancy)
- Light weight lifting
Again, there are many more, but hopefully from the list, you can see that exercise is very accessible in your first trimester, but only if you feel well enough to do it. The most important thing is to listen to your body and rest as much as you can (nap as much as you can, they become bitter-sweet dreams once baby is here!).
What should I avoid?
- Hot yoga
- Excessive back bending, abdominal twisting, feet above head.
- Too much time on your back
- Contact sport
- High impact sport
- Exercises that cause dehydration or breathlessness leaving you unable to talk.
- Exercises that result in dizziness
…In other words, anything that doesn’t feel right for you and your body. Be mindful of how you feel physically as there are so many alternatives for prenatal exercise.
The all-important question: how do I perform Kegel exercises?
- Sit or stand comfortably (a Pilates ball is great for this)
- Take a nice big deep breath in, letting your TVA and pelvic floor muscles relax
- As you breathe out, lift your abdominal muscles as if they are coming up behind your belly button
- Contract your Kegel muscles (muscles surrounding your vagina) as if you are pulling them up
- Hold for 5–10 seconds. Release and perform 10-15 times a day or as many times as you like!
Some people say it helps to imagine you stop yourself from a wee! However, the all-important word here is, ‘imagine’ – not recommended to actually stop yourself from weeing!
And there you have it! Congratulations on your pregnancy, listen to your body in the first trimester, avoid high impact and contact sports, rest first and then stay as active as you can. Based on the list and advice above, there are plenty of exercises you can follow in the Tone and Sculpt app as adaptations and alternatives have been provided by the Tone and Sculpt