Gone are the days when pregnancy marked the start of an ‘eating for two’ campaign, coupled with 9 months of putting your feet up!  Today’s mum-to-be knows that in order to have a healthy pregnancy (and a healthy baby!), she needs to watch what she eats and keep active.  Apart from the obvious cutting down on weight gain, exercising when you’re expecting reduces the risk of diabetes and cuts the chances of complications in labour, plus there’s even evidence it could even make your baby more intelligent!

On paper it’s a no-brainer, one study found exercise reduces the risk of pre eclampsia, by 34%while another reported that mums-to-be who don’t exercise are twice as likely to have a caesarean delivery.

However, in spite of the potential benefits to mum and baby, new research from Mentholatum (makers of the tried-and-trusted Deep Freeze pain relief cold patch) shows that more than a third of women (37%) cut back on exercise during pregnancy. And ironically, it’s often for all the wrong reasons.

Half (50%) complained they were too tired to work-out, yet studies have shown that exercise helps combat fatigue, during pregnancy. One in five avoided exercise because of back pain, but studies show keeping active will reduce the risk of back pain and problems in pregnancy. And one in six (16%) worried they would hurt their baby, despite studies confirming there are physical and cognitive benefits.

Tellingly, not one of the 1,000 women surveyed, said their doctor or midwife had told them to rest during pregnancy.  In fact, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists advises: “All women should be encouraged to participate in aerobic and strength-conditioning exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle during their pregnancy.”

Women’s health guru and mum of two, Catherine Hood, says: “Of course, there are some medical conditions which will require medical supervision, but for the vast majority of women the benefits of exercising during pregnancy far outweigh the risks.”

However the results of the survey reveal that a quarter (18%) stopped exercising the moment they knew they were pregnant and one in six (7%) gave up in the first few weeks. Perhaps not surprisingly, almost half (49%) thought their fitness levels had fallen as a result of pregnancy and parenthood.

The new data suggests these decisions are often misguided as one in eight (12%) wrongly believed women should stop working out at the earliest point in their pregnancy and a further one in seven (14%) believed women should stop before the end of the first trimester.

Almost a third (30%) of the new mothers surveyed said they worried that exercise could make them miscarry, and as you would expect, this fear grows with age. Two out of five women aged 31 to 35 (42%) expressed concerns, compared to just one in eight (13%) of those aged 21 to 25.

Of course, as with everything, exercise good, but in moderation.One of the biggest investigations of exercise in pregnancy — a Danish study of more than 92,000 women — found an association between high-impact exercise an increased risk of miscarriage during the first trimester but the researchers stressed the results should be “interpreted cautiously”.  The researchers could find no link with exercise and miscarriage after 18 weeks.

Catherine says: “It makes sense to think twice about high-impact activities and avoid contact sports when you’re pregnant, but there are plenty of activities such as swimming, yoga and power-walking which will provide an effective and low-risk work-out.”

Women instinctively know what works. Two out of three (66%) of those surveyed though swimming was beneficial during pregnancy, and a similar number (65%) identified walking as one of the most appropriate activities.

Catherine advises: “As a general rule there is no reason why you shouldn’t stay active right up to the delivery, although in the later stages of pregnancy you should avoid any exercises which involve lying on your back as this can restrict blood flow to your baby.”

Pregnancy hormones soften and relax ligaments and muscles in preparation for labour and this common cause of back ache in pregnancy. Half the women (50%) surveyed reported problems, with three quarters reporting it started in the second (46%) or third (31%) trimester.

When it’s best to take a time-out from pregnancy exercise

Medical conditions which may make it unsafe to exercise include:

  • Heart disease
  • Incompetent cervix — when the cervix begins to dilate before the baby is due
  • Pre-eclampsia and/or pregnancy induced hypertension
  • Persistent bleeding in the second or third trimester
  • Placenta previa
  • Multiple pregnancy

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