These days, few topics seem to be as divisive as women choosing to train during pregnancy. It never ceases to amaze me the lengths some people will go to in order to express their negative opinions on this subject. Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, people feel the need to advise women who continue to exercise while expecting, that they are doing untold damage to their unborn baby. Every few weeks this topic rears its ugly head again and the vitriol and diatribe which ensue are deeply unsettling.
The truth is, there are innumerable benefits to be had from exercising while pregnant. Physically, mentally and emotionally, women I have known who decided to continue exercising have all fared better than those who have decided against it. Obviously, women who make the decision to continue their training, need to ensure they are doing so in a safe way. They also need to be doing it in consultation with their physicians and coaches.
Naturally, there are some movements which are not advisable during pregnancy and some which need to be scaled back. I am not going to list them here, as it’s largely individual, and to be honest, your body will tell you what you are able for far better than anyone else can. The only caveat I would include is that pregnancy is not the time to try to break personal bests, nor would I encourage women to take up a new, unfamiliar activity.
Pregnancy is a hugely emotional time. A woman’s body goes through so many changes, that it can almost become almost unrecognisable. For fit and health conscious women, this can be difficult to deal with. Many women may have spent years or even decades trying to maintain a healthy weight, and although they rationally understand that weight gain is a normal part of pregnancy, it can still be extremely difficult to accept. Keeping up a healthy lifestyle, which includes an exercise regime, can help these women to feel a lot more in control.
As well as this, for a lot of us, the gym is not just about exercise. It is where we go to blow off steam after a hard day in the office. For many of us, it is also a social outlet. So, even if you disregard the physical benefits, this is a lot to give up for the best part of a year. We are not human incubators after all, and a healthy, happy momma, has got to be better for baby.
Over the years, I have been so impressed by the pregnant women I have trained with. Once such woman is Yvonne. Yvonne trains with me in The Performance and Fitness Academy in Kildare, which is one of Ireland’s leading training facilities. Yvonne trained up until 39 weeks pregnant. She is a perfect example of why women should continue to workout if they wish. I was keen to hear about Yvonne’s experiences, and she kindly agreed to answer some questions.
The Performance and Fitness Academy – Kildare
How many weeks pregnant are you now?
I am currently 39 weeks plus two days pregnant.
How do you feel exercising during your pregnancy has benefited you?
I feel being able to exercise throughout my pregnancy has helped to regulate hormones which has resulted in me feeling pretty ‘normal’ and like myself throughout. I can only compare this to when I was advised to take two weeks off in the first trimester before being cleared by my GP to return to exercise. During this time I didn’t sleep as well as I would usually and felt more hormonal and anxious also. Pregnancy brings about huge changes to you physically, but it also impacts on your emotional and mental well-being. Exercise allowed me to feel normal, feel good about the physical changes happening in my body and also impacted positively on my mood. I often found I left training sessions in better form than when I arrived. I also feel I was more conscious of eating healthy as a result of maintaining regular exercise, which undoubtedly was important for a healthy pregnancy. I cannot say for sure whether exercise impacted on having a healthy pregnancy, but I suffered no symptoms such as morning sickness, food aversions or cravings or swelling for example. I also feel exercising likely reduced any aches and pains often associated with pregnancy such as back pain, potentially due to a strong core and maintaining strength in these muscles.
Was your husband supportive of your decision?
My husband was very supportive of me continuing to train throughout. With the expertise from our coaches in the Academy, ensuring I did only exercises suitable and safe and maintained a healthy heart and work rate throughout. This was very reassuring for both of us. Training is a hobby we enjoy doing together and so it was fantastic to be able to continue doing so throughout our pregnancy.
Have you encountered any back lash from people in relation to you training?
I definitely received some raised eyebrows from people throughout pregnancy in relation to continuing to exercise. Some were concerned that I was over doing it and subtly suggested lots of walking and swimming as better options. However, throughout I always knew my body and what I was and wasn’t able for, using common sense to guide this. I was always upfront about my exercise with medical professionals who always acknowledged the benefits of exercise and never expressed any concerns. However, I also protected myself from potential backlash by being choosy as to who I shared information on my exercise routine with, often minimising it to avoid judgement. Having said this, many were also equally supportive. My husband often found people were shocked when he discussed our exercise regime, but not in a negative way.
Would you make the same decision if you were pregnant again in the future?
I would definitely choose to exercise in subsequent pregnancies as I have had a ‘dream’ pregnancy and while I can’t say exercise entirely impacted on this, I definitely feel it played an important role.
Would you encourage others to continue to train?
I would recommend exercise to friends and family when pregnant also. However, I would stress the importance of choosing to train in a gym where coaches have the expertise to guide you through your workouts and ensure you only do what is safe for you and your baby. My Husband and I felt we were in safe hands in The Academy, which put our minds at ease throughout.
I have personally never been pregnant, but I have been injured. In both scenarios, I cannot overemphasise the importance of working with coaches you can trust. Knowing that your coach has your best interest at heart and that you are in safe hands, can really make everything a lot easier. Plus, it takes the thinking out of it, when you know someone else is taking care of you.
Having spoken to Yvonne, I was eager to hear what her coach Niall Munnelly, co-owner of The Academy and Head Coach, had to say. He gave me these insights.
There is a lot of misconceptions and confusion around training while being pregnant. People live back in the stone age with their knowledge about this topic and they can be very critical about an issue they don’t have a clue about. There are amazing physical and mental health benefits attached to training while pregnant. It can
- Balance your hormones
- Can reduce morning sickness
- Can reduce anxiety
- Can reduce weight gain
- Can help with your own headspace
- Can help improve your mood
- Can help with your baby’s mood
When you exercise your body releases serotonin (happy hormone) your baby can receive the same feeling and so can benefit from your training too. This is the same feel good hormone your body releases during sex, or when you eat chocolate!
In the academy we’ve had about 20-30 women in the past 5 years train with us while pregnant and every single one of them found it massively beneficial with all the points I made above.
If you want to train while being pregnant, it’s an absolute must for you to find coaches who actually know what they’re doing. Most doctors these days will tell you to continue exercising while pregnant, especially if you’ve been doing it pre-pregnancy. Of course, everyone’s body is different and some women have harder pregnancies than others, so always consult with your family doctor before any training. If you get the all clear, there’s no reason why you can’t train up until your due date. We’ve had women train at the Academy until a day before giving birth! Some people say training while being pregnant can actually help with labour too, as it keeps your body in fit state, with more energy to push harder.
Training while pregnant can help you recover faster after pregnancy as your body is stronger and if you keep your weight somewhat under control while pregnant, it will be easier to loose the baby weight. Some people use being pregnant as an excuse to sit at home and eat everything. When you eat healthy while pregnant your baby will receive all of those good nutrients from the good, as they say you are what you eat.
Niall Munnelly, Head Coach and Co-Owner – The Performance and Fitness Academy
My own personal stand point is that the decision to train while pregnant is just that, a decision. Each woman needs to make that decision for herself and her baby. She should not be subjected to negative commentary from keyboard warriors, who have no skin in the fight.
I would like to thank Yvonne and Niall for sharing their insights on what I feel is an important subject. I hope that as education around this topic increases, it may stem the tide of hurtful and unhelpful comments from people who know no better xxx