Fitness and Nutrition During Pregnancy

By Katie Graves @Katie_trueyoufitness

Katie is a mum of two, Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor, Pre and Post Natal Qualified.

I love the feeling of being fit and strong and am a massive advocate for continuing to be active during and beyond pregnancy. I believe that fitness should and can be something we enjoy rather than endure. Food is something that I am also hugely passionate about as it’s such a source of pleasure and can drastically affect our health and mood. Pregnancy is different for every single one of us, so women should feel under no pressure to suddenly ‘get fit’ or change the way they eat. But there are definitely benefits to our physical and mental wellbeing if we are active (in any way, I’m not just talking fitness classes and weights) and have a balanced and nutritional approach to what we eat. 

Let’s be honest, pregnancy is amazing, but it can also be incredibly scary and challenging! The change in our bodies is sometimes one of the hardest aspects of pregnancy to embrace, and can evoke all sorts of emotions and feelings that maybe we didn’t expect. My advice around this tricky time is to try not to compare ourselves to others. Like at any other period of our lives, our bodies will all be different and unique. So what one lady looks like and experiences at 20 weeks, may well be different to what you see in the mirror. And that’s ok. Try to enjoy the changes in your body and trust that it's working hard to support you and the new baby that you’ll soon be welcoming into the world. Putting pressure on ourselves to maintain a fitness regime, or restrict what we eat whilst we are pregnant, will at best make us miserable, and at worst put ourselves and our babies at risk. So try and be kind to yourself, listen to your body and take expert advice where you need it.

I’m going to start with a question that I get asked a lot: ‘Is it safe to exercise whilst you’re pregnant’. It’s also a question that many people have all sorts of opinions on (that they’re often all too happy to share with you, whether you invited their feedback or not). 

The simple answer is yes, it is perfectly safe to exercise throughout pregnancy. BUT there are most definitely things to be aware of…

First things first, whilst we’re growing and carrying a baby, it’s not the time to start a new workout plan. It's essential that from an exercise perspective, we don’t drastically change what we’ve been doing before you became pregnant. So If we’ve run, lifted weights, done aerobics for some time, then these are all safe to continue with, as long as we make the necessary adjustments to keep us and our baby safe as our pregnancy progresses. If you’re attending a group exercise class or working with a Personal Trainer, it’s essential that you inform them as soon as you realise that you are pregnant. If you exercise alone in the gym or at home, I would strongly recommend taking the time to speak with a fitness professional who is pre and post natal qualified. This way you can be sure that your instructor is able to effectively advise on the way in which you need to modify your exercise to keep you safe, feeling great and free from injury. As a general rule, there are changes that we need to make from 12 weeks of pregnancy such as not doing exercises where you lie flat on your back or doing any kind of activity that could cause an impact to your bump such as the rowing machine or boxing moves.

Now that I work in the fitness industry and have my pre and post natal qualification, I look back and cringe at some of the things that I did exercise wise whilst I was pregnant. I considered myself to be strong and fit and thought that I didn’t really need to make any adjustments. I was lucky that I didn’t do myself or my babies any damage, but I’m sure I could have supported my body much more effectively if I’d taken the time to speak to someone who had knowledge around exercise and pregnancy. 

If you haven’t previously been into fitness but would like to start moving your body during pregnancy there are plenty of safe and effective ways to do that. Do some googling about what’s on offer in your local area, you’re sure to find pregnancy yoga classes and maybe even some fitness classes that are designed specifically for pregnant women. With these types of classes you’ll be able to feel reassured that the exercises you undertake will keep you and your baby safe, and you’ll get the added benefit of meeting other ladies in the local area who will be giving birth around the same time as you. Walking is another great option, you’ll get some fresh air in your lungs, you can do it whenever the fancy takes you and it’s completely free. Swimming is another good choice as pregnancy progresses. I’d never really been into swimming before getting pregnant. But as my body grew I found the support that the water gave me really reassuring, I went and did a few lengths on my own and also joined in with some aqua aerobics classes which were great fun! The benefits of moving our bodies during pregnancy are endless, there are so many that I’ll be covering those in another blog! So definitely see what’s out there and think about ways to keep yourself active with activities that you’ll enjoy.  

My final point around exercise and pregnancy is a topic that pre-pregnancy most of us haven’t really given a second thought to. Our pelvic floor. When you’re young and carefree, the idea that your pelvic floor, which we can’t even see, needs to be exercised and strengthened is a bit of a weird one. But trust me, it’s super important! Think of the pelvic floor like a sling that is supporting our internal organs within the pelvis. If the sling is weak and saggy, it doesn’t take a genius to work out what’s going to happen. Symptoms can include pain in the pelvic region, incontinence issues and prolapses which definitely aren’t fun. So ideally start doing pelvic floor exercises during your pregnancy. You can find plenty of suggestions online and they’re really easy to do. Aim to build them into your daily routine, no one knows when you’re doing them, so use the journey into work, or the time when you’re waiting for the kettle to boil to get down to some internal muscle tightening! Be consistent with the exercises and definitely stick with them after you give birth. I’ve personally experienced the impact of not committing to doing my pelvic floor exercises and if I could go back in time, I would be religious with them! 

Ok, so that’s the moveside of things covered, what about what we put into our bodies during pregnancy? Our nutrition at any time in our lives is really important, but it becomes even more critical whilst we are pregnant. Not only have we got to support ourselves, but we’re also growing a whole other human being. So it's vital that we have a balanced diet with plenty of vitamins and minerals to support our own wellbeing as well as that of our unborn child. As a general guide, our approach to nutrition during pregnancy should be quite similar to the way we look at fitness. If we’re already consuming a wide variety of foods, in a balanced way, then nothing much really needs to change. I’m sorry to say that the notion of ‘eating for two’ really is a myth! During pregnancy our caloric needs don’t actually increase until the third trimester. And even then we only need an additional 200 calories each day to support the final growth spurt of our baby and prepare us for birth. The time when our body really needs a boost in calories, is if we choose to breastfeed, when we’ll need to take on an extra 500 calories per day. 

Here are my top tips for pregnancy nutrition:

Aim to include all food groups at every meal time.
Carbohydrates should make up about a third of what you eat, go for complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, sweet potatoes, oats and brown rice or pasta to help give you a steady release of energy throughout the day.
Ideally consume at least 5 portions of fruit or veg every day,
Get plenty of protein in your diet from sources such as lean meat, fish, eggs or pulses. Protein will help support the healthy growth of your baby.
Ensure you have dairy within your diet as this gives you calcium to keep your bones and teeth strong. Calcium levels can become depleted during pregnancy so help prevent osteoporosis, and tooth weakening, eat plenty of dairy from sources such as milk, cheese or yoghurts.
Aim to drink 8-12 glasses of water each day. This will help keep your body functioning effectively and also reduces the risk of premature labour due to dehydration.
Avoid alcohol and limit caffeine intake to a couple of teas or coffees each day
Even with a balanced and varied diet, consider taking supplements of Folic Acid, Calcium, Iron and Vitamins D and C to support your nutrition.
Ensure you’re aware of the current guidance for foods to avoid during pregnancy. If you’re unsure, chat to your midwife or GP who will be able to give you the most up to date information.

Throughout your pregnancy, if you as a mum to be feel happy and well then that’s going to have a massively positive impact on the physical and mental wellbeing of you and your baby. Accept that every day will be different, sometimes you’ll feel too exhausted to even contemplate exercise and others you might feel full of beans. There’s nothing to stop you from keeping active throughout your pregnancy, and a sensible and informed approach to your nutrition will help keep your energy levels high.

If you’re keen to know more I’ll be following up this blog with a closer look at the benefits of fitness before and after birth and also some top tips and how to get back into fitness after pregnancy.

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