Whenever someone mentions pregnancy and workout in the same breath, the most obvious random association word you are likely to hear is “yoga.” The commissioning editor of this piece also assumed I was talking about yoga when I mentioned to her that my next story would be about working out during pregnancy.
Well, here’s a surprise for her and everyone else who thought this is another story about yoga for pregnant women—this article has nothing to do with yoga. The exercise and workouts I talk about here are strength and conditioning workouts, running and boot camps and you might have even spotted some social media posts last year by Bollywood star Anushka Sharma of exercises she was performing while pregnant.
The most common reaction to pregnant women working out is shock, concern, bewildered stares or free advice to take it easy and not strain oneself during such a critical time. Even most doctors in India usually advise you against continuing any workouts or exercise except walking and yoga which are widely accepted as safe for pregnant women, says Pallavi Barman, a mother of two who worked out through both her pregnancies.
Barman, a Mumbai-based marketing executive, explains:
“This is not surprising as there is very little precedent in India of pregnant women continuing to exercise. So, most doctors are likely to err on the side of caution and advise pregnant women to avoid workouts and gyms. They usually always suggest walking and pre-natal yoga.Pallavi Barman
"People still believe exercise during pregnancy is not comfortable for the baby and may put it at risk and affect its growth,” says Gemma May, an England-based personal trainer who specialises in pre- and post-natal fitness, and someone who was working out five days a week till the 35th week of her pregnancy earlier this year. Her routine included movements like deadlifts, shoulder press and bicep curls.
Anushka Sharma’s Push
Despite the apprehensions and cautious approach, plenty of women are growing confident about pre-natal workouts, thanks partly to icons like Anushka Sharma. And those who do continue to follow an exercise routine do find plenty of benefits.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology Committee, advises that women with uncomplicated pregnancies should be encouraged to engage in aerobic and strength-conditioning exercises before, during and after pregnancy.
It adds that physical activity in pregnancy has minimal risks and has been shown to benefit most.
Barman’s gynaecologist didn’t ever ask her not to work out during both her pregnancies as she was aware of her history in fitness. “However, she asked me to be vigilant and careful. She clearly listed her concerns to me and gave me specific advise on what to do while doing specific workouts. On lifting weights, she asked me to make sure that I never hit my baby bump and to pay extra attention to balance because the body’s centre of gravity shifts for child-bearing women. For running, she asked me to drink plenty of fluids as the body requires a lot more water during these times. So, I continued doing calisthenics, parkour, yoga, cardio and weight lifting,” recalls Barman, who found working out during her second pregnancy much more relaxed and fun as she had learnt a lot about herself the first time around.
Precautions to Keep in Mind?
Anyone who hasn’t worked out prior to pregnancy shouldn’t start in the middle of it because their bodies are not used to the strain, warns Dr Uma Vaidyanathan, Dr Uma Vaidyanathan, senior consultant (obstetrics and gynaecology), Fortis Hospital.
Even for those who continue working out should do it under expert guidance and not through YouTube videos or random apps, feels May. “Since the exercise guidelines change throughout the three trimesters it is always better to work with trained professionals. Putting strain on your body through poor exercise choices is not a good idea,” adds May.
Dr Vaidyanathan suggests creating a proper eco-system comprising a trainer, doctor and family support for working out during pregnancy. “Also, eat something before exercise, hydrate well, always listen to your body and do not push your body unnecessarily,” she adds.
Benefits of Workout During Pregnancy
Another thing pregnant women need to bear in mind while working out is to pay heed to the signs the foetus sends. All women, without exception, should take a break when their bodies need rest. May cut down on her exercise between weeks eight and sixteen as she felt so exhausted and sick that she couldn't manage her regular regimen. Barman didn’t workout in the first trimester of both her pregnancies when she suffered from morning sickness. Both May and Barman stopped working out towards the end of the term as they had become too big.
As her pregnancy advanced, May cut down on exercises that required lying on her back as also planks as it loads the core too much. Barman avoided movements that required inversions and jumping. “The baby kicks me if I do something where it isn’t comfortable… baby knows best,” says May.
Most forms of pre-natal yoga focus on kegel exercises to take care of pelvic health to facilitate natural birth, but pregnant women should also focus on legs, glutes and upper body through exercise. Regular workouts help strengthen a woman’s body during a phase when it is extremely sensitive and vulnerable. “The need of the hour is educating and imparting information about the benefits of working out and keeping fit during pregnancy,” says Barman.
The benefits of exercise during pregnancy include, but are not restricted to, muscle toning, reduction of gestational diabetes and excessive weight gain, increased energy levels and upbeat mood, good mental health and post-partum recovery, reduced pregnancy-related pains, aches acidity, gas, incontinence, indigestion and constipation, and release of endorphins that improve the mood.
(Shrenik Avlani is a newsroom veteran on a break from full-time work since 2012. He is a location independent writer, editor and journalist and co-author of The ShivFit Way, a book on functional fitness.)