Exercise conundrum

Lea-Ann Ellison, pictured, sparked a storm for lifting heavy weights only weeks from giving birth
Lea-Ann Ellison, pictured, sparked a storm for lifting heavy weights only weeks from giving birth

YOU’RE tired, you’re nauseous and you’re roughly the size of a humpback whale. Exercise is probably the last thing you feel like doing while pregnant, and yet exercise you must. So says a new study from Michigan State University, which found that women who keep fit during pregnancy can reduce the chances of their child suffering high blood pressure later in life.

It is the latest piece of advice to expectant mothers on the subject of exercise, which is broadly agreed to be a good thing for them.

“Keep up your normal daily physical activity or exercise [sport, running, yoga, dancing, or even walking to the shops and back] for as long as you feel comfortable,” says similar guidance from Britain’s National Health Service (NHS).

The exercise is urged apparently not just because “the more active and fit you are during pregnancy, the easier it will be for you to adapt to your changing shape and weight gain”.

There are at least two additional benefits – the activity “will also help you to cope with labour and get back into shape after the birth”.

Leaving aside the fact that nothing – repeat NOTHING – will actually help you cope with labour apart from the most powerful of drugs, the message is clear: exercising while pregnant is good for you and it’s good for your baby.

So why, then, do pregnant women come in for regular criticism when they follow this advice and continue to exercise?

Consider the case of Britain’s Zara Phillips, Queen Elizabeth’s granddaughter and a professional rider, who continued to compete on horseback while pregnant in 2013.

Her decision sparked a flurry of criticism and debate about whether or not she was putting her baby in danger.

Because, of course, as a pregnant woman, the decisions she made for herself and her unborn baby were suddenly public property.

The NHS says that exercises that carry a risk of falling, such as riding, “should only be done with caution”.

Which doesn’t help clarify things an awful lot.

Then there was the case of Lea-Anne Ellison, a pregnant bodybuilder from Los Angeles, who caused something of a social media storm by posting pictures of herself online lifting heavy weights just two weeks before her due date.

Meghan Leatherman, an expectant mother from Arizona, also drew gasps by lifting heavy weights up to three days before her due date.

Yet there is nothing official to say that lifting weights while pregnant is bad for your baby.

Likewise British athlete Paula Radcliffe’s decision to continue running while pregnant.

It prompted hand-wringing among the Pregnancy Police about whether or not it was safe, despite no official dictum that pregnant running is verboten. So what to take away from all this? That exercising in pregnancy is the right thing to do, so long as you’re doing the right kind of exercise (whatever that is) and not flaunting your exercise regime too publicly?

In trying to strike the right balance, perhaps this piece of NHS advice will help: “Remember that exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous to be beneficial.” Thank goodness for that. Whatever exercise regime we choose while pregnant, we should all bear in mind that there’s no point in beating ourselves up about it.

That is definitely unhealthy.

– Rosa Silverman

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