Regardless of your current fitness level, you should discuss your intention to participate in regular physical activity with your doctor, midwife or obstetrician through your pregnancy. This is not scaremongering--just sound practical advice. Your lead maternity caregiver (LMC) is an infinite source of wisdom when it comes to growing healthy babies, and should be your first port of call if you have any doubts or concerns as regards your general pregnancy and staying active. In order to do their job well, they need to have the complete picture of how your pregnancy is progressing. Being fit, eating healthily and taking time out when you feel tired is part of that overall picture. You don't need laser eye surgery to see this.
You, together with your health-care team will make the best decisions about your care when everything is fully disclosed. Your LMC can advise you if there are any particular modifications you may need to make, but most likely they'll be championing your positive attitude to maintaining the good health and wellbeing of both you and your baby over the nine months and beyond.
In Australia and New Zealand we refer to our main maternity caregiver, be that an obstetrician or midwife (as is usually the case), as the LMC--lead maternity carer. The term 'LMC' relates to the person who is monitoring and tracking your pregnancy throughout the nine months, and who most likely will be there when you go into labour and deliver.
A great idea is to get into the habit of keeping an exercise diary, for you and your LMC to review. It saves you having to remember what you did and when, and acts as a good self-motivator. An example of a simple chart, which you can use as the basis on which construct your own, is given opposite (Fig.1.1).
In years gone by, doctors advised women to 'rest up' when they discovered they were expecting. The main concerns were that exercising would raise body temperature which might cause congenital abnormalities, and that the need for oxygenated blood by the exercising muscles would steal the supply away from the developing baby. It sounds like pretty scary stuff. However, this historical advice was based on studies in the 1970s and 1980s which subjected laboratory animals to hard physical exertion combined with under-nutrition, and has subsequently been shown to have been far too conservative.
A review of the national exercise guidelines for pregnant women throughout New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom, the USA and Canada overwhelmingly concludes it is beneficial to exercise before, during and after pregnancy. 'Before' allows you to enter your pregnancy in the best possible state; 'during' helps you prepare physically and psychologically for the demands of labour, childbirth and the rigours of looking after a new baby, and achieve appropriate weight gain; and 'after' aids your postpartum recovery and gets you back into shape.
These 'authorities' have progressed even further in recent years, with official recommendations going from merely saying that, yes, it is fine for pregnant women to exercise, to actively encouraging all women without contraindications to participate in aerobic and strength conditioning exercises as part of a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy.
Many common pregnancy complaints like--I'm tired/my veins are swollen--I now have cankles not ankles/I can't sleep at night/I'm stressed and worried--are reduced or alleviated in women who exercise. Furthermore, something that is bound to attract your keen attention: there is even some evidence that weight-bearing exercise--something as simple as regular, fast walking throughout your pregnancy--can reduce the length of labour and decrease delivery complications.