Published: 01 February 2021. Written by: Alex Danson-Bennett
Vitality Performance Champion and former England Hockey captain Alex Danson-Bennett MBE shares her story of staying active through pregnancy.
I’m not sure I will ever forget the moment I found out I was pregnant. We had two miscarriages previously, but this didn’t curb my initial excitement and overwhelming joy to see those two blue lines. My husband was working at home because of Covid-19 so I ran into his office hiding our news behind my back. We embraced and delighted in that magical moment, excited about all that was to come.
Within 10 minutes, I was back to the normality of the day with lots of questions running around my head; will this pregnancy be ok? Will I be a good mum? What is the right thing to do? And then this final question, is it safe for me to stay active during pregnancy? This is where my journey began.
Research and myth-busting
I started to do some research online and realised that the myths of lying on my sofa, watching my favourite box set, eating for two and consuming as much chocolate as I liked, were sadly not true. Don’t get me wrong – I am 34 weeks pregnant now, and I have definitely had times when this has been exactly the right thing for me to do, listening to my body’s need for rest, a little TLC and certainly the odd treat! However, having spent 19 years as an elite athlete, my need and craving for activity and my understanding of how important it is for my physical and emotional well-being got me feverishly looking at how I could continue.
I found the internet a little overwhelming, and after finding so much contrasting advice, I navigated my way back to the NHS website for my first course of education about exercising in pregnancy. I learned very quickly that exercise through pregnancy is good and safe for you and your baby. Not only does it help you maintain a healthy weight, but it also helps prepare your body for labour. 150 minutes per week has loads of benefits for pregnant mums, and you don’t have to do it all at once! If you are used to doing regular exercise, keep it up, but always listen to your body and do what feels right. Your body has an amazing ability to tell you when you are good to crack on, or if it’s a day for the sofa and feet up! As a general guideline, you should be able to hold a conversation whilst exercising, – if, like me, you get a little carried away, then remember this and then slow down a little.
I found lots of advice on the do’s and don’ts of exercise. Walking, running (if you are a regular trotter) prenatal yoga, aerobic classes, pelvic floor and abdominal exercises were all on the yes list. The exercises to avoid are anything that involves lying on your back (especially after 16 weeks) – this is because the weight of your bump presses on the main blood vessel bringing blood back to your heart. I can confirm this leaves you feeling grotty pretty quickly! Anything that risks your bump being hit is also a no, this can include martial arts, rugby, hockey, tennis etc. I chose to invest in a static bike that I could set up safely at home – the risk of a fall could potentially cause bother for myself and my baby, so cycling outdoors was a risk I decided not to take.
With all this new-found information, I excitedly started to make a plan for my revised fitness regime. I broke down my 150 minutes into five sessions of 30 minutes over five different days, and on the other two days, I walk between about 8,500 and 12,500 steps. Remember that there is always a caveat, and it’s been no different for me – some weeks I’ve breezed through this, and on other weeks my body has not been interested and I’ve taken down the number of sessions I have completed.
My main choice of activity has been cycling. My static bike has become a great source of exercise, as well as providing time out of my day to tick my legs over, listen to a podcast and then smile proudly as I jump off the bike feeling fabulous about completing a workout. I get distracted quite quickly, so I always devise a simple but effective interval session. An example of this could be 10 minutes warm-up, 10 minutes at 30 seconds on 30 seconds rest, and then I finish my final 10 minutes with 45 seconds of higher intensity and 15 seconds rest. I always make sure I’m able to hold a conversation as I exercise and have plenty of fluids to keep me hydrated before, during and after.
Yoga and walking have also been a regular feature in my week. Walking is a great form of exercise – not only is it free, but it’s easy to incorporate into your everyday life. If you didn’t exercise much before your pregnancy then this is definitely the best place to start. As an added bonus, I have benefitted so much from being outdoors, sharing the walk with a friend and getting to know my local area much better – remember, your emotional health is just as important as your physical health! Yoga has been a fabulous way for me to relax and ease any body tension I have had throughout the different stages of my pregnancy. Our bodies are, quite simply, amazing, and are going through all sorts of different physical changes. I have found yoga to be a great way to make sure I am gently stretching and practicing lots of breathing techniques which I plan to use during my labour.
We are all different and one size does not fit all. Listen to your body, take advice from your midwife and doctor, and come up with a plan that works for you.
I have loved staying active through my pregnancy and I have no doubt it will support me as I enter the final few weeks of my third trimester, as well as when we welcome our new little one into the world.
Good luck, enjoy your active journey and then, best of all, your life as a mum!
Alex Danson MBE is a retired England and GB hockey player. She won a Gold medal at the Rio Olympics and Bronze in the London Olympics, and was the top goal scorer in both tournaments. She also won one Silver and three Bronze medals at the Commonwealth Games, and a Bronze medal at the 2010 World Cup. Alex is one of Vitality’s Performance Champions.
You should always speak to your doctor before taking part in physical activity during pregnancy, and make sure you have regular checkups. You can find out more on the NHS website.
If you want some new ideas for self-care during pregnancy, check out our blog on the 6 forms of self-care that aren’t just having a bath.
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