Throughout Baby Loss Awareness week, I've been reminded of the many women I've met through my classes who have sadly lost babies. I never forget their stories or the tearful hugs.
As a Pilates instructor, I am often first to hear about secret pregnancy news. This also means that I'm also informed of the loss of a baby. This might be an early miscarriage or a failed IVF cycle. For others it's a late termination due to major medical complications, or perhaps a complicated, long and drawn out miscarriage. This isn't a 'thing' you just move on from. There are feelings of guilt, grief and frustration.
'Who can I talk to?'
'Why aren't people more sensitive to my needs?'
I count myself fortunate that I can often be there to comfort, listen or support.
It's the, 'What did I do wrong?' question that resonates most with women who want to return to exercise but are too afraid to do so.
When I originally decided to specialise in pre and post natal exercise it was because I was so frustrated by the misinformation given to women about exercising during pregnancy.
I observed fitness professionals who didn't know what to advise, advising instead to do nothing. I saw personal trainers who wanted to cling on to a client, making few modifications to a programme because it was what the client wanted - but not perhaps what her pregnant body needed. And then of course I heard about well meaning friends and relations who chipped in with their 'old wives tale' opinions.
I wanted to do more than learn about prescribing exercise during pregnancy. I wanted to empower mums-to-be to make informed choices about exercising during pregnancy by sharing with them what I had learned about physical changes during pregnancy and the impact of exercise on both mother and unborn child.
Take exercising on your back for example. Considered an absolute no go after the first 16 weeks of pregnancy. So why can't you exercise on your back but when you visit your midwife are you laid on your back for all your examinations?
Or what about running during pregnancy. Paula Radcliffe did it. Why can't everyone else?
These are just a few questions posed by women who haven't experienced the pain of losing a baby. When a woman has experienced loss, or struggled to stay pregnant, falling pregnant again can present new fears.
Returning to exercise during that pregnancy - with the uncertainty and worries of what might happen - raises questions and concerns. Well meaning but poorly researched advice can add to the confusion.
Could exercise harm my unborn baby?
Could I increase my risk of losing another baby?
If you are under the care of a consultant, then you absolutely have to be led by their medical advice but for most healthy women - with a pregnancy free of complications - according to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) exercise is considered to be, "safe and beneficial ."
One study in 2007 suggested there could be a link between miscarriage and intense exercise during the first trimester of pregnancy. The results were linked to those women who exercised for more than seven hours per week or did 'high-impact' exercise but data used in the study published by BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology could have been biased (it was collected retrospectively).
I'm not sharing this to scare monger, I'm sharing this to point out that the only study available to suggest exercise during pregnancy could harm your unborn baby is flawed.
For many women, sickness or shock make any form of activity in the first months of pregnancy impossible. But if you do want to keep active, guidelines state that it is safe to continue to do what you did before pregnancy.
No one is suggesting you go out and learn to wake board or take up show jumping but continuing with your pre-pregnancy exercise routine is okay and the benefits of exercise during pregnancy are massive.
By far the best advice I can give is to find yourself an expert in pre and post natal exercise prescription and get yourself to a class (check that they are REPS level 3 accredited). There you'll be able to talk through your concerns in confidence. And don't forget that in a class, you are with people. Should anything happen you aren't alone.
One of my newly pregnant class participants asked for some advice recently after some well meaning - sedentary - relatives suggested she should stop exercising. My response (after a deep sigh)? "Go back to those relatives and ask them what evidence they have to support their theory. Then get on and enjoy your workout."
Karen is a pre and post natal exercise expert based in Essex. For more information on exercise during pregnancy visit www.fit-school.co.uk
Guidelines are also available to download from RCOG