What a contentious title! And, loathe as I am to using the word 'should' in any circumstance - I so strongly believe that all women would benefit hugely from weight-training, that I threw the word in.
Now let me explain.
When I found out I was expecting, last December, my world was thrown upside down. Not because it was a 'happy accident', this was a much-wanted little baby, but because I no longer knew what sort of exercise I could continue doing.
And, for me, this was a big thing. Because, not only am I personal trainer, I'm also a passionate weight-trainer, used to 'going heavy, or going home' about five times a week.
Determined to find some answers about what I could and couldn't do I set about my research, only to discover...there just wasn't much information out there. Particularly, for women like me, who's idea of a hellish nine months involve a spot of yoga and some light walking.
Six months on, qualifications in pre and post natal exercise taken and half-way through writing a book called The Yummy Mummy's Guide To A Fit, Healthy and Happy Pregnancy, I am now more convinced than ever, that weight training during pregnancy (as well as before and after) is not just good for you, your body and your baby, it's vital.
As the pregnant woman's belly grows, her body goes through a number of physiological changes. She puts on weight, particularly around the stomach, which alters her centre of gravity, pushing it forwards. This results in a more pronounced bend in the lower part of the spine (the lumbar spine) - leading to a condition called 'lordosis'. This shift affects both posture and balance and often results in lower back pain, both during and after pregnancy.
Another common pregnancy problem is diastasis recti, or abdominal separation.
The rectus abdominal muscles are actually made up of two halves. Pregnancy hormones can cause the vertical seam between them to soften, and as the baby grows, that seam stretches. If the abdominal area is weak, the seam can separate gradually. This can cause the stomach muscles to separate into two sections leading to a weekend core and an increase in back pain, because the ab muscles are no longer controlling the pelvic tilt and maintaining the posture.
Many women also develop osteoporosis during pregnancy because the baby's calcium needs are met by taking calcium from their mother's bones.
These issues can all be tackled and prevented most effectively by weight training. Weight training all the different muscles groups helps the body stay in balance and helps correct postural issues. Core and abdominal training help to prevent distasis recti, as do other weight training exercises because the core remains engaged throughout. And weight training stimulates osteoblasts, which help form and strengthen bone and prevent osteoporosis.
Having a strong body to carry the additional weight of the baby, prepare a woman for the marathon that is labour and the demands of lifting and carrying a growing child are all best addressed by performing this type of exercise.
What's more, weight training also works to:
• Reduce swelling in the limbs,
• Reduce feelings of nausea,
• Reduce fatigue,
• Reduce the length of labour,
• Reduce the likelihood of birth complications,
• Reduce pregnancy-induced hypertension,
• Reduce urinary incontinence,
• Reduce excessive weight gain,
• Reduce deep vein thrombosis,
• Reduce the likelihood of medical intervention in delivery,
• Reduce insomnia,
• Reduce the chances of diastasis recti (the separation of the stomach muscles),
• Reduce maternal psychological disorders like depression,
• Reduce muscle imbalances,
• Reduce leg cramps,
• Reduce constipation,
• Reduce varicose veins,
• Reduce haemorrhoids,
• Reduce back pain,
• Reduce the likelihood of gestational diabetes
All of which can be common side effects of pregnancy.
Sadly, women are often put off exercise, and weight training in particular, during pregnancy, because so little is written about it.
However, research has shown that the rate of miscarriage is actually lower in runners and aerobic dancers than in non-exercisers (Baker, 2006). One study found that those who exercised during pregnancy had a 40% lower risk of miscarriage than those who were sedentary (Latka and Kline, 1999).
And, as if you needed any more persuasion...the birth weights of children born to women who regularly exercise are usually slightly less (300-350g) because the babies have lower levels of body fat. Making delivery easier!
So, exercise in pregnancy is a must and, despite all the fear around it, the reality is that, as long as you are healthy and haven't been told by your doctor or midwife that you shouldn't exercise, you can continue with the exercise that you were doing before pregnancy - albeit with additional care, caution and consideration.
This does exclude contact sports and anything too dangerous where you may fall and hurt your stomach as well as exercise at high altitudes (greater than 2,500 metres) or under water (i.e scuba diving). High impact, high intensity plyometric exercise should also be avoided (think Insanity style workouts and jumping up and down off boxes).
Exercise in pregnancy is important and keeping your body strong, supported and supple is vital. And weight-training, is a fun, effective and strength inducing way of preparing the body for labour and motherhood as well as keeping fit and maintaining a healthy weight.
DISCLAIMER: Always consult your doctor or midwife before starting any new exercise regime or before doing exercise in pregnancy.