Being pregnant is both joyful and anxiety-inducing, but getting outdoors can help prepare you for the seismic shift in your life. Here are some ways to stay active outdoors while pregnant!
by Jennifer Sizeland | Jen Sizeland is a British writer, journalist and producer based in Manchester in the UK. Her travel blog is called Land of Size and it focuses on ethical living and eco-friendly travel. Follow her on Twitter @LandofSize.
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Being pregnant is both a joyful and anxiety-inducing time for many parents-to-be and getting out in nature can be the ideal way to prepare yourself for the seismic shift in your life that a child brings. It can improve your physical and mental health as well as help you to process all the feelings that you’re going through.
Throughout my pregnancy I spent as much time in nature as I could, even when this meant I could only visit the river next to my house due to morning sickness and COVID restrictions! It was great for me as it improved my mental health, I practiced wildlife photography on local birds and I got my exercise in too.
“A certain level of exercise is beneficial for most pregnant women, good for their health and their babies. In some cases it can also mean a shorter labour with fewer complications. Walking and hiking outdoors is a particularly good idea as connecting with nature can also reduce stress levels,” explains Elizabeth Duff, the Senior Policy Advisor for the National Childcare Trust.
Some of the main benefits to staying active in pregnancy are that it can reduce your risk of gestational diabetes and lowers blood pressure as well as aiding sleep and lowering anxiety levels. Diabetes and high blood pressure can both result in the baby being born prematurely so exercise can help to mitigate those risks. Duff says that it’s important to speak with a health professional if you have any health conditions or concerns. “Before going on a hike, a few health conditions, such as diabetes or a history of premature labor, should be discussed with a doctor or midwife.”
I have anxiety attacks and OCD so exercise is key to staying sane for me and I was glad to be able to continue to go walking and hiking throughout my pregnancy, except when I felt too sick to do so in the first trimester! Babies can hear what is outside the womb from around 18 weeks so it was a great opportunity to introduce them to the new sounds. I was excited to introduce my baby to the noise of waterfalls, rivers, birds and people having fun so it helped us to bond before the birth.
As my partner worked long hours during my pregnancy, I would often go wandering alone, something which is not really represented but it meant I could process all my thoughts as I did so. You’re also never alone when a small being is growing inside you! There is this image of pregnant women as staying inside the house but this outdated notion is being disproved all the time.
Athletes are leading the way in pregnancy representation, with Serena Williams winning her seventh Australian Open, Volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings earning a gold medal at London 2012 and shooter Nur Suryani Mohamed Taibi also competing at the same Olympics. They were all at various stages of pregnancy and showed how important it is to keep competing if you are able to after receiving medical advice.
It’s important not to overexert yourself while pregnant so it’s inadvisable to start a new type of exercise that your body isn’t used to and to avoid any activities that could result in injury, like contact sports.
“The safest and best exercises to accommodate the body changes in pregnancy include brisk walking, light jogging, swimming, recumbent cycling, yoga, elliptical and other stationary work-out machines. Many of these exercises can be done outdoors to optimize health benefits,” recommends Dr. Sherry, OBGYN and author of She-ology.
“Exercises to be avoided include contact sports such as boxing, soccer and basketball, snow skiing, racquet sports and scuba diving,” she adds.
To exercise safely in pregnancy, it’s important to take water with you as you need to drink more, avoid going out during the hottest part of the day, stay on level ground to avoid injury and wear comfortable shoes. If you get too out of breath then take it a bit more slowly to avoid overexerting yourself.
The final bonus is that movement is proven to get the baby in a good position for childbirth and an active labour can help to reduce the duration of the first and second stages of labour. “Regular exercise during pregnancy improves your ability to handle the pain of labor, helps with labor endurance, shortens labor and reduces your risk of having a C-section”, explains Dr. Sherry.
Once you’ve given birth and have your newborn then you can go on the same walks again so your baby can see the places you visited together for the first time!