Why We Should Encourage Pregnant Women to be Active

Active Devon’s Hannah Worth writes about the conflicting advice and confusion around whether it’s safe to be physically active whilst pregnant. As well as how the sport and physical activity sector can help tackle this.

Pregnancy and Physical Activity is a Big Subject to Tackle

No single pregnancy is the same and common complications will influence activity levels. These range from tiredness, nausea and leaking, to back and pelvic pain. Add to this the often conflicting and confusing advice around physical activity and pregnancy, and it’s no wonder many women are left feeling confused and wondering if it is safe to be active.

Currently, 60% of pregnant women state they are less active than before, or not active at all during pregnancy. *  This is coupled with a reduction in activity levels. Plus, the fact that approximately 50% of all childbearing age women in England are either overweight or obese (Public Health England).

However, 91% of the pregnant women say that physical activity is very important to them. So, what can the sport and physical activity sector do to make this clearer for women seeking information?

The Facts on Why Women Should Stay Active When Pregnant

 Courtesy of the NHS, being physically active during pregnancy is safe. In fact, the more active and fit a woman is during pregnancy, the easier it will be for her to adapt to her changing shape pre and post pregnancy.

There is also further evidence proving that active women are less likely to experience problems in later pregnancy and will be better able to cope with the physical demands of labour.

Now isn’t that enough reason to keep active!

Whose Role is it to Promote These Positive Messages and Help Women Get Active During and After Pregnancy?

It’s everyone’s, right?

There are, of course, key opportunities throughout a women’s pregnancy journey. We’ve been working closely with the Local Maternity Services, to look at opportunities to promote this agenda.

It’s clear though, that midwives and maternity services are under a huge amount of pressure. And when it comes to conversations about activity habits, it gets squashed in with diet, smoking, amongst other topics.

Sessions Developed for Pregnant Women and Post-Natal Mums

So, what about local clubs, coaches, leaders, gym instructors and leisure services? What’s happening out there to help ensure women have a positive and supportive experience?

There are pockets of fantastic work happening locally in Devon. The rise of One Fit Mumma, Buggy Fit and Active Mums, are wonderful examples of specific sessions developed for pregnant and post-natal mums. But more general offers and experiences for women are not always so positive.

Women I have personally spoken to about this topic, have all recounted experiences and comments. Such as, “are you still doing that”, “take it easy”, “you should take care”, “are you sure it’s safe?”

One woman even shared the fact she was asked to leave her class as it wasn’t safe for her to be involved. Despite the fact, she felt, that it was her decision to make.

Fear seems to be a significant factor. This is for both the professionals delivering physical activity sessions and for women who want to do everything they can for the development of a healthy baby.

The Good News

Public Health England, Sport England and an exciting partnership of academics are addressing this very topic. One outcome is the recently updated version of the current physical activity guidelines for pregnant women, as well as guidelines for women following childbirth. There will also be a specific module developed for the excellent Moving Medicine resource.

We all have a role in shifting the social norms that are deeply rooted in our culture, and challenge the sceptics out there that will be caught saying ‘are you sure you should be doing that? Shouldn’t you be resting’.

This is where our work at Active Devon comes in. We encourage everyone to challenge negative social norms and celebrate, support and reinforce the positive messages.

The Sport England This Girl Can campaign has done a wonderful job of showcasing pregnant women being active. The 2017 campaign film really got me, with the wonderful words of Maya Angelou’s 1978 poem ‘Phenomenal Woman’. The gritty film captured footage of a live birth, with words of “it ought to make you proud.”

With hundreds of thousands of women at childbearing age, and an average of 11,000 births a year in Devon (including Plymouth and Torbay), we know it’s an important transition point in women’s lives. Physical activity habits are likely to change, and we want that change to be a positive one.