How to stay fit and healthy during pregnancy
From nutrition tips to the best online workouts, our expert advice will prepare you for life as a new mum
When you’re pregnant, rest and relaxation are crucial. But research suggests that staying active can also have important benefits, from boosting energy and relieving stress to supporting your developing baby’s brain and heart health, and preparing your body and mind for the demands of labour and parenthood.
Knowing what you should and shouldn’t be doing to take the best care of you and your baby can be confusing, though. Want some actionable advice you can actually use?
From Olympian-approved fitness apps to virtual BabyBarre and pregnancy yoga, our prenatal nutrition and fitness experts share their top tips on eating and exercising for a healthy pregnancy.
Eating for two?
Ultimately, a balanced, varied diet provides the best foundation for a healthy pregnancy. While it’s important not to be too hard on yourself if you can’t always eat as well as you’d like, there are a few key nutrients to keep an eye on. Charlotte Stirling-Reed, registered nutritionist, founder of SR Nutrition and specialist in baby and child nutrition, explains:
- Iron is important as it helps to deliver extra oxygen to your multiplying cells. You’ll find it in fortified cereals, red meat, lentils, nuts and seeds.
- Calcium is important for baby’s growing bones – and your own. You’ll find it in dairy products and fortified alternatives, fish with bones and leafy green vegetables.
- Iodine is crucial for brain development, but research suggests that pregnant women often fall short on this important nutrient. In the UK, it’s mainly found in dairy products and seafood, but you can also find small amounts in nuts, fruit and veg.
- Omega-3 is also key, especially during the third trimester when a lot of brain development takes place. It’s primarily found in oily fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel.
Want to supplement? In the UK, all pregnant women are advised to take 10mcg of vitamin D and 400mcg of folic acid per day. If you follow a plant-based diet, or you’re after some nutritional insurance, you may benefit from taking a pregnancy multivitamin that contains iron, iodine and calcium. If you don’t eat oily fish, it’s worth adding an algae-based omega-3 supplement.
While you don’t actually have to eat for two, you’ll need around 200 additional calories a day during your final trimester, and it’s a good idea to keep some healthy snacks to hand to keep your energy levels up, whatever stage you’re at.
‘I snacked on nuts, seeds and raisins throughout my pregnancy,’ Charlotte says. ‘I also made an effort to top my meals up with fresh fruits and nut butters.’ Some of her favourite snacks and light meals include:
Baby on board: exercise in pregnancy
While many mums-to-be have concerns about exercising during pregnancy, a growing body of research suggests myriad benefits – for you and your baby. So long as you’re cleared by your doctor or midwife, follow the guidance of a prenatal specialist and listen to your body, you can’t go wrong.
‘Working on your physical and mental health at this time is essential,’ explains Emily Williams, a pre and postnatal fitness expert and mum-of-two who shared her own pregnancy fitness journey on her YouTube channel. ‘It’s self-care. Think of exercise during pregnancy as time for you to check in with your feelings, connect with your baby and create some positive energy. It will give you energy, relieve stress, help with aches and pains, and aid sleep.’
Another good reason to get active? Research suggests women who exercise during pregnancy tend to have shorter, easier labours with a lower risk of complications. Done right, training during pregnancy will help you build the stamina, strength and endurance you’ll need for childbirth and life as a new mum.
If you already lead an active lifestyle, it’s usually safe to maintain your normal exercise routine (including non-contact sports, running, yoga and dancing) for as long as you feel comfortable. If you’re less active, a daily walk is a great start.
Don’t start running when pregnant if you didn’t do it before as the pregnancy hormone relaxin makes you prone to injury. If you do yoga or Pilates at home, avoid lying on your back after 16 weeks, exercises that include changing your breathing (taking short forceful breaths or holding it), any stretches that put you under strain, and back bends or strong twists.
‘Each day, give yourself a five or ten minute window to stop and focus on your body, and check in with how you feel,’ Emily suggests. ‘You can fill this time with walking, dancing, gentle yoga or stretching – anything that makes you feel good, comfortable and safe. Once those five or ten minutes feel comfortable, you can start to increase the duration, frequency and intensity. If something doesn't feel good, comfortable or safe, follow your instincts and stop.’
The best prenatal exercise classes
From in-studio yoga to live-stream Pilates and on-demand strength and cardio workouts, we love these prenatal fitness classes, carefully designed to help mums-to-be reap the benefits of exercise at every stage of pregnancy.
Created by Olympic gold medallist, three-time world heptathlon champion and mum-of-two Jessica Ennis-Hill, the Jennis app will take you through the strength, cardio and resistance workouts Jessica used to keep herself fit and healthy during her pregnancies.
Fun, physio-approved and designed to relieve aches and pains while supporting the needs of your changing body and mind, the Jennis Pregnancy programme includes trimester-specific workouts appropriate for all fitness levels, along with targeted core and pelvic floor exercises, pregnancy yoga and meditation.
Access to the programme costs £14.99 a month, with a 14-day free trial.
The Bump Plan
Created by award-winning Pilates instructor and personal trainer Hollie Grant, aka the Pilates PT, The Bump Plan is an evidence-based training regime that combines low-impact cardio with pregnancy-specific Pilates to strengthen and prepare your body for pregnancy, labour and the postnatal period.
‘Pilates focuses on posture, strength and flexibility,’ Hollie explains. ‘It will prepare your body for labour, post-natal recovery and the demands of dealing with a newborn, and make you feel strong, capable and empowered.’
You can access live and on-demand classes from The Bump Plan for £10 per class or £50 per month. The Bump Plan Online launches in November, combining trimester-specific workouts with advice on pre and postnatal health issues ranging from breastfeeding to pelvic girdle pain.
Created by celebrity fitness trainer Paola Di Lanzo, PBB’s award-winning fusion of barre, Pilates and low-impact cardio has a huge following in south-west London, counting famous mummies including Millie Mackintosh and Vogue Williams as fans. Suitable for all stages of pregnancy as well as new mums, it promises to help you build the physical and mental stamina, strength and endurance needed for labour.
‘Pilates activates, strengthens and stabilises key muscles and joints, which guards against injury, assists with the birthing process and helps you regain strength and stamina after giving birth,’ Paola explains. ‘It will support your immune system, circulation and energy levels, helping you to get more enjoyment out of your pregnancy. Training your breath can also help you to manage painful contractions.’
Virtual PBB BabyBarre classes start at £10, with virtual PT sessions from £75 and in-home training from £85.
triyoga pregnancy yoga
Whether you’re new to yoga or well-versed on the benefits of a daily downward dog or two, it’s well worth giving a pre-natal yoga class a whirl. Practising yoga during pregnancy can boost circulation, ease aches and pains and help to prepare your mind and body for the process of giving birth. If you can’t make it to one of their London studios, you can opt to live-stream a class from the comfort of your own home. Either way, triyoga aims to cultivate a nurturing community, enabling you to build a practice that will support you through the journey of pregnancy, birth and motherhood.
triyoga’s pregnancy yoga classes are open to all levels, from complete beginners to experienced yoga students, from the second trimester onward. Prices start from £9 for a single class or £25 for 20 class credits.