I'm not smoking or drinking alcohol, I'm doing something GOOD for me and my baby: Expectant mother Nell McAndrew defends exercise during pregnancy
16:51 GMT, 2 November 2012
This week Nell McAndrew
revealed she is currently 20 weeks pregnant with her second child and still running
six miles a day. This is a step down in mileage for the 38-year-old, who ran an impressive 2 hour 54
minute marathon earlier this year off 90 miles a week training.
Like Olympic athletes including Paula Radcliffe and Jo Pavey,
who ran moderately throughout their
pregnancies and went on to have healthy babies, Nell has decreased the
intensity as well as length of her runs to alleviate any risk to herself and her unborn child.
Yet despite Nell taking all the precautions recommended by medical professionals,
she has still faced outrage from people who have accused her of putting her baby at risk through exercise.
Keeping fit: Nell McAndrew is still running six miles a day while pregnant with her second child, but this is a big step down from the mileage she did when training to run sub three hours at the London Marathon this year, right
She told the MailOnline: 'When I tell people I'm still exercising, they react as if I've told them I've been smoking or drinking alcohol while pregnant. But what I'm doing is actually good for me and my baby.'
Nell said she feels good being active and that by being fit, she feels she is better prepared for child birth.
'I feel like keeping fit is preparing me for the labour – which will be harder than running a marathon!' she said.
Nell's belief that fitness aids labour is is
backed up by studies that have found that babies
of women who exercise are better off when it comes to their birth because
'fetuses of exercising women may tolerate labour better than those of non-exercisers,' according to The Royal College of
Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG).
Famous example: Paula Radcliffe reduced her training but carried on running when she was pregnant, as pictured here when taking part in a fun run with her daughter Isla while carrying her son
Nell, who already has a son Devon, aged six, with husband Paul Hardcastle, ran until she was 30 weeks pregnant last time. She said in her second pregnancy she will 'listen to her body' and run as long as she feels up to it, after that she will switch to swimming and light gym work.
Nell hopes she can be an example to other women who may want to continue exercising while pregnant – but are scared to do so because of the many public misconceptions over exercise during pregnancy.
'In most cases, exercise is safe for both mother and fetus during
pregnancy and women should therefore be encouraged to initiate or continue
exercise to derive the health benefits associated with such activities'
Along with official NHS guidelines that recommend 30 minutes of moderate
exercise a day for expectant mothers, the RCOG also advocate exercise where there are no complications in the pregnancy and
precautions are taken such as not exercising at a high intensity to raise the heart rate to its maximum and not running
while it's too hot due to a risk of overheating.
They state: 'In most cases, exercise is safe for both mother and fetus during
pregnancy and women should therefore be encouraged to initiate or continue
exercise to derive the health benefits
associated with such activities.'
They add that it's a fallacy that exercise increases the risk of miscarriage or
damage to an unborn baby stating 'women should be advised that adverse pregnancy or neonatal outcomes are not increased
for exercising women.'
They explain that exercising while pregnant has numerous benefits for the
mother's health and wellbeing.
'Maternal benefits appear to be both physical and psychological in nature. Many common complaints of pregnancy, including fatigue, varicosities
and swelling of extremities, are reduced in women who exercise. Additionally, active women experience less insomnia,
stress, anxiety and depression,' they state.
Women who exercise while pregnant will also gain less excess weight, lowering
the health risks associated with obesity.
Christina Smith from St Albans, who is due to give birth to her third child
this month, said running 37 weeks into her pregnancy made her feel happier and healthier.
The 36-year-old has been a keen triathlete and runner for many years, competing
for St Albans Striders running club, but reduced the intensity and length of her runs when she discovered she was
Baby on board: Christina Smith, pictured running a charity race for Herts Air Ambulance with her son Adam when she was seven months pregnant. She said exercising during pregnancy has made her happy and healthy
She said: 'I stopped “training” and just jogged to enjoy things. I
used my Garmin (a GPS device) to make sure I didn't go too fast in early days. I was very sick in early pregnancy but I found that a very slow run did ease the sickness for a little while. I have been the healthiest in this third pregnancy
than my previous two, whether that's due to running or not I don't know. But a happy, healthy mummy usually makes for
happy, healthy baby.
'Running has also been invaluable in keeping my head together and just giving me some “head space” away
from the demands of my two small children (Adam, five, and Millie, four),' she added.
As Christina's bump grew, she wore a maternity support belt to alleviate stress
on her back and
'listened to her body', sometimes only running once a week if she felt up it.
She said: 'I didn't run any faster than was comfortable to talk at and I tried
not to run up or down hills too much as that puts a lot of stress on joints, back, bladder etc. I do feel more physically
ready for labour.'
Fit for a new life: Nell said keeping fit is preparing her for labour and caring for a newborn
Chartered Physiotherapist Mark Buckingham, who works with UK Athletics and treats
recreational runners to Olympic athletes at his practice in Northampton (www.wpbphysio.co.uk),
said it is safe for women to run as long as they don't push themselves too
hard, run when tired or cover long distances.
He explained: 'Running tired puts greater strain on the body when it is already
working hard building a baby. It uses precious energy reserves and leaves you and your immune system ‘run
down’ (pardon the pun).
'This means you are more at risk from illness. Running tired also means you are
less able to maintain good posture and form.
'This puts unwanted stresses on the lower back and pelvis at a time when it is
most vulnerable. The hormones involved in pregnancy make the soft tissues that hold the pelvis together more stretchy.
This makes it much easier for those joints to become hypermobile in a specific direction and this is a major cause of short
term painful dysfunction and long term damage.
'Clearly as the pregnancy develops the loads are greater, the posture
inevitably changes and the risk are higher. You have to listen to your body and react as it feels not how you would like to
As long as women adhere to Mark's advice as above, he said running while
pregnant can bring many benefits including 'maintenance of cardiovascular fitness, blood pressure control, maintenance of
good circulation, feelings of wellbeing, abdominal and lower back as well as leg strength'.
DOS AND DON'TS FOR RUNNING WHILE PREGNANT
DO run at an easy pace – you should have enough breath to hold a conversationDO watch for posture and position of the back and pelvis – do not allow
yourself to arch in the lower back
DO react immediately to any pains and aches i.e don't run through them
DO NOT take up running for the first time when pregnantDO NOT run when tiredDO NOT run on a very hot dayDO NOT run for six weeks after giving birth
'All big positives as much as for getting back on your feet after birth as for
during it,' he added.
However, all these plus points do not mean women who have never run before
should take up the sport when pregnant. Rather, running while pregnant is only recommended for those who already have a
fitness base and are used to running regularly like Nell and Christina.
However, women who have not run
before could take up lower intensity exercise like walking or swimming to gain the health benefits.
In fact, Mark warns that a woman can actually do more damage to her body
post-pregnancy than during if she returns to exercise too soon. This is because their body releases hormones to relax the
pelvis for labour and it takes time for the body to heal and pelvis re-strenghten following the trauma of birth.
it's important women should not feel under pressure to return to their pre-pregnancy figure, especially when faced
with images of celebrities who miraculously seem to snap back into shape.
He adds that women who run competively should not
try and rush back to their former fitness.
He said: 'I have personally seen too many athletes come to me with nasty pelvic
and spine issues caused by a return to running in the first few days let alone weeks after birth. Some actually never
return to running as the damage they cause by too much too soon can be permanent.
'The 'Hello' magazine culture of
being back to full function and a size 8 in days is a dangerous myth. The old wives adage of nine months to get there and nine
months to get over it is closer to the mark.
'Those athletes who have taken their time in returning to running, allowing the
body to recover, have all returned to their previous level, and sometimes beyond, from club runners to internationals.
There are always the exceptions who 'get away with it', but they are not the rule.'