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Serena Williams hitting tennis ball with racket

So just how exercise should or can women do in pregnancy? Controversy still exists around this subject. Traditional advice is that women should take it easy, rest more, listen to their bodies and eat for two. That's fine but may lead to women getting unfit and possibly putting on more weight than necessary during pregnancy. In our opinion this is also rather outdated and patronising.

These days many young women often do a lot of exercise and are in better shape than their male counterparts. Do they really need to slow down simply because they are pregnant? Well, the recent announcement that Serena Williams won her most recent Grand Slam singles title at the Australian Open while eight weeks into her pregnancy, at the age of 35 certainly contradicts that argument!

Of course for many women the plain fact is that doing anything much during the early stages of pregnancy can be a challenge as  the female body is undergoing significant physiological changes.

During the early weeks, most women experience fatigue at some point and many women also suffer from nausea or morning sickness, which doesn't conveniently end at midday. This is, however, transitory in most cases and we agree with the advice given by the NHS Choices website which says that exercise is a good thing and encourages women to keep active for as long as it's comfortable to do so. Serena's fitness levels and training regime may well have helped her through those early stages but, perhaps she could have been forgiven for being more than a little distracted at the Australian Open, where - incidentally - she didn't drop a single set!

Serena isn't of course the first woman to compete at an elite level when pregnant.  Closer to home Marathon runners, including Paula Radcliffe, have famously continued running well into their pregnancies and there have been many examples of women competing in Olympic disciplines including equestrianism while pregnant.

Paula Radcliffe running a marathonWe would naturally expect elite athletes such as these to have a personally tailored training and nutrition plan developed with a specialist team. But many women who are pregnant and not in this elite category are nevertheless very conscious of what they eat and have carefully selected exercise routines with well calculated goals.

During the first few weeks of pregnancy  hormonal changes may actually boost physical performance as a woman's natural production of steroids will increase slightly.

We believe that there are many health benefits to keeping active during pregnancy including a reduction in fatigue, lower back pain, varicose veins, swelling of the ankles and of course staying fit. This leads to a far quicker recovery following delivery and a more rapid return to a normal lifestyle.

Our advice would be, listen to your body but feel free to continue to train and maintain a level of exercise which you are accustomed too. The patronising view that you have to rest, take it easy and put your feet up and get out of shape is outdated. On the other hand don't overdo it as the aim is not to copy Serena who has clearly achieved something special because she is right at the top of her sport, winning more grand slam titles than any other player in the Open era!