Pregnancy should not be viewed as an excuse not to exercise. So says the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
Why is exercise recommended during pregnancy?
Exercise does wonders for you during pregnancy. It helps prepare you for childbirth by strengthening your muscles and building endurance, and makes getting your body back in shape once the baby’s born much easier.
A Michigan State University professor and team have contributed to the U.S. government’s first-ever guidelines on physical activity. Specifically, the guidelines call for women to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week during pregnancy and the postpartum period, preferably spread throughout the week. In addition to health benefits, moderate physical activity also may reduce the length of labor, evidence suggests.
Staying active during pregnancy doesn’t necessarily mean going for the burn. Your body releases a hormone called relaxin during pregnancy which loosens your joints in preparation for delivery, so you need to take care with the choice of exercise and pay attention to technique. It’s important to find exercises that won’t injure you or harm the baby. Ideal exercise gets your heart pumping, keeps you supple, manages weight gain, and prepares your muscles for the hard work of labour and delivery — without causing undue physical stress for you or your baby.
One of the best cardiovascular exercises for pregnant women, walking keeps you fit without jarring your knees and ankles. It is safe throughout the nine months of pregnancy and can be built into your day-to-day schedule.
Going for a jog is the quickest and most efficient way to work your heart and your body. You can tailor it to your schedule — running 15 minutes one day when that’s all you can fit in and 30 the next when you have the time.
Healthcare providers and fitness experts hail swimming as the best and safest exercise for pregnant women. Swimming is ideal because it exercises both large muscle groups (arms and legs), provides good cardiovascular benefits, and allows pregnant women to feel weightless despite the extra weight of pregnancy.
Yoga and stretching can help maintain muscle tone and keep you flexible with little if any impact on your joints. However, you may have to augment a yoga regime by walking a few times a week to give your heart a workout. Be careful not to overdo the stretching. You will be more supple as a result of the effects of relaxin, which causes your ligaments to be more pliable. Don’t hold the stretches for too long or try to develop your flexibility too much.
Pilates is a form of exercise which combines flexibility and strength training with body awareness, breathing and relaxation. The exercises are based on certain movement patterns performed with your tummy and pelvic floor muscles — known in Pilates as the “stable core” or base. These muscles are also known as deep stabilizing muscles. Because Pilates targets the tummy and pelvic floor muscles and these muscles can weaken during pregnancy, Pilates exercises can be useful. Many Pilates exercies are performed on a “hands and knees” position, and this is an ideal position for pregnancy. It helps to take a lot of stress off your back and pelvis and towards the end of your pregnancy can help to position your baby ready for delivery
You can get your heart pumping by dancing to your favourite tunes in the comfort and privacy of your living room, but steer clear of dance movements which call for you to leap, jump, or twirl. Remember — technique is important. Avoid sudden changes of direction. If you sign up for a class, you can lose yourself in music, stay fit, and meet others.
Exercises to avoid:
Most doctors recommend that pregnant women avoid exercises after the first trimester that require them to lie flat on their backs.
Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, it’s also wise to avoid any activities that include:
jarring (anything that would cause a lot of up and down movement)
a sudden change of direction
a risk of abdominal injury
Typical limitations include contact sports, downhill skiing, scuba diving, and horseback riding because of the risk of injury they pose.
Although some doctors say step aerobics workouts are acceptable if you can lower the height of your step as your pregnancy progresses, others caution that a changing center of gravity makes falls much more likely. If you do choose to do aerobics, just make sure to avoid becoming extremely winded or exercising to the point of exhaustion.
No doubt about it, exercise is a big plus for both you and your baby (if complications don’t limit your ability to exercise throughout your pregnancy). It can help you:
Feel Better: At a time when you wonder if this strange body can possibly be yours, exercise can increase your sense of control and boost your energy level. Not only does it make you feel better by releasing endorphins (naturally occurring chemicals in your brain), appropriate exercise can:
- relieve backaches and improve your posture by strengthening and toning muscles in your back, butt, and thighs
- reduce constipation by accelerating movement in your intestine
- prevent wear and tear on your joints (which become loosened during pregnancy due to normal hormonal changes) by activating the lubricating fluid in your joints
- help you sleep better by relieving the stress and anxiety that might make you restless at night
Look better. Exercise increases the blood flow to your skin, giving you a healthy glow.
Prepare you and your body for birth. Strong muscles and a fit heart can greatly ease labor and delivery. Gaining control over your breathing can help you manage pain. And in the event of a lengthy labor, increased endurance can be a real help.
Regain your pre-pregnancy body more quickly. You’ll gain less fat weight during your pregnancy if you continue to exercise (assuming you exercised before becoming pregnant). But don’t expect or try to lose weight by exercising while you’re pregnant. For most women, the goal is to maintain their fitness level throughout pregnancy.
Concerns for exercise during pregnancy:
- pregnancy-induced high blood pressure
- early contractions
- vaginal bleedig
- premature rupture of your membranes, also known as your water (the fluid in the amniotic sac around the fetus) breaking early
Listen to your body:
Your energy level may also vary greatly from day to day. And as your baby grows and pushes up on your lungs, you’ll notice a decreased ability to breathe in more air (and the oxygen it contains) when you exercise. If your body says, “Stop!” — stop!
Your body is signaling that it’s had enough if you feel:
heart palpitations (your heart pounding in your chest)
shortness of breath
pain in your back or pelvis
So, if you have an uncomplicated pregnancy, slip on your sweats, knot up those Nikes, and just do it!