As with so much of life, pregnancy is simply another stage. Pre-pregnancy and postpartum (after birth) are steps in the process. If you plan to be pregnant, doing exercises to prepare your body is a wise move. After your baby arrives continuing to stretch, do light walking, and stress reducing exercises are a great help. Many community centers offer mommy and me classes that provide these kinds of exercises. This kind of time with other new mommies proves to be wonderful both physically and emotionally. You do not feel like you are the only one dealing with whatever today’s challenge turns out to be. Life as a new mommy can be a wild ride, doulas, friends, and family should be a big part of the fun!
What most doctors will tell you is continue exercising at the level to which you are accustomed (through most of your pregnancy). This means, if you are already a regular tennis player, continue, carefully. I remember with my third pregnancy, it wasn’t that I was ready to stop playing tennis at eight months, it was that no one else wanted to play with me for fear of causing me to fall. Do not take up a possibly injurious sport like tennis or biking after you become pregnant. Leave that for later. However, continue what you are already doing. If you have questions talk with your OB, midwife, or physical therapist. The goal is to keep moving. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Go slow, but keep moving. Walking is the best. Swimming is the same kind of opportunity, very low risk for injury, exercises your entire body, feels great! Keep cool….. enjoy!
Exercising During Pregnancy
Doing regular physical activity has health benefits during pregnancy and also helps to prepare the body for childbirth. However, it is important to modify or choose a suitable exercise program because pregnancy affects the body’s response to exercise. Exercising during your pregnancy doesn’t have to be strenuous to be beneficial. Be sensible about the level of exercise that you do. Consult your OB, midwife, physiotherapist or healthcare professional to make sure the exercise routine is not harmful for you or your baby. If the pregnancy is complicated (such as expecting more than one baby, high blood pressure, heart disease, pre-eclampsia, or risk of premature births) it is best to talk with your specialist.
Don’t exhaust yourself – a light to moderate exercise program should be the aim. You may need to slow down as your pregnancy progresses or if your maternity team advises you to. If in doubt, ask questions. As a general rule, a light to moderate level should allow you to hold a conversation as you exercise when pregnant. If you become breathless as you talk, then you’re probably exercising too strenuously.
If you weren’t active before you got pregnant, don’t suddenly take up strenuous exercise. If you start an aerobic exercise program, tell the instructor that you’re pregnant and build up say begin with no more than 15 minutes of continuous exercise, 3 times a week. Increase this gradually up to 5 30-minute sessions a week. Remember that exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous to be beneficial.
Exercise tips when you’re pregnant:
- Always warm up before exercising, and cool down afterwards.
- Try to keep active on a daily basis; 30 minutes of walking each day can be enough, but if you can’t manage that, any amount is better than nothing. If you haven’t been active or are overweight, start with 3-4 days spread across the week.
- Avoid any strenuous exercise in hot or humid weather.
- Drink plenty of water and other fluids.
- If you go to exercise classes, make sure your teacher is properly qualified, and knows that you’re pregnant and how many weeks pregnant you are.
- You might like to try swimming because the water will support your increased weight. Some local swimming pools provide aquanatal classes with qualified instructors.
- Walking is a great exercise — it is a moderate aerobic activity but will have minimal stress on your joints. Other good choices are swimming, low-impact aerobics and cycling on a stationary bike.
Exercises to avoid
Don’t lie flat on your back, particularly after 16 weeks, because the weight of your bump presses on the big blood vessels and can make you feel faint and reduce blood flow to your baby.
- Don’t take part in contact sports where there’s a risk of being hit, such as kickboxing, football or rugby.
- Don’t take part in horse riding, downhill skiing, ice hockey, gymnastics and cycling, because there’s a risk of falling.
- Don’t go scuba-diving, because the baby has no protection against decompression sickness and gas embolism (gas bubbles in the bloodstream).
- Don’t exercise at heights over 2,500m above sea level until you have acclimated. This is because you and your baby are at risk of altitude sickness (a decrease in oxygen). If you live at a higher elevation you are already acclimated to the altitude.
- Don’t do repetitive high impact exercise, or with lots of twists and turns, high stepping or sudden stops that cause joint discomfort.
- Don’t do exercise where you get too hot. Your body’s temperature is slightly higher when you are pregnant. Intensive exercise may cause your core temperature to rise to an unsafe level for your baby. Limit your exercise to moderate intensity, drink plenty of water, wear lightweight clothing and only exercise in cool, well ventilated places (no spas or saunas).
Exercises for a fitter pregnancy
If you are pregnant, try to fit the exercises listed below into your daily routine. They will strengthen your muscles so that you can carry the extra weight of pregnancy. They’ll also make joints stronger, improve circulation, ease backacheand generally help you feel well.
Stomach-strengthening exercises: (cat and cow yoga positions)
As your baby gets bigger, you may find that the hollow in your lower back increases and this can give you backache. These exercises strengthen stomach (abdominal) muscles and ease backache. Use a towel or small pillow to support your back if needed:
- Start in a box position (on all fours) with knees under hips, hands under shoulders, with fingers facing forward and abdominals lifted to keep your back straight.
- Pull in your stomach muscles and raise your back up towards the ceiling, curling the trunk and allowing your head to relax gently forward. Don’t let your elbows lock.
- Hold for a few seconds then slowly return to the box position.
- Take care not to hollow your back; it should always return to a straight/neutral position. Do this slowly and rhythmically 10 times, making your muscles work hard and moving your back carefully.
- Only move your back as far as you can comfortably.
Pelvic tilt exercises
Stand with your shoulders and bottom against a wall.
- Keep your knees soft.
- Pull your tummy button towards your spine, so that your back flattens against the wall; hold for four seconds and release.
- Repeat up to 10 times.
Pelvic floor exercises help to strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor, which come under great strain in pregnancy and childbirth. The pelvic floor consists of layers of muscles that stretch like a supportive hammock from the pubic bone (in front) to the end of the backbone.
Read more on pelvic floor exercises.
Sources:Mayo Clinic (Pregnancy and exercise: Baby, let’s move!)
RANZCOG (Exercise during pregnancy)
The Royal Women’s Hospital (Active pregnancy)