The do’s and don’ts of exercising during pregnancy
Pregnancy is, potentially, one of the most exciting and joyous times of your life.
Sensible and appropriate prenatal exercise has numerous physical and emotional benefits. Whether you have been enjoying regular gym workouts and classes or you have decided that now is the time to start thinking fitness… here are some guidelines to help you look after your baby and your body while you work out.
The right exercise can assist prenatal fitness, preparation for labour, healthy body weight, emotional and physical adjustment, and post natal recovery.
It is important to acknowledge the physiological changes and their implications on exercise, in order to understand what exercise is right for you and recognise when and how you should adjust to suit your individual needs.
The most important thing to remember is that the well-being of mother and baby must come before all other goals. If you are already exercising you may need to throw out a few favourites and pick up some important pregnancy specifics. Remember it’s a short time in the big picture.
A few important tips before you start:
- Check with your health care practitioner before you start an exercise program and keep them informed as to what activity you are doing.
- If you are unsure about what is right for you, see a women’s health physiotherapist to assess and guide your program
- Always inform your fitness instructor that you are pregnant prior to your workout
- Recognise that everyone is different; every pregnancy is different, every day is different. So listen to your body
- If you have any pre-existing or new condition you should seek professional advice before commencing or continuing any exercise
- If you have aches and pains , you should avoid exercise until you have had it assessed and been given appropriate exercise recommendations.
Appropriate exercise during pregnancy can help you
- Ensure appropriate weight gain (12 – 15 kg)
- Maintain a sensible level of cardiovascular fitness and strength
- Avoid common problems that can occur in pregnancy such as incontinence and low back ache
- Help you feel energised, positive and empowered
- Enjoy the changes you are going through as your baby grows
- Be fit and strong for labour
- Recover after birth
- Regain your body shape and be able to better endure the busy days of early motherhood
Cease or avoid exercise and seek medical advice if you experience
- Excessive shortness of breath
- Chest pain or palpitations
- Severe headache
- Dizziness or Faintness
- Hot and sweaty
- Nausea or vomiting
- Sudden, or new, joint pain
- Abdominal cramps
- New or increased back pain
- Vaginal Bleeding
You will most likely be told to rest and avoid exercise if you have:
- Pre eclampsia
- Restrictive lung disease
- Placenta praevia after 26 weeks
- Incompetent cervix
- Ruptured membranes
- Inter-uterine growth retardation
- Venous or pulmonary thrombosis
- Uncontrolled hypertension
- Maternal heart disease
- Vaginal bleeding
- Any risk of pre term labour
10 tips to help you stay fit and healthy throughout this special time
How much, how often and what type of exercise is safe and effective during pregnancy?
1. How often?
3 to 4 exercise sessions per week is plenty, but consider your lifestyle and listen to your body; if you are busy working or running after a toddler, there will be times when your body needs to rest rather than exercise.
- 2. How hard?
A guide for how hard you should exercise is that you should work at mild to moderate intensity. On an intensity scale of 0 to 20, you should be training at around 13, this would mean you feel like you are exercising but you are not hot, puffed or exhausted.
Avoid intense exercise, even in the first trimester. Intense exercise such as running, cycling and high energy classes may cause you to overheat which could have implications on the healthy development of your baby. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
This depends on your workout intensity. It is fine to walk for an hour if you feel comfortable, but if you are working a little harder, cardio exercise for 20 to 30 minutes is ideal. Adding appropriate strength and stretching may then take you to the hour.
Low impact, non-contact exercise is best. This is because not only do you want to avoid overheating – for your baby’s safety – but you also need to avoid jolting and jarring to protect your joints and pelvic floor. Certain pregnancy hormones make your joints more vulnerable to aches and injury, so keep it low impact, and make sure your exercise technique is always smooth and controlled. Replace running, jumping and extreme range of movements with controlled moves and focus on your form.
5. Muscle conditioning
If you are used to strength programs you can continue, and if you are new to exercise then using light weights are fine, provided you adhere to the following guidelines:
- You must be able to smoothly perform the exercise breathing comfortably throughout.
- Keep within sensible range of movement.
- Pay attention to maintain great posture; avoid locking your knees, tensing your shoulders or swaying your back.
- Always engage your pelvic floor and core muscles to support your spine .
- Avoid overloading your back such as leaning forward from the hips without support.
- You may need to decrease the weight as your pregnancy progresses.
- Lighten the load if you feel you are leaking raining or bearing down on your pelvic floor, in order to avoid short or long term problems with bladder and bowel control.
6. Invest in your future look after your pelvic floor
Looking after your pelvic floor is an investment in your future. Minimise the risk of problems with bladder and wind control by avoiding:
- High impact jumping or jolting exercise
- Heavy lifting or exercises where you strain or hold your breath
- Long periods of standing up
- Staining or pushing on the loo, take your time and include plenty of water and fibre in your diet to avoid constipation
7. All about abs
It is natural and necessary that your abs will stretch during pregnancy. Now is not the time for curls and crunches. Even in the early days, loads of ab curls will increase the chance of rectus diastasis, or abdominal separation. Lying on your back after 16 to 18 weeks is not recommended as the position may compromise blood flow to the uterus and your baby. Instead focus on core abdominal exercises to help support your spine and pelvis.
- 8. Bear hug your baby
You can work your deepest abdominals, transverse abdominus right up to the day you deliver and soon after. Focusing on these core muscles is great for your back and will help you get your abs back later. Sit or stand tall, checking that your shoulders are relaxed and your natural lumbar curve is present. Place one hand on your baby below your naval. Gently draw in under your hand to lightly hug your baby towards your lower back. Avoid sucking in above your waist and be sure to breath easily. Hold for 3 to 5 breaths. Doing this on your hands and knees and then raising one arm forward is a great way to keep your abs strong. Sitting on a Swissball is another option.
9. Perfect posture
Check your posture during exercise and everyday activities. Lengthen your neck, relax your shoulders gently back and down and visualise a long tall spine. Check your lower back has the natural arch, no more. Avoid the common sway back of pregnancy as it will only give you back ache.
Stretching gently is fine during pregnancy but keep within comfortable range of movement and leave out anything that causes discomfort
Remember, R & R matters!
It is critical that you take time out to enjoy time with your baby. Afterall, if there’s ever a time your deserve to relax, it’s now. Lie or sit with your feet up for 30 minutes or more every day. Constantly being on your feet can be tough on your veins, pelvic floor, pelvic joints and lower back. Use the time to practice relaxation techniques; they may come in handy during labour or early motherhood.