Pregnancy and childbirth are amazing. Bringing a new life into the world is miraculous and while every pregnancy is different, there is no doubt that it can be a hard nine months ending in a physical challenge that most Olympic athletes would think twice about!
While this article is by no means meant to replace the advice of a qualified medical practitioner, such as your doctor or midwife, it’s worth knowing that exercise during pregnancy offers the following benefits…
Improved circulation/fewer varicose veins
Reduced oedema (swelling)
Increased vitality and energy
Stronger pelvic floor
Eased post-partum recovery
Reduced likelihood of developing gestational diabetes
Lowered incidence of pregnancy related back pain
Controlled maternal weight gain
Improved self esteem
Despite the fact that it’s clear that exercise can be of great benefit, it’s important to follow certain tried and true principles to ensure your exercise routine does not impact negatively on any aspect of your pregnancy…
First, make sure you discuss your intention to exercise with your doctor. Chances are they will be very pleased that you are going to be taking great care of yourself during your pregnancy but as exercise can have a profound effect on your body and also your pregnancy, it pays to get clearance from your medical practitioner.
Next, remember that whatever you were exercising for before you got pregnant, your goals will now be very different. As your pregnancy progresses, your training will have to alter to accommodate the changes going on inside your body. Rather than concern yourself with things like weight loss, toning up or building strength, think more about maintaining your health so you can have a happy and healthy pregnancy.
Speaking of changes, broadly speaking you should adjust your exercise routine according to which trimester you are in…
During your first trimester you should have no problem following a fairly standard exercise routine but beware of overexerting yourself and look out for any unusual symptoms. The first trimester is when your pregnancy is most unstable so really listen to your body.
Once you hit the second trimester and the fetus is getting bigger, you will need to start adapting your workouts to accommodate the more obvious changes you are experiencing. For example, you should not exercise lying on your back from this point on as doing so may elevate your blood pressure. In addition, levels of the hormone relaxin will start to increase around this time which can make your joints less stable and increase your risk of injury. Relaxin is essential for increasing the elasticity of your soft tissues in preparation for childbirth but can also make you overtly flexible so make sure you avoid over stretching.
In the third trimester, many traditional exercises will be uncomfortable and impractical so focus on light exercise and just staying physically active. The shift in centre of gravity towards your front will mean your lower back aches and activities as normally simple as walking can become quite challenging. Find your own comfort level and stay within it. As before, listen to your body and don’t ignore any unusual sensations.
Weight gain during pregnancy is absolutely unavoidable. In fact, eating too little and trying to minimize weight gain excessively can result in an undernourished baby and mother. Conversely, weight gain should not be excessive as too much can lead to an increased risk of gestational diabetes and also means that it’ll take you much longer to get back to your normal weight after the birth. A weight gain of between 25-40lbs is normal.
Once you have given birth you should wait for clearance from your doctor before returning to exercise. This usually takes between six to twelve weeks depending on whether the birth was natural or by C-section.
Once you have the go-ahead to exercise, it is important to ease gently back into exercise. Relaxin is still rampaging around your body and subsequently your joints are still more unstable than usual which makes them prone to injury. This is especially true of the joints in your lower back and pelvis.
In addition, your abdominals and pelvic floor muscles will have been severely stretched so your core stability will be compromised. You may even have separated abdominals – called diastasis recti – which mean your abs are not ready for exercises such as crunches and sit ups but should be retrained to work properly by performing bracing type exercises such as modified planks and other similar isometric exercises.
Remember also that not only do you need energy to exercise, you also need energy to look after your new baby and that your normal sleep pattern may be disrupted. Don’t be surprised if getting back into exercise after the birth is harder than you anticipated – this is completely normal. With patience, determination and effort, you can regain your former figure and fitness levels but don’t rush it – your body has been through some major stresses and throwing excessive exercise into the mix may end up causing you harm.
Exercise and pregnancy are very much compatible; women have remained active through pregnancy for generations and the concept of bed rest during pregnancy is relatively new. If you do choose to exercise during your pregnancy remember that not only are you eating for two you are also exercising for two as well so listen to your body and seek medical supervision to ensure your pregnancy goes without a hitch.