Pregnancy is a beautiful, albeit stressful journey. There are lots of highs and some lows. The expectant mother is taken on an emotional rollercoaster as she anticipates the coming of her bundle of joy. As an expectant mum, your focus is on keeping your baby strong and healthy, requiring that you adopt diets that provide the most important nutrients for your baby’s development. Including folic acid and iron. Conversely, you should focus on keeping yourself fit and energized for your journey and especially for the finish line. This is where exercise comes in.
Exercising is heavily recommended for expectant mums as it makes the journey a little bit more fun. It is also heavily beneficial for mother and child. Here, we look at some of the benefits of exercising during pregnancy and which workouts are safe during pregnancy.
The pregnancy period (from the first trimester to the third trimester) is a very delicate stage. The expectant mother has to be super careful about what she puts in her body and what she puts her body through to avoid any adverse effects on the developing child. Eating healthy is one of the cardinal principles for maintaining optimal health in pregnancy. Another activity that helps keep mum and baby healthy is regular exercise.
The benefits of exercise during pregnancy are immense. Exercise helps improve the mother’s posture and stamina, relieves several pregnancy symptoms like tiredness and backaches, relieves stress, and prevents gestational diabetes. Exercising improves blood circulation and cross-placental delivery of nutrients to the developing child. Pregnancy also helps the expectant mother build strength in anticipation of labor.
During pregnancy, you should avoid high-intensity exercise or strenuous exercises that can affect your health and that of your developing child. Rather, you should focus on low-impact aerobic exercises in moderation or as instructed by your doctor. If you have a good exercise routine before your pregnancy, you should continue with the less-intense activities in your routine, but be sure to check with your doctor if they are ok. If you have not been exercising before, starting an exercise program with the help of a personal trainer and with your doctor’s supervision will help you and your baby and possibly make labor seamless.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) recommends that pregnant women engage in moderate exercise for 30 minutes or more per day. An aerobic exercise like brisk walking is highly recommended in this instance. However, pregnant women at risk of complications will be advised to stay off exercise.
Exercising during pregnancy offers numerous benefits to both the mother and child. The benefits of exercising during pregnancy are:
- It helps you maintain a healthy body weight
- Improves sleeping pattern
- Improves the mood and reduces depression
- Reduces pregnancy-related issues like fatigue, gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, constipation, backache, pelvic girdle pain, etc.
- Help you recover faster after delivery.
- Helps to prepare your mind and body for labor and delivery
- Helps you feel better about your progress and the changes happening in your body.
- Manage blood sugar levels
- Helps you keep a good and healthy heart rate.
Pregnant women should avoid exercise if they have medical conditions that may become complicated with physical activity. These conditions include asthma, uncontrolled Type 1 diabetes, heart diseases, etc.
In general, pregnant women should totally avoid exercising in the presence of any of the following conditions;
- Hemodynamically significant heart disease
- Persistent second- or third-trimester bleeding
- Ruptured membranes
- Restrictive lung disease
- Incompetent cervix/cerclage
- Pre-eclampsia/pregnancy-induced hypertension
- Placenta previa after 26 weeks of gestation
- Premature labor during the current pregnancy
- Multiple gestations at risk for premature labor
However, some medical conditions permit aerobic exercises, but pregnant mums need to take precautions during exercises. These conditions include:
- Severe anemia
- Poorly controlled type 1 diabetes
- Unevaluated maternal cardiac arrhythmia
- Intrauterine growth restriction during pregnancy
- Chronic bronchitis
- Extreme morbid obesity
- Orthopedic limitations
- Extreme underweight (BMI <12)
- Poorly controlled hyperthyroidism
- History of an extremely sedentary lifestyle
- Poorly controlled hypertension
- Heavy smoker
- Poorly controlled seizure disorder
Always consult with your doctor to assess your physical state and find out if any of these conditions will permit you to work out.
Most aerobic exercises are safe during pregnancy as long as they are performed within safety limits. You should consider the following cardio exercises during pregnancy:
Water aerobics and swimming help you feel lighter and stay agile, relieving your body weight. Swimming is considered the best pregnancy exercise. Swimming helps to reduce pregnancy symptoms like puffy ankles, nausea, sciatic pain, etc.
When swimming during pregnancy, you should avoid jumping or diving into the water. Instead, you should slide or step into the pool. You should watch your strokes. The breaststroke involves less effort and helps to counter the misalignment that is common during pregnancy and is thus considered the best stroke during pregnancy. As an expectant mum, you should avoid extreme swimming activities like scuba diving as it may be harmful to your health and that of your baby.
Walking is the easiest and safest aerobic walkout for pregnant women and is highly recommended. Walking has many benefits, helping the pregnant mum burn calories, increasing muscle tone, and helping with back pain and other discomforts. About 30 minutes of brisk walks per day is ok for the pregnant mother.
Running is as easy as walking. However, running must be performed with caution as intense running can affect the health of the mother and child. Besides, there is the possibility of falls during running. Therefore, pregnant mums should limit running to safe environments and for short periods.
- Ellipticals, stair climbers, treadmills, and rowing machines
Ellipticals, stair climbers, treadmills, and rowing machines are gym equipment that pregnant women can use in their workouts. Pregnant women can easily adjust the speed, inclines, and tension to comfortable levels to work out different muscle groups. However, using these equipment gets harder as pregnancy progresses, so the tension will have to be set lower. Furthermore, pregnant mums should use these machines with some supervision to prevent any accidents.
- Group dance or aerobics classes
Asides from the popular fact that dancing is an exercise, it is also therapeutic. It helps release the feel-good hormone (endorphins) in the body; they help increase the heart rate and help balance your body weight.
You can engage in outdoor sports, but you must be very careful to avoid complications. You should consult your doctor for approval before starting these activities.
- Indoor cycling
- Ice skating, horseback riding, and in-line skating
- Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing
- High-intensive training workouts
Strength workouts help can you maintain your skin tone and build muscles. It also helps to protect your joint from injuries. However, you should get approval from your doctor before starting a strength workout routine.
- Tai Chi
There are exercises you should avoid during pregnancy. These exercises can be harmful if performed during pregnancy.
- Holding your breath during any activity
- Scuba diving
- Bouncing while stretching
- Exercise in hot, humid weather
- Deep knee bends, full sit-ups, double leg raises, and straight-leg toe touches.
- Activities where you can likely fall, such as skiing, etc.
- Contact sports such as softball, football, basketball, and volleyball
- Activities that require extensive jumping, hopping, skipping, or bouncing
- Exercises that require lying on your back for more than three minutes after the first trimester
- Heavy exercise spurts followed by long periods of no activity
- Exercise that causes mild abdominal trauma, like jarring motions or rapid changes in direction.
There are warning signs you should notice when exercising. When you experience these signs, you should stop exercising immediately. These warning signs are:
- Experience chest pain
- Vaginal bleeding
- Sudden swelling in your ankles, hand, face, or calf pain
- Abdominal pain, pelvic pain, or persistent contractions
- Sudden headache
- Feel faint, dizzy, nauseous, or light-headed
- Feel cold
- Muscle weakness
- A sudden gush of fluid from the vagina
- Notice an irregular heartbeat
- Short of breath
- Difficulty walking
If you still feel these symptoms after you have stopped exercising, you should visit your doctor immediately for a checkup and safety.
When exercising, there are basic guidelines you should follow to avoid injury or complications. These guidelines are:
- Wear breathable, stretchable, and comfortable clothes that are loose-fitting, as well as a good bra for support.
- Wear shoes that perfectly fit the exercise you are doing to avoid injury.
- After doing floor exercises, avoid getting up too soon to prevent dizziness.
- Exercise on a flat and level surface to prevent injury.
- Eat more calories, at least 300 calories per day, than you consumed before pregnancy.
- Eat at least an hour before starting your exercise.
- Drink water before, during, and after your workout.
- Listen to your body, and never exercise to the point of exhaustion. You should stop or slow down your exercise rate if you find it difficult to talk while exercising.
Exercising during pregnancy is very beneficial to both mother and child. Aerobic activities such as walking, running, and swimming should be prioritized during this period. In addition, workout equipment like stair climbers and treadmills may be used with some supervision. The basic principle of exercising during pregnancy is to keep it light and simple. There is absolutely no need for heavy lifting during pregnancy as that may cause complications. Endeavor to speak with your doctor before beginning any routine during pregnancy.