Maintaining physical health and staying active during pregnancy is vitally important for mothers and their unborn children.A healthy mother is more likely to give birth to a healthy child and to recover appropriately after childbirth, so staying active during pregnancy must be encouraged.For women who are determined to stay active for nine months, and want to do so safely, this article outlines general advice and specific exercises to follow while carrying the most precious gift of all!Every woman’s body is different, and every mother’s level of physical fitness before pregnancy will differ, so the amount and type of exercise to engage in will differ from person to person.One constant for all mothers-to-be is to consult a medical professional at the beginning of the pregnancy for advice on the exact type of physical activity to sustain and to continue consulting with experts until the baby is born.As a general rule, pregnant women should aim to maintain their pre-pregnancy level of fitness, instead of attempting to reach peak fitness levels.
- A New Body
Every pregnant woman will experience changes in their body during pregnancy. These will feel foreign to new mothers and will affect which types of physical activity are safe or possible to carry out.
- Weight gain
Women will gain weight when they are carrying a child. That makes it more difficult to do exercises such as jogging and running, and other load-bearing activities.Balance and coordination are also adversely affected by the weight gain during pregnancy, so activities that require these elements will have to be put in hold until after the birth.
Another specific change is the loosening of the ligaments and joints around the pelvic region. This creates discomfort or even danger for exercises which involve a quick change of direction, jumping or jerking movements.Further physiological changes include an increase in resting heart rate and a decrease in blood pressure. Due to the change in the resting heart rate, it is recommended that women do not generally overexert themselves. Meanwhile, the decrease in blood pressure may leave mothers-to-be light-headed and dizzy, and thus rule out activities that require balance.
“Don’t try this at home”
Let’s begin by examining exercises that health professionals do not recommend for pregnant women.
- Contact sports
Contact sports are simply too dangerous for the unborn child. They heighten the risk of abdominal trauma, falls and joint pain. Similarly, sports such as horse riding, gymnastics and skiing are not recommended due to the likelihood of falling.
Ask a woman who is pregnant or has given birth, and they will tell you that this advice is common sense. Anything that feels so uncomfortable or painful should be avoided.
- Heavyweight training
Maximal isometric muscle contractions, which are common in heavy weight training, place a strain on the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal system and are therefore not recommended.
- Holding your breath
If you find yourself not breathing during physical activity, you should stop immediately, and pregnant women should avoid holding their breath for an extended period in activities such as Yoga.Some Yoga postures require holding the breath, so instead, search for Yoga classes that involve flowing movements and regular changes of posture in time with deep breathing.
- Abdominal exercises
While it is tempting to start reclaiming your flat tummy before the baby is even born, some abdominal exercises can be very uncomfortable and can lead to a condition called Diastasis recti. Therefore, abdominal exercises might have to wait until some time after the big day. That said, a well-designed Pilates program can be beneficial.
- High altitude
Consult with an expert before considering any exercise over 2,500 meters in altitude, and take care of any physical activity at high altitude. Increases in altitude reduce the amount of oxygen in the air and thus reduce the amount of oxygen supplied to the fetus. Altitude sickness is also a real risk for the mother.
- Be centred
Changes to a woman’s center of gravity during pregnancy can be dangerous, and they are a feature of sports such as tennis or squash.
Fetal decompression sickness and congenital disabilities are potential side-effects of Scuba diving, and experts advise no scuba diving at all during pregnancy.
- Lying down
Mothers-to-be should avoid lying on their stomach, at any time, and avoid lying in their back after the first trimester, as this affects blood flow to the fetus.
Let’s now take a look at safe exercises that can keep a woman healthy during pregnancy:
Firstly, the duration and intensity of each specific form of physical activity will differ for each person. Every woman’s physiological composition, and pre-pregnancy level of fitness, will determine how they should exercise while carrying their child.As mentioned above, it is important to consult a medical expert for the features of an exercise routine designed specifically for an individual.One specific hint for determining the correct level of intensity during physical activity is called the talk test. Put simply, if you cannot sustain a basic conversation while exercising, because you’re out of breath, the intensity level is too high. You should lower the intensity until you can talk comfortably.
The talk test is also another reason why exercising socially can be beneficial. Not only can your exercise partners help you find the right level of intensity for your workout, but they can also help motivate you to get off the couch and turn the exercise into something fun.The most recommended physical activities are those with a low risk of falling, injury or joint damage and those that do not require changes of direction or to the center of gravity. They are exercises that are low impact, do not depend on balance and demand a reasonable level of exertion.
Every form of exercise should follow a warm-up of gentle stretching and movement, which creates a slight increase in the heart rate.
- Pelvic floor exercises
These will help you during the birth, and afterward, and they include squeezing your bottom like you’re stopping a poo, squeezing to halt the flow of wee, or squeezing as if you’re gripping a tampon in your vagina.
Brisk walking is a low impact and increases the heart rate, thus providing an appropriately light form of cardiovascular exercise. It is safe on the joints and prevents a negligent risk of falling. Better still, it can be enjoyed almost anywhere and with friends.
- Light jogging
Didn’t you say no jogging?Well, yes. However, light jogging can be beneficial only for women who did regular running before falling pregnant, and it should be less intense and frequent than the running routine before pregnancy.
- Weight training
Didn’t you also warn against weight training?Again, yes. However, light resistance training is recommended for expecting mothers. Just like jogging, this should only be an option for women who did weight training before pregnancy, and the weights should be moderate. Women who have never done weight training should not begin during pregnancy.Weight training has been found to improve strength and flexibility when done correctly. It is thought to be particularly beneficial for certain areas of the body, such as the lower back.
- Water sports
Not only do water sports promote cardiovascular fitness and general strength, but they also offer women a feeling of weightlessness and a break from the aches and pains of childbearing. Furthermore, there is a decreased risk of muscle strain, and many women say it provides them with relief from back pain and leg swelling.Swimming is known to be one of the best all-body workouts, and it is impact-free and great for cardiovascular fitness.What’s more, there is no risk of overheating. Other water-based workouts that can raise your heart rate and maintain your health include water aerobics and water walking. Many local aquatic centers now offer fitness classes designed specifically for expectant mothers.
- Stationary cycling
This is not a spin class. This is not a sweat-inducing, high-tempo workout with techno music and disco lights. This should be a moderate exercise that can improve leg strength and cardiovascular fitness.The beauty of stationary cycling is that it negates the loss of balance that pregnant women can experience, especially during the third trimester.
Planting, pruning, digging, harvesting and admiring the beauty of nature can also be a healthy form of outdoor activity. It is also a definite form of incidental exercise that is recommended for general physical and mental wellbeing.
Staying physically active during pregnancy is important and possible. Consulting a medical professional and seeking the right advice will set women up with an exercise regime that suits their own body and level of fitness.It should include exercises such as walking, light jogging, light resistance training, stationary cycling and water sports.Following a well-designed exercise routine, a healthy diet and a pre-natal plan can ensure that the newborn child and the mother remain happy and healthy 🙂