How to Stay Fit During Pregnancy
Seven out of ten Americans don’t exercise regularly. And this trend continues in the demographic of pregnant women. "The message is not getting out that women should continue to exercise during pregnancy, at least at moderate intensity," says Terry Leet, Ph.D., a study author and associate professor of community health at Saint Louis University School of Public Health, "Only one of every six pregnant women are meeting the current physical activity recommendation of 30 or more minutes of moderate physical activity on most, if not all, days of the week." The research, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
It’s obvious through reports we see and hear every day that people need more exercise than they’re getting. And this lack is resulting in a variety of health problems. But these problems are compounded in the case of pregnant women because their health decisions affect not only their own life, but the one inside them. Risks for pregnant women who are obese include preeclampsia and gestational diabetes. Risks to the baby include being born overweight, putting mother and baby at risk and increasing the chance of a cesarean section, or possible neural tube defects.
What’s a pregnant mother to do? Get motivated- on behalf of yourself and your baby- to stay in shape throughout your pregnancy. We’re not talking about training for a marathon here, moms, just thirty minutes of moderate exercise a day. But let’s get past the statistics and generalities and discuss how to make this happen.
Strengthen muscles supporting the uterus
Moderate exercise, from walking to swimming, will help strengthen the muscles that support your uterus. This will ease common pregnancy complaints and complications such as backache, swollen ankles, and fatigue.
The Mayo Clinic reports that exercise can reduce stress by increasing endorphins- your brain’s brain's feel-good neurotransmitters, improving your mood, and giving you what is essentially “meditation in movement”.
Preparation for childbirth
Childbirth has been compared to a marathon, and so your pregnancy could be considered your training. Granted, your training will be much more laid back than a trained athlete’s, but the comparison still works. Gently strengthening your body and increasing your endurance now will benefit you when the big day comes.
Regain Your Pre-Pregnancy Body More Quickly
You will gain less weight from fat during your pregnancy through exercise. This translates into weight which is easier to lose after your baby’s birth.
Look and Feel Better
Exercise increases blood flow to your skin, giving your that healthy, new-mommy glow. And regular exercise will make you feel more comfortable in your pregnant body and confident in yourself.
Now you know why you should exercise during pregnancy, and let’s face it, we all know that we should. But where to start? What type of exercise should you do? Are there any movements you should not do? Read on!
This is a great pregnancy workout video incorporating yoga, sculpting, and Pilates. It incorporates all the major muscle groups and even adapts for all three trimesters AND postpartum.
Consider purchasing a maternity belt to support your back and abdomen as baby becomes heavier.
First of all, talk to your caregiver- doctor or midwife- before you begin any new exercise regimen. They should have asked you at your first appointment if you were doing any exercise already, in which case it’s safe to continue on with your same routine. However, if you weren’t exercising before or would like to try something new, it’s imperative you speak with your health professional. They can advise you on how to best begin and what exercises you should avoid. They will also know your specific case and risks and if implementing an exercise routine is generally safe for you.
Walking, swimming, dancing, yoga, Pilates, and biking are favorites for many pregnant moms. Again, it depends somewhat on your physical activity level before getting pregnant. For example, if you were a regular, avid runner before becoming pregnant, you are probably safe to continue this routine well into your pregnancy under your caregiver’s supervision. On the other hand, if you were not fit before pregnancy, you will want to start with a more moderate routine such as walking or water aerobics.
The key with whatever form of exercise you choose is to pay attention to your body! It’s common early in your pregnancy to experience some nausea or dizziness, and in your third trimester you may lose your balance easily as your center of gravity shifts. When your baby becomes larger, she may push up into your lung space making you short of breath. This is all normal, but you need to slow down or sit whenever you feel the need. Do not ignore any warning signs such as: fatigue, dizziness, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, or pain in your back or pelvis. Your body is telling you to stop.
Avoid any strenuous exercise, this is not advisable for you or baby. All exercise temporarily diverts blood and oxygen from the fetus to support your heart and lungs. Under typical circumstances, this is completely normal and healthy. You may even notice an increase in fetal activity after exercise as these resources are channeled back to your baby. However, when you perform strenuous exercise, you exacerbate this effect. A good rule of thumb is that you should be able to carry on a conversation as you work out. If not, you’re exercising too hard.
Also, make sure that you don’t overheat. Your baby does not have the ability to control his temperature as you do, so this is dangerous. Drink plenty of water, before, during, and after your workout. And make sure if you feel fatigued, take a break and rest. This is not the time for “no pain, no gain”.
And don’t forget your kegels! If you are pregnant, you should have heard about these by now, they’re crucial for your labor and delivery and your recovery after your baby is born. Ever heard your mom or a friend complain that they “leak” when they laugh hard or sneeze? And then they bemoan the fact that this is the price of childbirth? It doesn’t have to be true. Do your kegels! You know the muscle you use to stop the flow of urine- try it if you’re unsure. Those are your pelvic floor muscles which support your uterus, bladder, and bowel. Once you understand how to use these muscles, the Mayo Clinic suggests this regimen:
- Empty your bladder, then sit or lie down.
- Contract your pelvic floor muscles.
- Hold the contraction for three seconds then relax for three seconds.
- Repeat 10 times.
- Once you've perfected three-second muscle contractions, try it for four seconds at a time, alternating muscle contractions with a four-second rest period.
- Work up to keeping the muscles contracted for 10 seconds at a time, relaxing for 10 seconds between contractions.
Movements to Avoid
There are some movements that are normal in many forms of exercise that should be avoided when you’re pregnant. These include:
Lying On Your Back
After the first trimester, health professionals advise against exercising on your back while pregnant. This is because it causes the fetus and uterus to weigh on your intestines and major blood vessels, including the main blood vessels to baby.
Bouncing, Jerking, or Leaping
Bouncing and jerking are never good for your joints, but this is especially true during pregnancy. When you’re pregnant, your body produces a hormone called relaxin, this hormone relaxes your ligaments allowing your bones to spread for the birth of your baby. This same hormone puts you at a higher risk for injury when performing high impact motions.
Risk of Abdominal Injury
Avoid exercising routines such as impact sports (soccer, for example), horseback riding, and downhill skiing. Any activity risking direct impact on your abdomen, and thus your baby, should obviously be off limits.
I regularly used this video during both my pregnancies and highly recommend it.
Stretch It Out
Don’t forget to include stretching in your pregnancy workout. Stretching will maintain and increase your flexibility, prevent your muscles from getting tight, and keep your feeling loose and comfortable. Try shoulder circles, a gentle twisting of the waist, and a variety of leg stretches, especially those that open your hips. This will be great preparation for childbirth.
The benefits of stretching are great reasons to consider yoga. Make sure you sign up for a class or buy a video especially designed for pregnant women, as some traditional yoga poses are not safe during pregnancy. My favorite video, which I used often, is Yoga Journal’s: Yoga for Pregnancy. The three women demonstrating the positions are in three different trimesters and the video includes extra features for preparing for childbirth and postpartum recovery.
Don’t Forget About Food
There’s no doubt that having a healthy pregnancy isn’t just about exercise, a huge element is the food you eat. There are dozens of guidelines when it comes to nutrition during pregnancy. Let’s cover a few of the basics. First of all, don’t consume alcohol when you’re pregnant. This should be common sense, but alcohol poses a major risk to the tiny life inside you.
People who are not pregnant love to admonish the new mother with the words: “You’re eating for two!” as the scoop extra food onto her plate or into her mouth. While this is true, keep in mind that the second person is the equation ranges in size from a microorganism to a watermelon. Their stomach does not merit an entire second meal. However, pregnancy does afford you the wonderful benefit of three hundred extra calories to burn each day.
Before you get too excited and pull out that half of a birthday cake in the refrigerator take into account that 300 calories is a bowl of cereal and a banana or a lean cut of meat with a vegetable side. Three hundred calories doesn’t go far and should be used for healthy foods that will provide the nutrients you and your growing baby need.
A Final Word
Exercising during your pregnancy will benefit both you and baby. You’ll feel better during your pregnancy, gain less weight, have an easier delivery, and get back in pre-pregnancy shape more quickly. But in the end, remember that all of this work is not for the purpose of losing weight. Throw out the food journal- do not count calories for these nine months. Your ultimate goal is to maintain your health throughout your pregnancy. And when you hold that new life in your arms for the first time- exhausted, but amazed at what your body accomplished- it will be well worth it.
- Recreation Activities during Pregnancy : American Pregnancy Association
- Sleep Positions during Pregnancy : American Pregnancy Association
- Kegel exercises: How to strengthen pelvic floor muscles - MayoClinic.com
Kegel exercises — Instructions for how to perform strengthening exercises for your pelvic floor muscles.
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