We all know exercise is important in every stage of our lives. Pregnancy is no exception. Over the years, there have been a lot of changes and recommendations from science and health professionals about exercise for pregnant women. The great news, now a days, science has proven over and over the numerous benefits of exercise for mom and fetus. These benefits are recognized throughout the medical, birthing and fitness industries, so there is little holding pregnant women back from getting a great workout.
What are the benefits of exercise during pregnancy?
1) Pregnancy often kickstarts many women's concerns about enhancing their own health for the benefit of their unborn child. This is a great motivator to start, or continue, good habits regarding regular exercise. Many times, once a woman becomes active, she will make good choices and establish good habits in other areas of her life. This will greatly provide a positive impact for her and her entire family. Healthy moms raise healthy kids!
2) During labor and delivery, fit women will often experience:
Increased stamina and endurance during early and late stage labor
Shorter labor overall
Enhanced pain tolerance
Lower incidence of intervention during labor and lower chance of c-sections
Lower incidence of tearing or pelvic floor injury due to toned pelvic floor muscles
3) An exercise regimen consisting of strength, cardio, and flexibility at least 30 minutes on most, if not all, days of the week during pregnancy has many benefits:
Boosts immunity function for herself and baby throughout pregnancy and after birth (through breastfeeding)
Prevents or treats gestational diabetes
Controls weight gain
Increases energy and improves mood
Improves posture, reduces back pain, bloating, constipation, and swelling
Quicker postpartum recovery
Reduces stress, insomina, and anxiety
Lowers risk for depression
Due to increased oxygen levels and blood flow, a larger placenta develops. This is very beneficial for baby's cardiovascular capacity, waste removal, and nutrient delivery
What changes occur in the body during pregnancy that can affect my exercise routine? The hormone called Relaxin is produced during pregnancy. This hormone causes your joints and ligaments to become relaxed. This is great for preparing your body to deliver your baby, but unfortunately makes your joints more at risk for injury due to increased mobility and flexibility. All the extra weight you gain in the front of your body shifts your center of gravity and stresses the joints and muscles in your lower back and pelvic region. This is why pregnant women are more susceptible to less stability and falling, increased back pain, and achy joints. This is also why it is important to follow an exercise routine, or have an instructor who is certified in prenatal exercise, that takes in to account these issues, especially in late pregnancy. What forms of exercise are safe during pregnancy? Certain sports are safe during pregnancy, even for beginners:
Lifting weights (powerlifting or heavy weights not recommended)
If you were physically active before you became pregnant, you often can keep running, or doing what you were doing, during pregnancy. Use common sense when choosing your activity. You may have to modify your routine.
What forms of exercise should be avoided? Any activities that have a high risk of falling or abdominal trauma due to environment or just increased loss of balance should be avoided. Sports and activities like gymnastics, water or downhill skiing, horseback riding, racquet sports, and contact sports should be avoided or modified. Other activities, like scuba diving, that limit or change oxygen levels are also risky for baby as well and unsafe. If you have questions on your sport or activity of choice, ask your doctor.
What should I be aware of when exercising during pregnancy? Certain positions and activities can be risky for you and your baby due to the changes pregnancy does to your body. Avoid activities like jumping, jarring or quick changes in direction. These activities can cause damage to your joints and tendons. Also, be aware of dehydration and overheating during exercise. Pregnancy can increase your risk of both.
When you exercise, follow these general guidelines for a safe and healthy exercise program:
Your goal for exercising should be 30 minutes of moderate to intense exercise most, if not all, days of the week.
Avoid brisk exercise in hot, humid weather or when you have a fever.
Wear comfortable clothing that will help you to remain cool.
Wear a bra that fits well and gives lots of support to help protect your breasts.
Drink plenty of water to help keep you from overheating and dehydrating.
Make sure you consume the daily extra calories you need during pregnancy.
Note: if you are high risk, talk to your doctor before starting or continuing exercise.
If you have not been active, and wish to start at any time, start slow. Begin with as little as 5 minutes of exercise a day and add 5 minutes each week until you can stay active for 30 minutes a day.
In addition to the general guidelines, here are some additional recommendations based on trimester:
If you have been active prior to pregnancy, you can usually continue your normal routine. This includes running or jogging.
Be especially aware of the environment during your 1st trimester. Avoid overheating, especially during this time period when your developing baby is most susceptible to your body temperature changes.
If you feel exhausted or have morning sickness, realize that it is ok to back off or modify your exercises. As long as you are doing some sort of activity (even just walking), this greatly benefits both you and baby.
Continue your exercise regimen. Modify the exercises as needed.
Avoid exercises require you lay down flat on your back.
If lifting weights, use machines that control your range of motion (remember that Relaxin hormone?). Avoid machines that require you on your back or press against your belly. Light free weights are ok, however, watch that your don't strain your joints or lose control of your range of motion. Avoid heavy free weights.
Continue your exercise regimen, however, modify your workouts so as not to exhaust or overexert yourself.
Continue to avoid exercises or activities that challenge your range of motion and/or balance.
Do what you can! You are almost there!
What are the warning signs that I should stop exercising? Stop exercising and call your health care provider if you have any of these symptoms:
Dizziness or feeling faint
Increased shortness of breath
Calf pain or swelling
Decreased fetal movement
Fluid leaking from the vagina
How can I get back into exercising after the baby is born? Learn more about our recommendations for postpartum exercise.
As always, consult your doctor if you have questions or specific health issues that may contradict "normal" exercise recommendations.
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