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Pregnancy exercise – a trimester guide

Pregnant women exercisingWhether you’re a fitness fanatic or a first-time exerciser, you may find it hard to know what kind of exercise and how much you should be doing during your pregnancy.

What is best for you and your baby will vary across the trimesters, and will of course vary between different people.

While trying to find the right information can become confusing, we’ve compiled a quick trimester guide to pregnancy exercise that will keep you and bub fit and healthy through your pregnancy.

Unless your doctor advises otherwise, every woman can benefit from moderate exercise during pregnancy – even if you didn’t do much or any exercise before. As a general rule, the more you did before, the more you can tolerate during pregnancy, because your body is used to it.

Always chat to your health care provider about your individual circumstances before beginning an exercise routine.

Pregnancy exercise – a trimester guide

The First Trimester

The headaches, nausea, and tiredness of the first trimester can hinder even the best intentions – sometimes exercise is the last thing you feel like doing. However, if you can bring yourself to do even some light walking, you will stimulate the growth of a healthy placenta, and keep your body generally healthy too. A healthy placenta is important as it increases the flow of oxygen and nutrients to your growing baby throughout the rest of your pregnancy. Exercising when you can also helps protect you from gaining unnecessary weight that will be harder to lose later.

You can participate in most forms of exercise in this first stage – jogging, swimming, resistance training, pilates and aerobics – all you need to do is reduce the intensity. It is important to avoid exercising during the hotter times of the day – especially in the first trimester to ensure your core temperature does not go up as the baby’s central nervous system is now forming. Avoiding saunas and steam baths is also advised.

Remember to keep cool and rest when needed. Stay well hydrated and have a snack before, after and, if you need to, even during exercise to maintain the balance of water, salts, and sugars in your body and prevent the onset or worsening of nausea and dizziness.

The Second Trimester

By your second trimester your body has made many physical adjustments. Your blood volume is now sufficient to fill the newly stretched blood vessels and hopefully you feel your energy start to return. You can continue to partake in many forms of exercise with a few alterations. A gentle game of tennis is fine as long as you don’t get too competitive. The relaxin that is preparing your body for birth affects all your joints. Fast, jerky, and bouncy movements that the body can usually cope with may lead to sprained ankles and twisted knees. And avoid contact sports that could lead to being hit in the abdomen.

You can continue to do cardio work, such as jogging and cycling, just be aware you cannot increase or maintain high levels of fitness at this time. Hormones are pumping around your body making you short of breath, there is competition between your working muscles, brain, and baby for available oxygen, and the baby is starting to take up space that the diaphragm would have used previously when you take in big breaths. You will notice you breathe shallower and faster. An easy way to keep a check on your breathing and heart rate is the ‘talk test’ – can you maintain a conversation while exercising? If not, your intensity is too high. Also, wear good supportive shoes and bra!

Some exercises need to be changed at this point. Abdominals should be kept strong for back care, pelvic floor protection, pushing power for birth or recovery from a C-section. However, swap traditional sit-ups, crunches and leg raises for gentle core work. For example, sit on a Swiss ball like it is a chair. Let the ball roll forward slightly as you lean back 45 degrees, pause and return to the start position.

You may notice that you can stretch further that before – that doesn’t mean you should. While your muscles may still get tight, your ligaments are loose and your joints unstable, so stretch with care.

Remember, nature ensures your baby takes what it needs from your body’s stores to grow and it is YOU who will feel tired and run down if you’re not getting the nutrients you need. Good iron levels are essential for exercise and feeling good. During the second trimester, the baby absorbs huge amounts iron making it the most likely time for your stores to fall too low.

The Third Trimester

Research shows that exercising throughout your whole pregnancy has far more benefits than giving up halfway. So, entering your third trimester is no reason to stop everything. If you were going to run a marathon, would you train regularly for 6 months only to give up and sit on the couch for the last 12 weeks?

Simply listen to your body and adjust accordingly – if necessary, do shorter sessions, move slower, reduce weights and repetitions, find alternative positions, or change to more gentle or supportive forms of exercise. Some babies sit high and cause more breathlessness and reflux. Others sit low and cause more pelvic pain and ‘the waddle’. It is best to change to a seated, inclined or side position for exercising rather than lying down. You can change your jog to a walk, your aerobics  to aqua aerobics, your cycle to a swim, your pump class to a light weights program, or just keep up some walking and a gentle yoga or stretch class. Don’t forget to exercise your pelvic floor muscles daily.

The pregnant body likes to move but not be stressed or exhausted. Keep exercise moderate, regular, and ongoing throughout the pregnancy to stay strong, mobile, confident and better prepared for the adventures to come. Find out where your nearest pregnancy exercise class is, and join in with other mums.

Find out more about exercising during pregnancy in our Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy Exercise.

 Note: This information is not intended to replace medical advice. If you have any concerns, please consult your health care provider.

– this article was written with information from Rachel Livingstone, founder of Glowing Expectations

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