Exercising through your pregnancy trimesters
Congratulations... you're pregnant! Whether an enthusiastic, long-term exerciser or a newcomer to fitness, you may be confused by the myths, well-intentioned (but often misinformed advice) and out-of-date information surrounding exercise during pregnancy. Here are the facts so you can keep going - or get going!
Unless you have a serious contraindication and your Doctor advises otherwise, every woman can benefit from moderate exercise during pregnancy - even if they did not participate in any before. As a general rule, the more you did before, the more you can tolerate during pregnancy, because your body is used to it.
The First Trimester
The headaches, nausea, and tiredness of the first trimester can hinder the best of intentions, with exercise being 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. This increases the flow of oxygen and nutrients to your growing baby throughout the rest of your pregnancy!
You can enjoy most forms of exercise in this first stage - jogging, swimming, resistance training, Pilates and aerobics, all you need to do is reduce the intensity. Keep cool and rest when needed to ensure your core temperature does not go up as the baby's central nervous system is now forming. 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 & Third Trimesters
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 enjoy 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. Obviously any contact sports should be avoided as they add unnecessary risk.
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 starts to take up space that the diaphragm would have used previously when you take big breaths in. You will notice you breathe shallow and faster. An easy way to keep a check on your breathing and heart rate is the 'talk test' - can you maintain a conversation whilst 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. Whilst 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 your nutrition and pre-natal supplementation are not adequate. 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.
Bare in mind that your reasons for exercise can not be what they may have been in the past - a small waist, a personal best in a sporting event… You are now exercising to abate the aches and strains of pregnancy, be physically strong for birth, keep mentally well and be FIT FOR MOTHERHOOD.
Motherhood follows pregnancy so when else are you going to train for all the bending, lifting, carrying and playing that is just around the corner?! Make sure you include upper and lower body work. Swimming and 'pulling movements' such as a 'row' in an aerobics or pump class or a resistance program help posture and upper body strength. Cycling and squats and lunges as found in Pilates, yoga and resistance programs keep the legs strong and mobile.
Research shows that exercising throughout 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 - 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'. You do not need to worry about lying on your back when you sleep but it is best to change to a seated, inclined or side position for exercising. 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 do 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.
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