Pregnancy exercise - the dos and don'ts
Exercise in pregnancy promotes the health and wellbeing of pregnant women and their unborn babies. Women who currently participate in a regular exercise program can continue to do so providing modifications are followed. Walking is one of the best forms of exercise and most women can continue to exercise with some modifications to their program throughout their pregnancy.
Women who start an exercise program when they become pregnant need to obtain their doctor's permission first. If you are an experienced exerciser please consult your doctor or midwife before continuing an exercise program.
Regular exercise can be maintained 20-30 minutes a day, three times a week. Each pregnancy is different and pregnancy is a time of constant change. Throughout pregnancy, I constantly revise a program and liaise with a mother's midwife, obstetrician or G.P.
The first trimester can be a very tiring time for a mum due to the energy expended with changes occurring in her body and the development of a baby. If a mum doesn't want to exercise she needs to listen to her body and rest when she can. (Heaven knows she is going to need it for when her baby comes!).
Avoid exercising in hot, humid environments especially during the first trimester - this is a time of greatest risk to the developing baby. It is best to avoid saunas and steam baths as these increase your core body temperature and can affect your unborn baby.
THROW AWAY YOUR HIGH HEELED SHOES AND GET INTO FLATTIES! Apart from cutting off the blood flow to your feet, your centre of gravity begins to change and you can overbalance as well as aggravate lower back pain.
You need to avoid exercises lying on your back after the first trimester (after 13 weeks) as this can limit the blood flow to your baby. Due to the release of relaxin (a hormone that relaxes the ligaments of the pelvic girdle and abdominals) and progesterone, it is important to avoid deep wide squats, lunges, jumping and activities involving a rapid change in direction. Because of relaxin, don't overstretch but stretch gently and slowly. Conventional rectus abdominal work is not recommended as up to 30% of women can get a separation of the abdominal muscles. Maintain deep abdominal bracing exercises that your trainer or physio can show you.
The second trimester is often termed the "honeymoon period". You are feeling great! Often women are over the initial nausea and other adjustment challenges exhibited within the first few weeks of a pregnancy. If not, please consult your doctor or midwife. A change to your program may apply at this time depending upon what is happening in your pregnancy.
The third trimester is a time when a pregnant woman may feel more fatigued with the weight of her growing baby. Gentle walks and stretching is still exercising and give yourself permission to rest.
Recommended examples of exercises include a mixture of weight bearing and non-weightbearing exercises including walking, low impact aerobics, light weights, Pilates, yoga, cycling, swimming and aqua-fitness.
I especially like upper body strengthening and stretching exercises during pregnancy and after birth. The breasts may grow and develop and they need extra support. After birth, a mum can be holding, feeding and bathing a baby for at least 12 hours a day. Strain can occur in the upper body so weight work and stretching is very important.
Avoid heavy lifting, brace your deep abdominals when you do lift and never hold your breath. High impact work is not recommended as well as horseriding, jumping, skiing etc.
Unless your doctor or midwife advises against it, you can keep exercising for as long as you wish but listen to your body and if you need to rest - please do. Your baby may need a rest also!
Maintenance mode is the key to your fitness regime.
In your pregnancy, your blood sugar levels can change rapidly and some women can feel lightheaded and faint. A good idea is to eat low glycaemic carbohydrates about an hour or 2 before you exercise eg an apple, or a banana. If you feel faint or dizzy, slow down or stop exercising and reach for a carbohydrate snack.
- Warm up and cool down slowly
- Stretch gently
- Stop exercising if you experience
- Vaginal spotting or bleeding
- Joint pain
- Headache, blurred vision or visual changes
- Abdominal pain
- Low backache
- Sudden escape of fluid from the vagina
- Changes in baby's movements
- And call your doctor or hospital even if you are a little concerned
- Wear a good supportive cotton bra while exercising to prevent overstretching and injury to the breast tissue and ligaments.
- Maintain a nutritious food intake (have an extra 1200 to 2000 kjoules per day) and keep well hydrated (we need to drink at least 2 litres of water a day).
- In regards to your heart rate during exercise - varying schools of thought can be presented. As a midwife, I recommend a mum should be able to maintain a comfortable conversation while exercising - that is not too hard. This may be about 140bpm. Your resting heart rate increases with pregnancy anyway, so err on the side of caution - go easier rather than harder - and never become breathless. Be aware that your oxygen intake decreases with exercise and with the physiological changes occurring in pregnancy, you can become breathless as your pregnancy progresses. Even a set of stairs which you would normally tackle easily may feel strenuous at times. Modify the intensity of your exercise. Stop exercising before you feel exhausted.
- Maintain your pelvic floor work that your physio, doctor or midwife has shown you.
The term "Exercising for 2" is NOT correct. Let your baby grow and develop normally. They don't need to exercise! When you have given birth, then you can focus on your own fitness levels being aware of the guidelines established on Breastfeeding and Exercise.
You have the rest of your life to get fit, so enjoy your baby!
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