Should you exercise while pregnant?
Pregnancy is an exciting time that brings with it bucket-loads of questions: Should I be taking multi-vitamins? Can I still have a glass of wine? Is it okay to exercise while pregnant?
The answer to the last question shouldn't shock you: yes, exercise is safe and beneficial during pregnancy!
While in the past, many resources warned against exercise, stating an increased risk of miscarriage, there is an overwhelming body of evidence that states exercise does NOT increase the risk of a miscarriage and might even help with some common complaints during pregnancy.
Maintaining a healthy exercise routine during pregnancy has been shown to:
Decrease gestational weight gain
Decrease hypertensive disorders (such as gestational diabetes)
Decrease the risk of developing lower back pain
Decrease the risk of developing post-natal depression
And it may reduce symptoms of morning sickness (depends on the individual) ON TOP OF
All the usual benefits of exercise
Now, obviously a lot of things change during pregnancy. I'm not asking you to go out and make huge life changes or be taking unnecessary risks, now is not the time for that. However, if you want to provide the best possible start for your baby while also ensuring your own health, you need to keep moving!
That being said, there are definitely some modifications to be made to a usual fitness regime. To ensure you are adapting to your changing body, it is important that you follow a few general principles to stay safe.
Keep intensity the same.
This should go without saying, but now is not a good time to set new personal bests. While it is hard to provide solid evidence that exercising at very high intensities is safe (due to recruitment concerns), it is abundantly clear in the research that maintaining exercise at moderate or even high intensities (for fit individuals) is absolutely safe for the mum and the baby. This may become harder to maintain as you get closer to your due date.
Listen to your body!
The human body is smart - the baby's health will always be a priority. This means that you will start to feel breathless before your baby ever loses any oxygen. This does mean, however, that you will fatigue sooner as you split some of your precious resources to the bub. If your body is telling you "enough!", that's a good sign that it's enough. Sometimes it can be helpful to talk through what you're feeling with an exercise professional to help you understand what your body is really saying.
Joints will be EXTRA stretchy.
Your body is going to be releasing all kinds of hormones to circulate around the bloodstream during this period. One such hormone is "relaxin" which, no surprises here, helps relax your joints. This can make you more prone to hypermobility injuries, so be careful about positions that put a lot of stress on your joints (avoid ass to grass squats!).
Balance will be hard!
No, it's not just you being clumsy - your centre of gravity is going to shift forwards as you develop your baby bump, making it harder for you to stay balanced. Just be aware of this and make sure you have a handhold nearby if you're going to be in an unstable position.
Avoid excess heat.
Exercising alone isn't enough to significantly increase body heat, however, it's worth avoiding saunas, hot yoga or exercising on really hot days to avoid neural tube defects occurring in the baby. You'll also need to make sure you're drinking plenty of fluids as your total amount of blood can increase by 50%!
Avoid striking activities.
I don't think you need me to tell you this, but any activities or sports which might involve striking or a flying ball should be avoided. We want to avoid any potential blows to the stomach.
Avoid supine exercises... Probably?
Lying on your back with a baby in your belly may put pressure on the vena cava, the largest vein in your body, so should be avoided. While this statement is prevalent online, in real life it is probably not that big of an issue until the third trimester. Keep an eye on how it feels and adjust if necessary
While this may look like a long list, it's mostly common sense and can go a long way to ensuring a safe and reassuring exercise routine during this stressful time. Developing a healthy exercise routine is a great way to ensure you are looking after your own body while undergoing these changes.
Exercise complications after birth
Separation of the rectus abdominus (the 6-pack muscle) following birth. This makes the muscle less effective at what it does which can cause stability issues, back pain and other less than savoury conditions. The condition is usually reversible with a simple, isometric exercise routine. To combat this, perform three sets of 20 abdominal squeezes, holding a contraction for 5 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of relaxation for each repetition. Complete this 3 times a week, for a total duration of 8 weeks.
Pelvic floor issues
The pelvic floor muscles run from your sit bone to your pubis, and this muscle helps control when you want to go to the toilet. Again, I'm sure you don't need me to go into great detail about why this muscle gets stretched during the birthing process, so allow me to offer you some solutions. Pelvic floor issues can usually be resolved through isometric exercises, similar to rectus diastasis. To see my favourite pelvic floor exercise "The Elevator", click here.
Exercising your core and pelvic floor muscles before birth can also help minimise the impact and speed up the recovery for these conditions.
Body image issues
While this is abundantly present in all walks of our post-social-media life, one time when you are particularly vulnerable to having body image problems is after giving birth. According to one study, body image becomes an increasing problem between 1 month post-partum and 9 months post-partum, despite most mothers returning to within 2.5kgs of their pre-pregnancy weight (for the record, most people put on about a kilo each year anyway). Body image issues can have serious negative consequences for your mental health and your body will be going through a host of changes, so it's important to come into this period with a healthy mindset. To help you out with your body image strategy, check out this useful fact sheet.
Build your foundations, rather than push for new heights.
If you take the time to set up your foundational habits now, this will serve you when things get increasingly busy in a few months' time. Meanwhile, if you're trying to push yourself really hard during this time, you're going to be fighting your body, which is already diverting lots of resources to the new life forming in your belly.
Find something you can do every day, even just a little.
Things are going to change over the next 9 months. There are going to be good days and bad days. If you can find something you can do every day, even if that's just 5 minutes of breathing exercises or a walk, you will give yourself an outlet for when things get tough. Remember, anything is better than nothing.
Find friends to help you!
Now is a great time to find like-minded mummas in similar situations - no need to wait until after you've had the baby to build your social support. Join a walking group, a fitness class or even start your own now to help keep you motivated and to provide a social outlet.
Exercising during pregnancy is great not only for you, but for your baby as well. Follow the general principles outlined here and be aware of the common complications to ensure you are the healthiest version of you for the next 9 months and beyond.
If you want more information on exercise during pregnancy, or are just looking for a social group, check out the Moms Gone Strong program at www.girlsgonestrong.com