Exercise and Pregnancy
Fitness before, during, and after pregnancy is an essential part of motherhood. Regular exercise during pregnancy has been shown to decrease fat retention, result in shorter and less complicated labor, increase energy levels, and shorten postpartum recovery time. In addition, women who exercise during pregnancy report less lower-back pain, depression, constipation, swelling, nausea, leg cramps, varicose veins, insomnia, fatigue, and incontinence.
Physical activity during pregnancy also reduces the incidence of gestational diabetes by half, the risk of pre-eclampsia by 35%, the need for forceps or C-section by 75%, and the need to intervene due to fetal heart-rate abnormalities by 50%! As if you need any more reason to be active, exercising women experience fewer incidences of postpartum depression.
In 2002, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) created guidelines for exercise during pregnancy. By following these guidelines and doing what feels right, your exercise will benefit you and your baby!
Pre-natal Exercise DO’s:
- Get permission from your doctor before starting an exercise program.
- Let your body be your guide. Your workout should feel moderately difficult, yet you should still be able to carry on a conversation.
- Get at least 30 minutes of exercise per day on most days of the week.
- Swim! It’s a perfect exercise for balance, cardiovascular and strength training, while at the same time reducing swelling in your extremities.
- Participate in low-impact activities only. Your hormonal changes can make your joints more susceptible to injury.
- Take in plenty of nutritious calories. The demands of pregnancy require 300 extra calories per day, plus the calorie requirements of exercise.
- Eat a snack composed of complex carbohydrates, protein and fat 1 hour before exercise, and make sure to replenish your fuel supply afterward as well.
- Drink plenty of water (6-8 oz. for every 15-20 minutes of activity).
- Include stretching, especially your inner thighs, lower back, hamstrings, chest, and calves.
- Celebrate your pregnant body!
Pre-natal Exercise DON’TS:
- Use your heart rate as a guide to exercise difficulty. Because of the major changes in your blood volume, this is not an accurate indicator.
- Participate in high-risk activities, such as biking, skiing, horseback riding, or gymnastics. Your center-of-gravity has changed, and may make you more prone to falling.
- Exercise while lying on your back after the first trimester. The excess weight of your uterus can compromise the blood flow to you and your baby.
- Exercise to exhaustion.
- Hold your breath during exercise.
- Exercise for weight loss during pregnancy.
Even if you never exercised before pregnancy, now is the time to begin a program, for the benefit of yourself and your baby. Your routine should be safe, fun, and beneficial. Whether it’s a walk with the one that you love, a swim, or a trip to the gym… get out there, find an activity that you enjoy, and do it regularly.
Although it may seem logical that if you are in pain you should rest and not undertake an exercise routine, gentle stretching and movement will often decrease muscle spasm and improve posture, resulting in decreased pain. These simple exercises can be performed almost anywhere and are safe from first trimester through postpartum.
Useful stretches for pregnant women
- Take at least a 5 minute walk at a moderate pace to loosen the muscles throughout the body. You could also substitute a warm shower or bath as a warm-up. (Total time – 5 minutes) Strengthening: Perform 2 sets of 10 repetitions for each of the following exercises. (Total time – 2-3 minutes)
a. Pelvic Tilts (to strengthen the abdominals): The simplest way to learn the pelvic tilt is to kneel on your hands and knees. In this position, you’ll notice an inward arch in your lower back. Tilt your pelvis backwards, so you flatten your back, keeping your buttocks relaxed. Avoid rounding the upper back when you do the tilt. The pelvic tilt can be performed while lying on your back, standing, on your hands and knee, or sitting.
Back Stretch: Start on your hands and knees, with your legs wide apart. Place a small pillow under you to give support to your abdomen. Sit back on your knees and stretch your arms forward to feel a stretch along the spine.
Hamstring Stretch: Facing a chair or a step, place one foot up on it, keeping both hips and feet facing forward. Keep your back straight and lean forward from your hips to increase the stretch in the back thigh muscles.
If you are unable to keep your back straight or your knees start to bend, the chair or step is likely too high for your flexibility level. Try a lower surface.
Wall Posture Stretch: Stand with your head, shoulders and back against a wall with your feet shoulders width apart, about 1-2 feet from the wall. Bring your arms out to your sides with your palms facing away from the wall. Do a pelvic tilt to press the lower back into the wall. Press your upper back and shoulders against the wall without letting your lower back move away from the wall.
Next, press the back of your head back into the wall, without tilting your chin up or down. You should feel a stretch along the entire spine if you do this correctly. Once this exercise gets easier, you may raise your arms higher overhead for increased stretch.