Pregnancy causes a lot of changes to your body, both visible ones, and unseen hormonal ones. It’s important to stay in good shape during your pregnancy so that your baby is healthy and so that you recover quickly after giving birth. There is a lot of conflicting information out there about what women should and should not do while they are pregnant, though. Especially when it comes to exercise.
Staying Active is Important
If you were active before getting pregnant then the best thing that you can do is try to stay active, although you may need to modify the activities that you do. Your doctor will be able to advise you about this. If you were sedentary before getting pregnant then getting some light exercise is a good idea, but it is not wise to try to jump straight into an intensive training regimen.
Exercising while pregnant can help to improve your mood and keep your energy levels high, and also reduce your risk of developing gestational diabetes and other complications.1 The guidelines for physical activity during pregnancy vary from country to country. However, most countries do agree that it is important to stay active as long as the chosen physical activities are ones that do not carry with them a risk of trauma, collision, or falls.2
Choosing a Sport
The changes that a woman’s body experiences during pregnancy impact the body in a number of ways. While you are pregnant, your blood volume increases, which can cause blood pressure changes and may bring about dizziness.3 The weight of the baby can cause you to struggle with balance and can give you a backache. You may experience other aches and pains, and find that you have to move differently because of your new center of gravity and the way that the bump affects your body.
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In addition, later during pregnancy, your body produces a hormone called relaxin4, which is designed to facilitate childbirth. One side effect of relaxin is that it makes your joints more susceptible to injury. For this reason (as well as the risk of injury to the child), it is not a good idea to do contact sports while pregnant. If you are an athlete that already trains for that sort of sport then you should consider modifying your training while you are pregnant, keeping up your activity levels but finding ways to train that minimize the risk of injury. Consult your doctor and your coach, because training plans will vary from sport to sport.
Good sports to try during pregnancy include:
- Light cardio (on an exercise bike or rowing machine)
- Yoga (tell the instructor that you are pregnant, and choose your postures carefully)
- Weight training (under supervision, and with moderate weights)
- Low impact aerobics sessions
You may also want to try doing pelvic floor exercises, to help reduce the risk of incontinence during and after pregnancy.5
If you were already active, then the best thing to do is to continue the exercise that you were doing, but reduce the intensity in an appropriate fashion as the pregnancy progresses. If you were sedentary, then start with 15 minutes of gentle exercise three times per week, and increase that to 30 minutes once you feel confident.6
Some people are scared of exercising during pregnancy because of a fear that they may hurt the baby or that they will burn too much energy. Historically, the advice was that exercising while pregnant could lead to low birth weight and that it was important that the expecting mother ‘eat for two’ and rest to ensure that the baby remains healthy. More recent research shows that as long as the mother is generally healthy, light exercise 3-4 times per week is not associated with an increase in the risk of premature birth or low birth weight.7
Engaging in regular, gentle exercise has actually been found to help to reduce the risk of pregnancy-related complications and even to help prepare the body for labor.8
Exercise Does Not Have to Mean Going to The Gym
Women who have been active before should not need to make major changes to their routine during the first and second trimester. Those who were sedentary in the past may feel as though ‘having to exercise’ on top of all of the other challenges of pregnancy is a lot to handle. The good news is that they don’t have to join a gym and start going to exercise classes several times a week to reap the benefits of an active lifestyle. Indeed, someone who was sedentary before getting pregnant should probably avoid huge changes to their activity levels during pregnancy and would be better off gradually introducing exercise.
Even brisk walking can confer numerous health benefits. Studies show that walking can be helpful for managing glucose levels in women with gestational diabetes9, for example. Walking for 150 minutes per week, combined with light resistance training (such as using resistance bands) to improve muscle tone can be very helpful for pregnant women.
The best thing about walking is that you can do it without needing specialist equipment, and it is something that you can continue to do once the baby is born.
Talk to Your Doctor Before Starting a New Program
Your doctor will advise you on your target amount of weight gain over the course of your pregnancy, and also what your regular activity level should be. There are some instances where exercise is frowned upon during pregnancy10, such as if there has been bleeding during the second or third trimester, or if you have pregnancy-induced hypertension. Outside of that handful of cases, most women should be able to get some exercise. The important thing is to start gently, and if you are going to join a group class to find a trainer that has experience in working with pregnant women.
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