Health professionals all agree that staying fit throughout your pregnancy will have a huge impact on your pregnancy, labour/delivery and recovery. Some of the remarkable benefits of exercising during pregnancy include:
• improved mood, sleep and energy, selfimage, balance, posture, tone and strength
• better preparation for labour
• faster recovery postpartum
• regaining pre-pregnancy figure quickly
• reduced back pain, constipation, morning sickness, stress, bloating and swelling
• prevent or manage gestational diabetes
All this from just mild to moderate exercise! No pill can certainly replace all of these amazing benefits.
Not sure where to start? The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends 30 minutes of daily exercise. Chances are if you participated in activities before pregnancy, you can continue your activities during pregnancy with your caregivers approval.
You might need to reduce your intensity but the main idea is to listen to your body and stop if you feel uncomfortable. You should be able to carry on a conversation comfortably during your workout.
Now is not the time to train for races, make huge strength gains or to lose weight. Speaking to your caregiver before continuing your current exercise routine is a must. Cramping, bleeding/spotting and dizziness are sure signs to stop what you’re doing. Contact sports, downhill skiing, scuba diving and horseback riding are obvious no-nos.
The single most important exercise to perform daily are Kegels. These magical exercises strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor and help to regain bladder control after pregnancy. They also help making pushing during childbirth easier as well as reduce your chance of tearing during labour. Not bad! Perform Kegels by imagining you are stopping the flow of urine, squeeze for five to ten seconds and release. Aim for daily repetitions of at least fifty Kegels and try to increase the time held. No one knows when you are doing your Kegels and they can be done anywhere: while driving, cooking, at your workstation, talking on the phone and voila! You have accumulated your daily repetitions.
Many women participate in light cardiovascular activities but ladies, don’t forget about strength training! Using light weights will have immense benefits such as improved posture, better muscle tone and increased strength. You will certainly need that strength to lift your growing baby.
A woman’s body changes during pregnancy: the shoulders become more rounded forward; the lower back becomes more lordotic (arches) as your belly grows and your center of gravity changes. Your ligaments become more lax with the hormone relaxin being released increasing your risk for injuries.
Proper strength training can strengthen the upper back to bring the shoulders to a more neutral position, help support the lower back by strengthening the deep abdominals and tone the arms, legs and glutes for better support.
There are, however, exercises that should never be performed during pregnancy. Abdominal crunches or side raises should be avoided during all trimesters. Training the most outer layer of the abs called the rectus abdominus with crunches and the like greatly increases your chance of diastasis recti. Diastasis is a separation of the abdominal wall. You can check to see if you have it by lying on your back, lifting up your head and placing your finger in the grove of the abdominals right above or below your belly button. If you can place more than two fingers in this groove, you have diastasis. If you are uncertain of the current state of this area following this self-check, be sure to seek consult from your pre-natal health practitioner. Often times after pregnancy, this groove comes together to a normal position.
If you are new to strength training, enlist the help of a certified personal trainer who has experience working with pregnant women. There are also a number of prenatal DVDs ranging from yoga, salsa, strength training and even belly dancing. Find one that you enjoy and try to be consistent.
Always err on the side of caution. Listen to your body and check with your caregiver if you’re not sure about something. No question is silly! Eat nutritiously, steer away from junk foods and exercise regularly. Enjoy this joyous time.
Sarah Zahab BSc, CK, CSEP-CEP