Studies have shown that women who keep fit during pregnancy often enjoy easier, shorter and less complicated labors and also, a faster return to fitness once their baby is born. Current medical thinking and research supports exercise during pregnancy because of the comprehensive package of benefits associated with maintaining your fitness.
You may think exercise is bad for the baby or can have negative effects, but you would be surprised how beneficial exercise can be when pregnant, and can be a vital element to your trimesters. Keeping up your regular physical activity or workouts as long as you don't overly exert yourself and feel comfortable, you and your baby will be perfectly safe.
These health and fitness benefits include:
- Better circulation
- Less unnecessary weight gain
- Reduced swelling
- Less abdominal discomfort
- Fewer pregnancy and labour problems
So, it’s the green light for exercise but before you begin training or continue with your current program, there are some sensible precautions to consider.
Pregnancy symptoms to watch out for:
As your pregnancy progresses, your body undergoes many changes, not just visual ones like your developing ‘bump’. These include:
- Weight gain
- Changing blood pressure
- Changing resting heart rate
- Increased flexibility as the hormone relaxin is released
- Variable levels of fatigue
You may also experience some or all of the following conditions:
- Morning sickness (often disappearing after 12 weeks)
- Increased sweating
- Hormonal mood changes
Frequently, by the end of the fourth month most or all of the above symptoms subside and renewed energy levels and vitality are felt. If you have found it difficult to maintain your fitness because of the changes that your body is undergoing, by 16 weeks you often feel raring to go. Providing that you have no contraindications (medical reasons why you shouldn’t exercise during pregnancy), you can follow a sensible training routine for as long as you wish.
For the majority of women, following an exercise program during pregnancy is safe and provides a comprehensive package of benefits. But the extent, duration and intensity of workouts is dependant on how you feel. As safe as working out is, if you don't feel comfortable keeping up certain exercises or working at the same intensity, then change to whatever level you feel okay with.
The key point to remember when exercising through your pregnancy is to keep all your training at a comfortable level. Particularly if you have been a regular exerciser before becoming pregnant, avoid pushing too hard. The focus should be on general fitness maintenance and well-being, rather than competition and exercising to exhaustion.
Follow the top 11 tips to ensure that you always train safely:
Always keep well hydrated
You may find that you sweat more due to natural body changes, so paying extra attention to how much water you are losing. As water is needed for numerous basic functions of the body, when making a baby, the body needs to make sure these functions, and the water needed for them, are at optimum level. Drinking is important, both when pregnant and not, so keep a bottle of water handy when exercising, even if only a light workout, and make sure you stay hydrated before, during and after a workout.
Choose comfortable, loose-fitting clothing
As you begin to blossom with your bump, other areas of the body begin to change; breasts enlarge due to milk preparation and the pregnancy hormones kick the body into fat storage mode, to ensure your body is prepared for labour and gestation. Loose clothing will help keep you cool, particularly as your shape changes, and stop you from feeling overly self-conscious or restricted. Maternity clothing can be expensive as it is and so forking out on maternity gym clothing may not sound so appealing. Instead just root through some large, light clothing, even using some of your partner's unused clothing as an alternative.
Allow longer recoveries
Your levels of fatigue will alter through your pregnancy so take extra rest when you feel you need to. Growing a human isn't always the easiest job to do, and went continuing your work, housework and social responsibilities, you may find yourself more exhausted than normal. So if you do find the energy to fit in some exercise, make sure you've fully recovered and rested, as burning yourself out will do nobody any good.
Warm up and cool down
Pregnancy affects your circulatory system and blood pressure, and so extend both your warm up and cool down to 15-20 minutes so that your body gradually adapts to the session. Blood pressure changes are certainly not to be ignored when pregnant, and many people advise that ensuring your heart rate has returned to a normal level slowly and safely. Stretches, slow-paced cardio and gentle joint rotations are perfect to wind down after a workout.
Protect your back at all times
The back increasingly comes under load of pressure as your baby grows, so always consider your body position, particularly if carrying out resistance training. As your baby grows the hollow in your back will become larger, this can lead to back aches and pain, potentially exacerbated by exercise. Instead try some abdominal and core exercises to strengthen the back and stomach muscles.
Avoid exercising on your back after 20 weeks
After 20 weeks, the weight of the womb can cause compression of the inferior vena cava, the main vessel taking blood to the heart, which in turn can cause dizziness, numbness at the extremities and a lack of oxygen to the foetus. Particularly when exercising it is important to avoid lying flat on your back as it can cause these negative effects. Instead try and engage back and core muscles along with your arms to keep your back supported and elevated.
During your second trimester, the hormone relaxin peaks, this is the hormone that softens the ligaments and so if overstretched, it can cause ligaments the “snap” back into their original shape. Ligaments support the structures of the joints and if not properly looked after, could cause serious problems. When stretching or doing yoga, it is important to tailor these activities to your abilities and not push yourself.
Consider your energy requirements
Generally when pregnant your energy requirements will change, similarly to recovery, your body requires more energy and more fuel. Consulting with a doctor or listening to your body’s fatigue is important to avoid over exerting yourself and fixing your nutritional intake accordingly. You need to ensure all yours and your baby’s nutritional needs are met, particularly when exercising regularly.
Low impact activities
A lot of joints and areas of the body are put under strain when pregnant, your back and ankles for example, and exercise can exacerbate any problems that naturally occur during your trimesters. To avoid excessive pounding and damage to slacker joints, try activities such as swimming and cycling and only jog if you jogged prior to pregnancy. Just because you're not sweating buckets after every workout like you used to, doesn't mean that you're not exercising. Now you have an excuse to take it a little easier in the gym.
Joints inevitably become more laxed when pregnant, due to changes in hormones, and so ensuring you have sufficient joint support when exercise is important to avoid making any potential problems or discomfort worse. Knee supports if needed and appropriate shoes with ankle support and cushioning is ideal to ensure your legs are well protected against any intense strain.
Posture and technique
Whether pregnant or not, technique is one of the most important parts of exercise, and when pregnant, your body can become more vulnerable to pains and problems. That's why it is important to put extra focus into your movements and posture as your shape changes, making sure the weights or intensity is low and you are exercising proper posture to avoid strain. Good technique is vital to ensure safety for both you and your child.