Exercise During Pregnancy
It seems so easy to slip into a more sedentary routine during pregnancy. Those swollen ankles, that achy back and that baffling lack of energy don’t really make for good motivators for exercise! However, an active pregnancy is the best way to ensure easy childbirth, unless of course, there are some serious complications.
There are many benefits that may accrue from exercising during pregnancy –
- Exercise can help ease or even prevent the discomfort associated with pregnancy.
- It helps reduce constipation by accelerating movement in the intestines.
- It boosts energy levels and improves overall health.
- Exercising daily will help you sleep better by relieving the stress and anxiety that might make you restless at night.
- It may also help you look better by increasing the blood flow to your skin, giving you a healthy glow.
- The right exercise also helps prepare for labor by improving stamina and muscle strength. In fact, doctors say that being in good shape may even shorten your labor and speed your recovery.
- It has been found that babies born to mothers who were active during their pregnancies have better neurodevelopment and are stronger and healthier, compared to those born to mothers who had sedentary pregnancies.
Tips For a Sustainable Regimen
Before you start any exercise regimen, check with your gynaecologist.
- Set small targets and do not exercise for as long and with as much intensity as you did pre-pregnancy. In pregnancy, a hormone called relaxin completely relaxes the joints and ligaments. That is why pregnant women are more prone to aches, pains, strains and sprains.
- Monitor your heart rate and breathing. Generally speaking, your heart rate should not exceed 140 beats/minute. If your heart is any faster, so is your baby's heart.
Note: Invest in a heart rate monitor if your heart tends to pump fast. Most feature an alarm that sounds if you exceed the safe target range.
- If you feel breathless, slow down or take a break. In the first trimester, your blood volume is initially too low to accommodate both you and a growing fetus. This may result in breathlessness and faintness. Adjust your exercise levels accordingly.
- Mind your back! Back strain is very common in pregnancy, especially in the second and third trimesters as the abdomen swells and pushes against the spine. Also, in later stages, the centre of balance changes and you are much more likely to be clumsy and have more falls. So once you have completed 20 weeks of pregnancy, any exercise that requires you to be in a supine position is taboo.
- Pace your exercise. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day. However, bear in mind that even shorter or less frequent workouts can effectively keep you in good shape for the rest of your pregnancy and prepare you for labor. For example, if you haven’t been exercising regularly, and would like to begin during pregnancy, start with as little as five minutes of physical activity a day. Build up to 10 minutes, 15 minutes, and so on, until you reach at least 30 minutes a day.
- Remember to stretch! Stretching before and after workouts, ensures fewer aches and pains later.
- Drink plenty of fluids before, during and after exercise.
- Never exercise to the point of exhaustion.
Best Exercises For Pregnancy
The most comfortable exercises during pregnancy are those that do not require your body to bear extra weight.
Walking is a great aerobic exercise to follow during pregnancy. You can walk as fast or as slowly as you like, it conditions the body with minimal stress on the joints. Aim to walk briskly for at least thirty minutes every day (or start with three days a week) for best effects.
Swimming provides a welcome feeling of buoyancy (floatability or the feeling of weightlessness) and has little impact on the knees and ankles. At the same time, it conditions the back and leg muscles gently. That is why many doctors believe that is one of the best forms of exercise for pregnant women.
Dancing is a fun way to stay fit during pregnancy. Some things to keep in mind while dancing include -- Keep one foot on the floor at all times.
Do not jump, or use jerky movements. Avoid quick turns that might cause jarring. Dance facing one direction instead.
In fact, the one dance that was originally created as a means of helping women prepare their abdominal muscles for labor is Belly Dance. Even today, movements similar to those of Belly Dance are used as birth rituals in some Middle Eastern and North African communities. Women gather around a friend or family member undergoing labor, and perform the undulating movements as she prepares to give birth.
Special Exercises for Pregnancy
Some exercises are meant to condition muscles and body functions that are called into effect during labour. Kegel exercises help to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles (the muscles that aid in controlling urination). This muscle group is the one most engaged during labour.
Note: Many women do not know where their pelvic floor muscles are located. They are easy to find. Pretend you're trying to stop urinating. Squeeze those muscles for a few seconds, then relax. You're using the correct muscles if you feel a pull. Or place a finger inside your vagina and feel it tighten when you squeeze. Try it for five seconds at a time, four or five times in a row. Repeat throughout the day.
When performing Kegel exercises, keep the following tips in mind –
- Focus only on the pelvic muscles. Do not tighten other muscles (stomach or legs, for example) at the same time.
- Concentrating on the exercise may make you hold your breath – avoid this, for it is important that your body and muscles continue to receive oxygen while you exercise.
- Do not do Kegel’s exercises when you are actually urinating. This could lead to incomplete emptying of your bladder, which increases the risk of urinary tract infections.
Breathing exercises which make labour easier, also known after their creator the French obstetrician Ferdinand Lamaze, are great to learn during pregnancy. These focused breathing techniques for labor are generally based on the premise that how you breathe not only determines how much (or how little) oxygen you inhale, it also determines which muscles you clench and which ones you relax. Lamaze exercises aim to educate mothers-to-be that their bodies are beautifully equipped for childbirth. Through breathing alone, they can lower their heart rate, relax their pelvic muscles and manage labour contractions (they tell you never to call them labour `pains”)
Note: To see what a Lamaze class is like, go to Look Inside a Lamaze Class
During pregnancy, yoga Asanas are a gentle way to keep active and supple. They may relieve edema (fluid retention), cramping, constipation, fatigue, morning sickness and other common complaints during pregnancy. Coupled with yogic breathing or Pranayaam, yoga poses help turn the fetus, relieve tension around the cervix and birth canal, and help open the cervix in the last trimester.
For some appropriate Yoga exercises to follow during pregnancy, go to Recommended Poses for Prenatal Yoga
Exercises During Bed Rest
Recurrent abortions, unusual bleeding and twin pregnancies are some common reasons why mothers-to-be may be advised bed rest. However, lying on a bed does not mean that need to be completely inactive. Here are some gentle stretches and exercises that can be done while in bed.
- Kegel’s exercises can be easily done lying down. They condition the pelvic muscles for labour.
- Light back stretches done while lying sideways (never on the back)
- Deep breathing or Pranayam.
- Pull the abdomen in towards the back – this helps develop a little abdominal muscle tone.
Exercises to Avoid
Avoid all contact sports, scuba diving, exercises that require you to lie flat on your back, and activities that may lead to falls or abdominal injuries.
Did You Know?
If you can talk easily without being out of breath while you exercise, you are probably on the right track. Check your pulse rate during the workout. Multiplying that by 6 gives you the heart rate. Ensure that at no time this goes over 140 beats\minute.
Tips to Make Exercise Interesting
- Start small. Don’t join an expensive class or a fancy gym right away. Try a daily walk through your neighborhood. You can keep changing your route to keep it interesting.
- Find a partner. It is much easier (and fun) to exercise with someone you can talk to.
- Listening to music while you exercise can really get you going!
- Get creative. Consider hiking, rowing, skiing or dancing if walking or swimming do not appeal. Some women may find walking briskly in the mall works well too!
- Allow yourself adequate rest. Your tolerance for strenuous exercise will decrease as your pregnancy progresses.
When NOT to Exercise
Here is a list of medical conditions in which exercise during pregnancy is contraindicated
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Placenta previa, a problem with the placenta that can cause excessive bleeding before or during delivery
If all is well, but you still experience any of the below warning signs, stop at once and report them to your doctor.
- Blurred vision
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Abdominal pain
Here are some pregnancy-related conditions in which exercise is ill-advised –
- Early contractions
- Vaginal bleeding
- Pregnancy-induced high blood pressure
- Premature rupture of membranes (when the water sac around the fetus breaks prematurely).