Exercise During Pregnancy (Part 5 of HMM Series)
Growing a baby is an amazing time in a woman’s life! But, it can also be challenging and stressful on your body. Eating a healthy diet is a BIG part of the equation to staying healthy and feeling good during your pregnancy. Another part of the equation is exercise, which is also very important. Staying fit not only keeps you physically and emotionally healthy, but it also helps you be more physically prepared for giving birth. Exercise benefits your baby too! A study done by the American Physiological Society demonstrated that safe prenatal exercise helps the development of the fetus’s nervous system.
We know exercise is beneficial for anyone who is not pregnant, but when it comes to exercising during pregnancy healthcare professionals tend to get nervous about making recommendations to these expectant women. Unfortunately, a lot of healthy women stop exercising when they become pregnant because they have a fear that they can harm their baby while exercising. The truth is that exercise is generally safe for a healthy expectant mother, as long as she is engaging in safe exercises and does not have any medical contraindications. So, should you exercise while you are pregnant? Absolutely! (Just get cleared by your doctor or midwife first.) Remember, the main goal of prenatal exercise is to feel good during your pregnancy and to prepare your body for your baby’s birth. In this blog post we will discuss the benefits of exercise, when to avoid exercise, how often you should exercise, and some examples of great exercises that are safe for pregnant women.
BENEFITS OF EXERCISE FOR MOM
• Helps manage stress.
• Keeps your energy level high.
• Strengthens your heart, lungs, and muscles.
• Helps control blood sugar by increasing insulin sensitivity. Exercise also reduces fasting and post-meal blood sugar.
• Increases lean body mass while reducing body fat.
• Prepares you for your baby’s birth by strengthening your pelvic floor and improving aerobic capacity. *Women who engage in regular exercise have been shown to have shorter labors and lower rates of C-sections.
• Improves posture.
• Helps you return to your pre-baby weight.
• Increases circulation.
• Reduces your risk of developing gestational diabetes by 49-78%!
• Allows you to have better control of weight gain during pregnancy.
• Reduces the need for medication or insulin in women with gestational diabetes.
• Improves quality of sleep.
• Lessens constipation.
• Improves bone density.
BENEFITS OF EXERCISE FOR BABY
• Helps develop your baby’s nervous system.
• Allows your baby for better control during his/her breathing movements.
• Decreases your baby’s risk of developing obesity, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
• Improves oral skills and academic performance in later childhood.
• Allows for nutrients and oxygen to get to your baby.
WHEN TO AVOID EXERCISE
Exercise may not be safe for some pregnant women with medical contraindications. When you are pregnant it is ALWAYS important to get approval from your doctor or midwife first before starting an exercise program. Here are some examples of when to avoid exercise:
• Pregnancy-induced high blood pressure
• Intrauterine growth retardation
• Placenta previa
• Persistent bleeding
• Preterm labor
• Incompetent cervix and cerclage
• Chest pain (unstable angina or ischemic chest pain)
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR PRENATAL EXERCISE
Frequency: The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) suggests “30 minutes or more of moderate exercise on most, if not all, days of the week” for pregnant women without medical contraindications.
• Listen to your body. If you are having trouble breathing, slow down. This is common during your third trimester because your growing baby is putting pressure on your lungs. If you are having trouble catching your breath, stop and rest, then adjust the intensity of your exercise.
• If you were an avid runner prior to becoming pregnant then it is generally considered safe to continue running during your pregnancy. However, activities like running or other high impact exercises may be uncomfortable to perform while pregnant due to the added stress that is put on your knees and hips. If these exercises do not feel comfortable then stop and try lower impact exercises, like aerobics, walking, or swimming.
• Be cautious when stretching or doing yoga. It is easy for pregnant women to over-stretch.
• Stay in balance. Avoid any exercise that requires precise balance, like dancing or skiing.
• Avoid exercises that involve sudden movements, like jumps, turns, or twists (all trimesters).
• Avoid activities like biking, heavy weight lifting, or any exercise where you can potentially fall on your belly.
• Use good form while exercising.
• Avoid lower back pain by keeping good posture.
• Abdominal exercises like crunches need to be performed correctly in order to prevent diastasis recti (splitting of the abs) from occurring. These exercises are generally safe in the first trimester, but should be shortened in the second trimester to avoid getting light headed.
• Avoid lying on your back for long periods of time in the second and third trimesters.
• After 16 weeks it is recommended to avoid exercises where the hips go above your heart.
• Avoid becoming overheated (this is mainly a concern in your third trimester). If this happens, stop, cool down and hydrate. Never exercise in hot or humid weather.
• Start slow. If you are not used to exercising then it is smart to start at a low intensity and gradually increase the duration and intensity. Always listen to your body and never overdo it!
• If you exercised regularly prior to getting pregnant then continue your exercise routine, but modify it to meet your changing body’s needs.
Examples of Safe Exercises During Pregnancy:
Specific Exercises to Help Prepare You For Birth:
• Tailor Sitting – This exercise stretches the inner thighs to prepare you for the pushing phase of labor.
• Squatting/Birth Squat – Squatting helps to open your pelvis, which occurs when you are pushing your baby out. Some women actually prefer to be in this position when delivering their baby.
• Butterfly – This exercise strengthens your inner and outer thighs.
• Pelvic Rocking/Cat & Cow Stretch – This exercise is very relaxing and is helpful in relieving back pain. Pelvic rocking (also known as Cat & Cow Stretch) lifts the uterus out of the pelvis, taking the pressure off of your lower back. In addition to helping relieve back pain, this exercise may also help with heartburn, frequent urination, digestion, and sciatic nerve pain.
• Kegels – This exercise is great for strengthening the pelvic floor muscles, which support the bladder, uterus, and rectum.
Here you can learn how to do some of these exercises properly.
My gift to you: Download my 3-Week Prenatal Exercise Log to keep yourself on track. This log allows you to monitor your type of exercise, duration, observations, and post-exercise blood sugar levels. It’s a simple way to track your activities throughout the week.
• Asprey L, Asprey D. The Better Baby Book. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons Inc; 2013.
• Birth Boot Camp, LLC. Birth Boot Camp: Training Couples in Natural Birth, Field Manual. Birth Boot Camp, LLC; 2012.
• Nichols L. Real Food for Gestational Diabetes: An Effective Alternative to the Conventional Nutrition Approach. Lily Nichols; 2015.
• Sears W, Sears M. The Healthy Pregnancy Book. New York: Little, Brown and Company; 2013.
ARE YOU READY TO TAKE THE NEXT STEP?
Stay tuned for next week’s post, Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy, Part 6 of my Healthy Mommy & Me series!
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