Regular exercise builds bones and muscles, gives you energy and keeps you healthy. Therefore, are pregnant women allowed to exercise? Yes!
Benefits of Exercise
Normally, during pregnancy, you suddenly experience being tired often. You’re gaining weight from the progressive growth of your baby and you may not feel your best. Fortunately, exercise may help provide some relief. It has been recommended that becoming active and exercising at least 30 minutes on most, if not all days of the week can benefit your health in the following ways:
- Increases your energy, improves your mood and posture
- Promotes muscle tone, strength and endurance
- Helps reduce backaches, constipation, bloating and swelling
- Helps you sleep better
- And in most cases, help prevent or manage gestational diabetes
- Improve your ability to cope with the pain of labor
I have noticed that women who exercise during pregnancy makes it easier for them to get back in shape after the baby is born. However, I do not recommend exercise to lose weight while you are pregnant.
Changes in Your Body
Pregnancy causes many changes in your body. The pregnancy hormones, the presence of your growing fetus as well as, the loss of your core muscles because of the increasing size of your tummy will affect your ability to exercise.
The new addition to your body causes the pregnant woman’s heart rate to increase consequently exercise will make your body work harder. The hormones produced during pregnancy cause the ligaments that support your joints to become relaxed and more mobile hence more at risk of injury. Remember that during pregnancy you are carrying extra pounds as much as 24-40 pounds at the end of pregnancy. The extra weight in the front of your body shifts your center of gravity and places stress on joints and muscles, especially those in the pelvis and lower back. This can make you less stable, cause back pain and make you more likely to lose your balance and fall, especially in later pregnancy.
Therefore, it’s important not to overdo it. Moderation is always the key. Try to keep your heart rate as normal as possible. Most physical therapists recommend choose an exercise that keeps one foot on the ground during the routine. You should be able to talk normally while exercising.
Talk with your doctor to make sure you do not have any obstetric or health condition that would limit your activity before beginning your exercise program. I usually ask about any specific exercises or sports that interest you then from there I try to advise you a good routine you can do. I do not recommend exercise if you have vaginal bleeding or any risks factors that could cause preterm labor or premature rupture of membranes. If you have high blood pressure, I usually monitor these women closely and allow low impact exercises if tolerated.
I believe most forms of exercise are safe during pregnancy. Unfortunately because of the growing tummy and joints relaxing, some types of exercise especially those involving changes in positions and movements, these would be uncomfortable, tiring or could be harmful for pregnant women. Consults with physical therapists (PT), they recommend exercises that:
- Makes sure that one foot is on the ground
- No abrupt changes of position or direction of movement, jerky or bouncy
- Does not entail pregnant women with backs flat on the ground with legs straight
- Standing too long with legs straight and close together
Using the PTs’ advises, so the best exercises would be:
- Walking. If you were not active before getting pregnant, walking is a great way to start an exercise program.
- Swimming. The water ensures that you don't strain your joints and muscles, keeps you cool, and helps prevent your legs from swelling.
- Yoga. The slow movement and stretching helps relieve one of lower back pains. The breathing exercises calms women and prepares them for childbirth. (Dona Esteban, our yoga guru in St. Luke’s Global City has classes suited for prenatal and postnatal women. Check her out)
- Low impact floor Aerobics is a good way to keep your heart and lungs strong. Water aerobics also are good exercise.
- Cycling provides a good aerobic workout. But I suggest you to stick with stationary or recumbent biking later in pregnancy since the growing tummy could make you lose your balance and prone to falling.
- Weights training. PTs suggest use lightweights and keep seated. This exercise keeps your muscles strong and helps you tolerate common aches and pains experienced during the pregnancy.
Before you start any exercise routine, remember to start slow with a 5-10 minutes warm up then the exercise proper and end with 5-10 minutes cool down. Warm up and cool down routines usually involve stretching to avoid stiffness and soreness. Most trainers recommend you hold each stretch for at least 10-20 seconds.
Things to Watch
When you exercise, follow these general guidelines for a safe and healthy exercise program:
- Keep cool. Drink lots of water and avoid exercising in hot and humid weather
- Wear comfortable clothes and bra that fits well for support
- After the first trimester of pregnancy, avoid doing any exercise on your back.
- Do not exercise to the point that you are exhausted. Remember a good pace is when you can still speak comfortably while doing the routine.
Stop exercising and call your doctor if you get any of these symptoms:
- Vaginal bleeding or fluid leaking from the vagina
- Uterine contractions
- Dizziness or feeling faint or shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Muscle weakness
- Calf pain or swelling
- Decreased fetal movement
After the Baby’s Born
Check with your obstetrician before starting or resuming your exercise program. I usually recommend 6 weeks after delivery (after puerperal phase). As always since post delivery is hard work, start slow then build up to your pre-pregnancy routine.
Walking is a great way to get back into exercising. Walking has the added advantage of getting both you and the baby out of the house for exercise and fresh air. As you feel stronger, consider more vigorous exercise.
On a final note
I suggest talk to your doctor before you start any exercise routine when you get pregnant and after you give birth. In my opinion, unless you have a risk that would prevent you from exercising, every pregnant mom should at least walk daily for 30 minutes starting on the first trimester because the activity can help prepare one for labor and childbirth. Exercising afterward can help get you back in shape.