Exercising while Pregnant - 10 Things you Never Knew!

 

There is wide and varied advice on what exercises you should do during pregnancy.  If you’re reading this then it should mean congratulations are in order – not only because you’re pregnant but also because you’re keen to discover some essential facts about what to expect when you exercise while you’re expecting.

As well as doing your research online you should also ensure that your doctor and midwife are happy for you to undertake some form of exercise, and check at every appointment whether their advice has changed.


1. There are NO excuses! It’s Never Too Late to Start or Too Early to Stop.
2. Your Body is Changing and So Should Your Exercise Regime: Essential Dos and Don’ts.
3. Strengthening Your Mid-Section Muscles Can Reduce Tears During Pregnancy.
4. Exercising Whilst Pregnant Has Been Known to Reduce Labour Pain.
5. The First Trimester is the Best Time to Boost Your Blood Vessels with Exercise.
6. The Second Trimester is for Adapting Your Regime.
7. Squat Training in the Third Trimester Can Reduce Your Labour by an Hour.
8. Growing is Good - Weight Gain is Desirable During Pregnancy.
9. Lower Intensity Training is Better for the Pregnant Woman.
10. ‘Fankles’ are a By-Product of 75% of Pregnancies.
 


 

 

 

1. There are NO excuses! It’s Never Too Late to Start or Too Early to Stop.

 

For many women getting pregnant is the kick start they need to adopt a healthier lifestyle, while for others it’s an excuse to slow down.  It’s estimated that three quarters of pregnant women don’t get enough exercise because the truth is you can (and, in the vast majority of cases, should) exercise from the day you conceive until the day you deliver
Generally speaking, those who exercise during pregnancy experience less discomfort than those who don’t during the 40 weeks, and countless reports conclude that exercise benefits baby as much as it does mum. 
Babies with mums that moved more display:

• advanced neurobehavioral maturity
• higher stress tolerance
• better neurodevelopment
• lower propensities to obesity

In addition, women who exercise during pregnancy gain less additional weight (a degree of weight gain is desirable) and are quicker to lose the excess post-delivery.

 

 

 

2.  Your Body is Changing and So Should Your Exercise Regime: Essential Dos and Don’ts.

 

 

Alongside any medical advice given to you personally there are some general rules that apply to the pregnant exerciser.   Stick to this list and you should be fit to burst (in the best possible sense of the term)!

• Keep the impact low.  Your pelvic floor will have an increasing amount of weight to carry and high-impact exercise can weaken the area. 
• Support your boobs! If you only invest in one thing make it a high-support sports bra to give you support and avoid discomfort.
• Keep hydrated – this will help your muscles, assist oxygenation, and supply your body’s cooling system. 
• Snack don’t scrimp!  It’s advisable to have a light bite 30mins before you exercise.
• Avoid lying flat on your back, particularly after 16 weeks.  The weight of the baby puts pressure on the main blood vessel bringing blood away from the placenta. As an alternative lie on your side.
• Dodge all contact sports, don’t risk baby being hit!
• Stay at sea level (more or less) …. Scuba diving or altitude training puts the baby at incredible risk.

 

 

 

3. Strengthening Your Mid-Section Muscles Can Reduce Tears During Pregnancy

 

Naturally the tummy is the key area women want to remain toned after pregnancy.  There are many exercises that can safely be performed during pregnancy to keep the area strong, but it is also essential to allow the area to relax a little to accommodate the baby. 
Many women’s stomach muscles separate (diastasis recti) during pregnancy, leaving a gap between them.  Often it goes unnoticed as there’s no real pain, however this can then cause the muscles lower in the torso to split and tear which is very apparent to the sufferer.
Diastasis recti is most common in mothers:

• Aged 35 plus
• With a multiple pregnancy
• With a high birth weight baby
• Who have repeated pregnancies

There are some great back and abdominal strengthening exercises that you can safely undertake throughout your pregnancy to hopefully prevent and, if need be, counteract the effects of diastasis recti.
Yoga-style cat stretches, the Pilates ‘baby plank’ and a deadlift with a barbell all do the trick.

 

 

 

4. Exercising Whilst Pregnant Has Been Known to Reduce Labour Pain.

 


Every individual mother has a unique pain threshold and every labour brings its own specific level of pain.  Most of a person’s ability to cope with the pain without the use of drugs is a mix of genetics, the ability to breathe slowly (not necessarily deeply) and their attitude towards the pain itself. 
Most mothers report a drop in pain experienced with successive deliveries and the degree to which this is down to physical or psychological changes is open to debate.
However numerous research projects contest that fitter people are able to tolerate more pain, so if you exercise during pregnancy you can increase your pain tolerance. But not all exercise is equal in this regard. 
Research published by the University of Heidelberg concluded that it was the endurance athletes that were able to tolerate the most pain, followed by those involved in game sports who then beat those who didn’t exercise at all.   
So, if you want to endure labour pains introduce some while you’re pregnant.

 

 

 

5. The First Trimester is the Best Time to Boost Your Blood Vessels with Exercise

 

The first trimester is when most women feel fearful of exercise and when – despite the small size of the baby – most worry and often experience distress and discomfort.  
In actual fact, owing to the size and weight of the baby, this is when you can continue the greatest variety of exercises at the highest intensities, particularly if you were fighting fit when you conceived. 
Symptoms experienced at this time include:

1. Mood swings – as the hormone levels change
2. Fatigue – as your nutrients favour baby’s needs over yours
3. Constipation – as the food proceeds more slowly through the digestive tract to nourish the placenta
4. Insomnia – brought on by worry and discomfort

But the good news is that all of the above can be allayed by even very modest but regular exercising, even if it’s only brisk walking.  Physical activity boosts serotonin and endorphins (the body’s feel-good chemicals) as well as helping you regulate your bowels and energy levels.
In addition, independent research has concluded that exercising in the first trimester helps to forge extra blood vessels, improving the exchange of nutrients from mum to baby.


 

 

 

6. The Second Trimester is for Adapting Your Regime

 


While it’s perfectly safe to continue to exercise through your second trimester there are adaptions to be made.  The growing bump makes you heavier and it also shifts your centre of gravity, making you less agile and less stable.
Your body also starts to produce the hormone relaxin which loosens the joints to help make room for the baby as it grows and to prepare the body for delivery. Consequently, you’re at a greater risk of strain and sprains so you need to consider and control your range of motion in all physical activity.
At the second trimester stage it’s time to cut out extreme stretches, twists and turns, exercises that stress your joints and activities that require balance.
For endurance you can still swim and cycle, weight training is still possible plus the buoyancy of aqua aerobics gives the joints incredible support.

 

 

 

7. Squat Training in the Third Trimester Can Reduce Your Labour by an Hour

 

During the last three months pressure on the diaphragm restricts your lung capacity so you can get out of breath even quicker and may need to drop workout intensity as a result.
It’s also the time to add more exercises to stretch and strengthen the body in preparation for labour
Sitting, while it sounds completely sedentary, is not, particularly if you do it on a Swiss ball.  Remember, at full term you’ll be carrying an additional 25lbs or so in weight, so keeping the torso lifted and tall while sitting on an unstable surface will do you the world of good.  Take note though – your ball must be the right tension and size; fully inflated and at a height that positions your hips to just above knee level when you’re sitting on it.  
During labour, keeping yourself in an upright position enables gravity to help move the baby along, which can shorten labour by an hour, according to an Australian study by the Institute of Women’s and Children’s Health.
To stay vertical for a prolonged period requires strong legs and the best exercise to develop this strength is the squat. There are numerous varieties: you can squat up and down, position an exercise ball behind you against a wall as you squat or to build more strength you can hold a squat position for a few seconds with a weight.

 

 

 

8. Growing is Good - Weight Gain is Desirable During Pregnancy

 

It’s a given that your body will get bigger, but the growing baby is not the only factor.  Every mother needs to put on a little weight for a healthy pregnancy.
At the end of a typical full-term pregnancy the muscle layer of the uterus is up 0.9kg, blood volume has doubled, the breasts weigh on average 0.4kg more and fat deposits – essential for breastfeeding the baby – take the lion’s share at 4kg.
Your starting weight and height will naturally be a factor but here’s a breakdown of how much you should typically expect to gain while pregnant:

Underweight Women          Average Weight           Overweight Women
          28-40lbs                           25-35lbs                           15-25lbs

Continue to eat healthily and exercise throughout your pregnancy and you’ll control fat increase but may gain a little additional weight through muscle tone – don’t forget your legs get extra resistance training in the latter stages, carrying baby’s weight day in, day out, particularly if you’ve been squatting in trimester three as advised!

 

 

 

9. Lower Intensity Training is Better for the Pregnant Woman

 



The more you exert yourself when you exercise the more your blood and the oxygen it carries goes to your muscles and skin.  When you’re pregnant you need to cap your intensity to prevent too much blood diverting from the uterus and placenta.
So when you exercise while pregnant it’s advisable to remain under 60 percent of your maximum heart rate.  This is not something you want to calculate while pregnant because you need your maximum heart rate to do so, but for most women this means keeping the heart rate under 140bpm.


 

 

 

 

 

10.  ‘Fankles’ are a By-Product of 75% of Pregnancies

 

Fat ankles AKA ‘fankles’ are a by-product of 75% of pregnancies and as such probably the most common side effect.  Edema, to give it its clinical name, occurs because body fluid increases during pregnancy and gravitates to the lower legs and feet. 
As ever, exercise provides a solution because it increases blood and oxygen circulation and moves the fluids around.  Couple this with exercises that raise the legs – as many yoga and Pilates exercises do – and a decent intake of water to flush the system through, and you should have ankles to envy when you power walk into the delivery suite thanks to all your hard work.


Good luck!

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