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Exercising During Pregnancy: What You Need to Know

Updated: May 1



Exercising during pregnancy offers numerous benefits for both the mother and the baby, including improved mood, energy, and posture, as well as reduced signs of depression, anxiety, stress, and back pain. However, it's crucial to approach exercise in pregnancy safely. Consulting with a doctor and a professional trainer before starting any pregnancy workout, including low impact exercises, kegel exercises, and prenatal yoga, can ensure that both mother and baby remain healthy and safe throughout all trimesters.


Tailoring workouts to include the best exercises for pregnancy, such as strength training, stretching exercises, and pelvic floor exercises during pregnancy, can lead to significant benefits. It can help manage gestational diabetes, reduce the risk of prenatal issues like vaginal bleeding, and enhance overall self-confidence. Nonetheless, recognising when to modify or pause exercise during pregnancy, especially in early stages or when experiencing discomfort, remains paramount to exercising safely during pregnancy. It’s about finding a balance to reap the pregnancy exercise benefits while maintaining safety throughout.



Understanding the Myths vs. Reality


Debunking Common Myths


  • Myth: Exercising causes back pain and injury to the baby. Reality: Proper exercise can actually strengthen back muscles and decrease pain. Training during pregnancy is not only safe with the right precautions but also beneficial, as it does not harm the baby when done correctly.


  • Myth: Pregnancy means giving up on core exercises. Reality: Strengthening core muscles through safe, tailored exercises can facilitate easier delivery and reduce back pain, debunking the myth that core training is unsafe during pregnancy.


  • Myth: Pregnant women should stay inactive and avoid lifting weights. Reality: Moderate weight training and staying active are encouraged unless medically advised otherwise. These activities support better physical health and can lead to a smoother pregnancy and recovery.



Addressing Exercise Misconceptions

  • Myth: Exercise leads to increased back pain and gestational complications. Reality: Regular, appropriate exercise during pregnancy can lead to reduced back pain and a lower risk of gestational diabetes, contributing to overall cardiovascular health and stress reduction.


  • Myth: It's impossible to return to pre-pregnancy weight and shape. Reality: With balanced exercise and nutrition, many women successfully return to their pre-pregnancy weight. Exercise also improves post-delivery recovery, making it easier to regain fitness.



Impact of Exercise on Pregnancy

Positive Outcomes:

  • Regular prenatal exercise contributes to shorter and less complicated labor.

  • Enhances mood and sleep, reduces stress, and boosts overall energy levels.

  • Strengthens the pelvic floor, which can improve the childbirth process and recovery.


Understanding these realities helps in overcoming unfounded fears, such as the risk of miscarriage from exercise, which predominantly stem from misinformation. As confidence in the safety and benefits of prenatal exercise grows, so does the likelihood of a healthier pregnancy experience.



Benefits of Exercise for Mother and Baby


Exercise during pregnancy is not only beneficial for the mother's health but also plays a crucial role in the baby's development. Engaging in regular physical activity helps manage weight gain throughout the pregnancy, ensuring both mother and baby maintain a healthy weight. This is vital as it reduces the risk of gestational diabetes and hypertension, common concerns during pregnancy.



Physiological and Psychological Benefits


  1. Strengthening Muscles and Joints: Regular exercise strengthens the mother's muscles and joints, which can alleviate back pain and improve posture. This is particularly beneficial as the body undergoes significant changes to accommodate the growing baby.

  2. Enhanced Cardiovascular Health: Exercise improves blood circulation, which is crucial for delivering oxygen and nutrients to the baby. It also helps in maintaining the mother's cardiovascular health, reducing the risk of hypertension.

  3. Mental Health Improvements: Physical activity is known to boost mood and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. For expectant mothers, this is especially important as hormonal changes can affect mental health.


Benefits for the Baby

  •  Optimal Weight at Birth: Babies born to mothers who exercise regularly are more likely to have an optimal birth weight, reducing the risk of obesity and diabetes later in life.


  •  Improved Stress Response: These babies often show better stress tolerance and advanced neurodevelopment, attributed to enhanced placental growth and function from maternal exercise.


  •  Shorter and Easier Labor: Mothers who engage in exercises like pelvic floor workouts and prenatal yoga often experience shorter and less complicated labor, benefiting both mother and baby during the delivery process.


Regular exercise, under professional guidance, ensures that pregnant women can enjoy these benefits safely, promoting a healthier pregnancy and a smoother transition into motherhood.




Safe Exercises for Each Trimester


First Trimester: Foundation and Adaptation

During the first trimester, the focus is on establishing a safe exercise routine that accommodates the body's changing needs. Core training, including kegel exercises and wall sits, helps in strengthening the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles, which are crucial for a healthy pregnancy and delivery. It is advisable to incorporate low-impact aerobic activities, aiming for 150 minutes per week to maintain cardiovascular health. However, exercises that involve overstretching or high impact should be avoided to protect the weaker ligaments and joints during pregnancy.


Second Trimester: Strengthening and Maintenance

As the belly grows, modifying exercises to maintain balance and avoid strain becomes essential. Utilise stability balls for seated exercises and side-lying positions to support the back and align the spine. Continue with strength training, focusing on lower body exercises like squats and lunges, which aid in easier post-delivery recovery. It's also beneficial to include upper body workouts using resistance bands to improve posture and reduce back pain. Always ensure to monitor the heart rate and avoid overheating.


Third Trimester: Preparation and Adjustment

In the final trimester, the emphasis shifts to preparing for delivery while maintaining fitness. Continue with modified core exercises such as the "hug baby"exercise, which safely engages the core without compromising the baby's position. Adjust planks to be performed on a box or bench to keep the body upright. It's crucial to listen to the body's signals more intensely during this period, reducing the intensity of workouts and increasing rest periods as needed. Pregnant women with specific conditions like sciatica or varicose veins should tailor their exercises accordingly, possibly wearing compression socks to alleviate discomfort.




Adjusting Your Workout Routine


Proper Assessment and Program Design

A well-educated pregnant woman, under professional guidance, will have a training routine tailored to her needs. It's essential that the fitness program considers her pre-pregnancy fitness level and any health conditions. Trainers should design a comfortable and beneficial workout plan based on the woman’s fitness history and any existing medical conditions, ensuring that it includes:


  • Proper Warm-Ups and Cool-Downs: An 8-12 minute warm-up and appropriate cool down period are crucial to prepare the body for exercise and aid recovery afterward.


  • Hydration and Temperature Control: Staying hydrated and avoiding overheating are critical. Pregnant women should be mindful of their body temperature and hydration levels during workouts.


  • Position Modifications: Exercises should be adjusted to avoid pressure on the abdomen and to accommodate balance changes. For instance, switching from a free bike to a stationary bike and avoiding lying on the back or stomach.



Core and Balance Training

Maintaining core strength and balance is vital during pregnancy. The program should include

exercises that focus on the pelvic floor, abdominal muscles, and lower back to support the body

as it changes. Recommended exercises include:

  •  Kegel exercises

  •  "Hug baby" exercises

  •  Wall sits


These exercises help in strengthening the core and can improve posture, reduce back pain, and

support postpartum recovery.



Gradual Progression and Consistency

Post-delivery, it's important to gradually return to exercise, starting with gentle activities like

walking and pelvic floor exercises, then progressively increasing the intensity and duration of

workouts. This approach helps in regaining strength and mobility. Regular exercise should be a

consistent part of the daily routine, focusing on:

  •  Lower body exercises, such as squats and lunges, to enhance post-delivery mobility.

  •  At least 150 minutes of moderate to intense aerobic training per week, spread over 3 to 4 sessions.


Each session should be carefully monitored by a healthcare provider, especially before resuming high-impact or strenuous activities. This gradual and consistent approach ensures safe and effective adjustments to the workout routine during and after pregnancy.




Recognising When to Pause or Modify Exercise

Pregnancy is a time of significant change, and while exercise offers numerous benefits, it's essential to recognise when to modify or pause your routine. Here are key signs that indicate a need to adjust your exercise plan:


Key Signs to Watch For


  • Vaginal Bleeding or Leaking: Any occurrence of vaginal bleeding or fluid leaking should prompt an immediate cessation of exercise and consultation with your healthcare provider.

  • Dizziness and Nausea: Experiencing dizziness or nausea during or after working out is a signal that your body may be overstressed or dehydrated.

  • Painful Uterine Contractions: While some contractions are normal, painful or regular contractions could be a sign of preterm labor.


  • Headaches, Swollen or Painful Calves: These symptoms can be indicators of blood pressure issues or deep vein thrombosis, especially if the calves are also warm to touch and red.


  • Muscle Weakness and Chest Pain: Sudden muscle weakness or chest pain are serious symptom that require immediate medical attention.

  • Sudden Shortness of Breath: Without exertion, if you experience sudden difficulties in breathing, it could indicate cardiovascular issues.

  • Exhaustion or Breast Infection: Feeling unusually tired or having symptoms of a breast infection (like tenderness and redness) are also reasons to pause and seek advice.



When to Contact Your Healthcare Provider


  •  Immediate Symptoms: If you experience any of the severe symptoms such as vaginal bleeding, chest pain, or regular painful contractions, contact your healthcare provider immediately.

  • Persistent Discomfort: For less severe symptoms that persist, such as mild dizziness, headaches, or nausea, schedule a visit to discuss possible adjustments to your exercise regimen.


Safe Practice Tips


  • Regular Monitoring: Always monitor how you feel during and after exercise and adjust the intensity accordingly.

  •  Stay Hydrated and Cool: Ensure adequate hydration and avoid overheating during workouts.

  •  Follow Professional Advice: Maintain regular check-ups with your healthcare provider to adapt your exercise routine as your pregnancy progresses.


Recognising these signs and responding promptly ensures the safety of both mother and baby during pregnancy. Always err on the side of caution and consult with healthcare professionals when in doubt.




The Role of Professional Guidance


Engaging with trained professionals is crucial in crafting a safe and effective exercise program during pregnancy. These experts are equipped to conduct thorough assessments, taking into account a woman's fitness level, pregnancy stage, and medical history. This ensures that the exercises recommended are both safe and beneficial, specifically tailored to the needs of the pregnant individual.


  • Assessment and Customisation: A fitness trainer or healthcare provider should first. evaluate the pregnant woman's current fitness status and any pre-existing health conditions. This assessment helps in designing an exercise regimen that accommodates her specific trimester and physical or psychological changes, ensuring safety and effectiveness.


  • Monitoring and Adjustments: It is vital for trainers to continuously monitor the progress and well-being of the pregnant woman throughout her exercise program. They should provide guidance on staying hydrated, managing body temperature, and adjusting exercises to maintain balance and prevent strain on the centre of gravity. Modifications to the routine should be made based on the woman’s comfort and. any new symptoms she may experience.


By following professional advice and undergoing regular checks, pregnant women can maximise the benefits of exercising while minimising risks to themselves and their babies. This professional oversight is instrumental in navigating the complexities of exercise during pregnancy.




Conclusion


Throughout this article, curated meticulously by Jana Saade, we have delved into the comprehensive benefits and safe practices of exercising during pregnancy, debunking prevalent myths and highlighting tailored workouts beneficial for each trimester. It is evident that with the correct approach, physical activities not only foster a stronger bond between mother and child but also significantly contribute to the emotional and physical well-being of the mother. Safe exercise during pregnancy, underpinned by professional guidance, promises a range of benefits from improved mood and posture to a decrease in pregnancy-related discomforts, underscoring the indispensability of incorporating regular, tailored exercise into one's prenatal care regimen.


Moreover, recognising the cues from one’s body to modify or pause exercise, and appreciating the nuanced needs during each trimester, are pivotal in navigating this journey safely and effectively. The implications of such practices resonate not just during the pregnancy but extend into smoother delivery and recovery phases, making it a cornerstone of prenatal care. To ensure that every pregnant woman has access to the most beneficial and safe exercise plans, tailored to their unique needs and circumstances, joining SPARK can be a transformative step. Our qualified coaches are committed to crafting personalised programs that resonate with the information and guidelines discussed, ultimately enhancing the pregnancy experience while ensuring safety and health for both mother and baby.



This article is authored by Coach Jana Saade from SPARK Athletic Center.

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