Women ask me all the time if it's safe to exercise while they are pregnant.
There are lots of myths and misinformation about exercise during pregnancy floating around and it can be confusing, especially if you are a first time mom.
As with any exercise program, you should consult your Dr. or OB before starting a new fitness regimen, but in general staying active and getting regular exercise during your pregnancy is great for both you and your baby! Even as little as 10-15 minutes a day of increased activity can have very positive results both during pregnancy and post baby.
Exercising and staying active throughout the whole pregnacy has many benefits. Exercising regularly during pregnancy will bring you all of the regular benefits of working out- like feeling better, increased self esteem, stress relief, better body control and balance, and increased muscular strength. But working out during these special 9 months can also help keep you feeling good while pregnant, prepare your body for childbirth and aid in postpartum recovery. In a study done at Thomas Jefferson University they found that women who exercised regularly throughout their pregnancy also had a decreased rate of c-sections (in an otherwise healthy pregnancy), had a lower chance of developing gestational diabetes and had lower rates of high blood pressure than those woman who did not exercise regularly (1). Plus, keeping your muscles strong will not only help you be prepared for the delivery itself but can help your body recover faster and also help you build the strength it takes to be a new mommy. You don't know how heavy juggling the diaper bag and that infant car seat while trying to unlock the door is going to seem until you get there. Believe me, having some upper body and back strength can be a new mom's best friend!
Of course there are some things to think about when working out and growing a baby at the same time. For example, your balance may be a bit wobbly (especially after the first trimester) so you want to avoid activities which challenge that too much like riding a bike (although indoor cycling is considered safe since the bike is balanced on its own). Try to avoid too many exercises that require extreme balance or cause you to be unstable to avoid falls, for example now is not the time to try and perfect that single leg box jump! In addition, beware of too much bouncing around or high intensity workouts, especially in the later trimesters as your joints start to relax and you become more flexible to prepare for childbirth. This can make some exercises seem easier for you because you have an increased range of motion, but be cautious of that because it also opens you up for injury. Avoiding things like heavy barbell squats here will help protect those joints, especially your hips which are shifting and opening. In general, the best test of whether the activity is safe for you is to ask yourself two questions:
1. Does it feel good to you and your body? If not, stop and listen to what your body is telling you, make modifications or sit down and rest if you need to. Maybe tomorrow you will fell better. This is not a time to push yourself or your body to extremes.
2. Can you keep the intensity at a level where you can breathe or talk through the exercise? Since all bodies are different, rather than aiming to keep your heart rate under a specific number, it's a better idea to use your personal rate of percieved exertion as a guide and keep your intensity level in your aerobic zone or a place where you are not struggling for breath. Remember- you are taking care of two bodies right now so you need plenty of oxygen.
You may have heard that its smart to avoid abdominal exercises as your tummy grows, but that is not actually the best advice. Yes, it's true that we want to avoid laying flat on our backs and abdominal crunches are not the most comfortable or efficient way to strengthen your core during this time, but there are lots of ways to target those same muscles that are safe during your pregnancy. Exercises like pelvic tilts, Kegels, and planks and a variety of prenatal yoga poses are wonderful ways to target those muscles without straining your belly. Having or maintaining a strong core helps you keep your balance during pregnancy, and can help decrease lower back pain by helping you maintain good posture as your center of gravity shifts. Focusing on other core muscles, like your pelvic floor can also help your body perform more efficiently during childbirth and gaining control and knowledge of those muscles will help you restrengthen them after labor so they bounce back faster helping you avoid the dreaded "leaking laugh" that some of us moms suffer from after having those sweet adorable children by helping you maintain good strong bladder control.
If you are already active or exercising regularly, keep going! Make sure that you listen to your body, stay hydrated, and don't be afraid to slow down or drop the intensity as needed. If you were doing something safely before you got pregnant and you have a healthy and uncomplivated pregnancy you should be able to continue to do it safely while pregnant. But even if you have never exercised before, don't be afraid to start now. Just adding a 10-15 minute walk a day will help you feel better and improve circulation which can help your sleep better at night and help stave off those leg cramps and restless legs that can haunt you later in the pregnancy. Prenatal Yoga and water aerobics are also wonderfully beneficial workouts for moms to be that may not want to go straight for the weight rack! Your body will thank you, your stress level will come down and you will set that little baby up for success right from the start.
So In review:
As long as your doctor has cleared you for exercise there are huge benefits to you AND baby. Getting regular exercise and eating a well rounded diet full of vitamins and nutrients will help your feel good during pregnancy, prepare you for the demands of labor and help your body recover faster post partum.
-Always listen to your body and don't overdo it
-Now is not the time to try and beat your PR at the next marathon, or max out your squat weight- keep your intensity safe and aim for more aerobic zone training
-STAY HYDRATED!!!! Drink, drink, drink!
So go be happy and healthy and take care of you and that baby growing inside you! Be a great role model to them by living a healthy lifestyle right from the start!
1. Thomas Jefferson University. "The benefits of exercise during pregnancy." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 July 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/07/160707102622.htm>.