Chances are, that when you’re having a hard time keeping your food down during your first trimester, dealing with changes in your body during your second, and finally, huffing/puffing just to get to the bathroom as you get close to your due date, exercise is the last thing on your mind, right?
Still- there is growing evidence that mild to moderate physical activity is beneficial for both you and your baby.
Even something as simple as a walk around the block or some light stretching can improve your mood, help you sleep better, and even result in a much easier labor and quicker recovery.
However, you should know that there are some exercises that should be avoided while you’re pregnant.
First, though, we’ll take a look at the benefits of exercise for you and your bundle of joy.
Benefits of Exercise While Pregnant for Mom
Okay, so you already know that exercise helps to keep you from becoming overweight and can even help prevent conditions such as type 2 diabetes. While pregnant, there are even more reasons to stay active- or to become active if you’re not already.
Exercising while you’re expecting can:
Reduce your risk of developing complications during pregnancy
One study revealed that individuals who take part in an exercise program four times each week have a lower risk of developing gestational diabetes and are much less likely to have an unplanned c-section than those who don’t.
Reduce your risk for complications during delivery
Another study revealed that women who exercised at least three times per week gained less weight and were less likely to have larger babies. Having a heavy baby can lead to complications for both mom and baby during delivery.
Increase your speed of recovery after delivery
The more physically active you are during your pregnancy, the quicker you’ll be able to recover after you give birth and the more physically fit you’ll be. This means that you’ll be able to resume your normal activity quicker than those who don’t take part in the exercise.
Give yourself a mood boost
Overall, women have an increased risk of developing depression while they are pregnant. In fact, approximately one in two pregnant women experience an increase in anxiety and depression while expecting.
On the other hand, research reveals that due to the endorphin release while exercising, women who are active have less depression and anxiety.
Lower your blood pressure
While it’s true that your blood pressure may go up while you are pregnant, if it gets too high, it could mean that you’re developing a condition known as preeclampsia. However, staying (or becoming) active- even just walking on a regular basis- has been proven to keep your blood pressure from becoming too high.
Ease your back/pelvic pain
Of course, you already know (or assume) that the baby growing in your womb will put some extra pressure on your lower half. This means that you will have an achy pelvis and lower back pain. If you exercise on a regular basis, you will have lowered levels of back and pelvis pain later in your pregnancy.
Fight your fatigue
during the first trimester, many women experience low levels of tiredness. In the third trimester, this comes back. While it seems strange, getting too much rest can actually lead to increased fatigue.
Therefore, while it’s definitely not safe to push yourself into exhaustion, a leisurely walk or even a prenatal yoga class can help to increase your energy levels.
Improve your sleep
Many times, women who are pregnant have difficulty falling asleep. On the other hand, those who are exercising on a regular basis (as long as it’s not too close to bedtime) state that they sleep much better and wake up feeling much more rested.
Relieve your constipation
When you’re active, you encourage your bowels to be active as well. Some women state that a quick 30-minute walk keeps them regular, while others say a 10-minute stroll gets them going.
While exercise does offer many benefits to mom, you should also know that exercise does not guarantee a quick recovery or no pain.
However, the healthcare field does the day that doing the exercises you can while you’re pregnant is the best way to ensure a healthy and comfortable pregnancy.
Benefits of Exercise While Pregnant for Baby
Of course, you should know that exercising while you’re expecting does not only benefit you but also benefits your new baby.
The research is still not completely clear, but some of the smaller studies do indicate that exercise is just as good for the baby in years to come.
Of course, most of the research on exercise has only been done on animals, but results are promising for humans.
Exercising while pregnant may have the following benefits for baby:
Reduce the risk of developing diabetes
one study indicates that babies born to moms that exercise have increased insulin sensitivity once they become adults.
Increase their brain health
Another study indicated that moms who exercise are at a reduced risk for developing neurodegeneration, which is the changes in the brain that can eventually lead to Alzheimer’s.
Lower their BMI
When you exercise while you are pregnant, you decrease your baby’s risk of becoming obese and developing diabetes. Of course, consuming a high-fat diet will cancel out the negative effects of an unhealthy diet and will result in the same BMI reduction.
Give them a healthy heart
One study revealed that exercising on a regular basis helps lower the heart rate of your developing baby- which is a good thing because a high heart rate can indicate fetal distress. One follow-up revealed that the effects of exercise are still present in a 1-month-old baby.
Getting Started with Exercise During Pregnancy
Of course, most of the studies referenced above are looking at the effects of 150 minutes of activity per week. This can be split into five 30 minute sessions or three to four longer sessions.
The benefits are incremental, so some exercise is better than none. Therefore, if you’re not active for 150 minutes, you don’t have to give up- some activity is better than sitting around doing nothing.
Absolutely anything that increases your heart rate and engages your muscles really does count for something- including aerobic classes, dance, jogging, Pilates, swimming, walking, and yoga.
Of course, if you weren’t addicted to the gym before you became pregnant, you really have nothing to worry about. As long as you get started with a workout program slowly, it’s perfectly fine to get started after you become pregnant.
Simply start with five minutes a day of activity such as a quick walk around the block. Keep adding time each week until you are able to spend 30 minutes being active.
However, you should be aware that you follow the rules of exercising safely while pregnant. You must avoid contact sports that have a risk of falling.
If you feel lightheaded and short of breath, you should stop immediately. Additionally, if you experience decreased movement of your baby, start to feel contractions, or have fluid leaking/vaginal bleeding you should stop and contact your physician or midwife.
Exercises You Should Avoid
So, as you can see, exercising while pregnant offers many benefits for both you and your baby. In fact, there are so many benefits that the advice that comes from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, or ACOG, sounds much like a pep talk from a trainer: you should try to get 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day- even up until delivery.
Most physicians do encourage moms who are expecting to keep doing what they were doing if they were active- as long as it’s practical.
In addition, even if a mom was not already active, it’s perfectly fine to get started now and get all of the benefits. Still, it is a good idea to take a few precautions while you have a baby in your womb.
Following are a few of the exercises that you should be avoided during pregnancy.
There are lots of exercises that are perfectly safe and great for women who are expecting. In fact, the truth is that most exercise is fine- but there are a few that you are definitely going to want to avoid to prevent complications.
Sports with a high risk of abdominal injury or falling
This includes gymnastics, snowboarding, vigorous racquet sports, contact sports, snowboarding, downhill skiing, ice skating, bungee jumping, rollerblading and diving.
Exercises that involve lying down on your back
These are definitely off-limits after your first trimester because lying on your back could cause the weight of your uterus to compress some of your major blood vessels, which will restrict circulation to both you and your baby- and can lead you to feel dizzy, short of breath, and nauseous.
Exercises that involve advanced abdominal moves
This includes double leg lifts or sit-ups as those could result in your abdominal muscles separating from the middle and even tear them.
Exercises involving contortions
These include backbends and movements involving a deep extension of joints or deep flexions, as they bring an increased risk of becoming injured.
Exercises involving excessive/bouncy stretching
Your ligaments are already much looser during pregnancy- so this is not the time that you should force a split or progress your practice of yoga. If something starts to hurt- you should immediately stop.
Scuba diving and/or holding your breath
You should never go scuba diving or hold your breath, as it could cut off oxygen to your baby- and both you and your developing baby need a steady flow of oxygen.
Exercises that involve standing motionlessly
Especially after the first trimester, exercises that involve standing still for an extended period of time can restrict flow of blood. These include tai chi, and yoga movements such as hand to big toe or tree.
Exercising in hot weather or doing hot yoga
This can cause your body temperature to become raised too much, which results in blood being taken away from your uterus to cool your body off.
When pregnant, you should be extra careful when doing the following exercises:
The exercise that requires you to balance
As you progress into your pregnancy, it can become riskier and more difficult to balance. Therefore, if you are doing exercises that require balance, you should be sure you have a wall or a chair nearby, just in case you do lose your balance.
Exercises that involve toe pointing
This can cause your calves to become cramped. Instead of doing toe pointing, try to flex your feet, causing the top of your foot to come toward your calf.
Exercises that involve jerky motions and jumping
These can be a bit uncomfortable due to the extra weight of your baby. However, as long as you are comfortable, aerobics are perfectly safe.
Of course, keep in mind that if you have not been active before you became pregnant, this is not the time you should start training for a marathon. However, you can get started slowly- aim to get 30 minutes of activity each day.
On the other hand, if you were already active, you should remember that while it’s perfectly fine to maintain your current level of fitness, it’s not the time to challenge yourself or to get ready to compete athletically.
You will be able to go back to challenging your fitness level after the baby gets here. Still, you can work out for up to an hour at a time, as long as you are in tune with your body.
How to Listen to Your Body
Keep in mind that it’s fine to get a little out of breath when you’re expecting- it’s not fine to overexert yourself. Overexertion can cause issues such as dehydration, or a lack of oxygen to your baby. This is why it is critical that you learn how to listen to your body while you are pregnant.
There is a method that is known as the “Rate of Perceived Exertion.” This is a scale that goes from 6 to 20. At a rate of 6, you’re chilling out- snoozing.
At the other end, a rate of 20, you’re working out as hard as you can. The goal is to keep your exertion rate between 12-14. This is approximately the exertion of briskly walking.
Basically, you should be working just hard enough so that you breathe heavily- but not so out of breath that you can’t talk at all.
How Do You Know When to Slow Down?
In addition to the perceived rate of exertion, there are other signs that will tell you whether or not you are overdoing it. If you experience any of the following symptoms, you should never try to push through it. If you do, you are at a greater risk for developing an injury.
– Extreme fatigue: while a great workout will most likely leave you feeling tired- you should not be so exhausted that walking from the gym to your car seems like an impossible feat.
– Irritability: endorphins will boost your mood-but if you begin to feel like you’re short-tempered after your workouts, it’s time to slow down.
– Muscle and/or joint pain: of course, you will feel some muscle soreness the day after your workout, and can be decreased by some simple stretches or even a massage. However, if you start to have some acute pain in your muscles and joints- anything that makes walking uncomfortable- it’s an indication that you’ve done too much.
– Difficulty sleeping: of course, some problems sleeping are a given when you’re pregnant- your baby belly can make it hard to find a comfortable position. However, exercising should tire you out enough that you fall asleep when you lie down. On the other hand, too much exercise will have the opposite effect.
There are some complications that can cause exercise during pregnancy to be more dangerous to you and your baby. These include:
- Incompetent cervix
- Pregnancy-induced hypertension
- Preterm labor during previous/current pregnancies
- Rupture of placenta
- Intrauterine growth restriction
- Persistent vaginal bleeding
If you have any of the above conditions, you should consult with your physician before starting or continuing your exercise program.
Even if you are having- or have had- smooth pregnancies, you’re still going to want to keep your eyes open for specific warning signs such as shortness of breath, dizziness, sharp pains, feeling faint, or vaginal bleeding.
If you do have any of these signs or symptoms, you should immediately stop exercising and contact your physician or midwife.
It is very common for your baby to relax while you are working out- but a snack after working out should definitely perk things back up. Movement of your baby should return to normal within two hours after your work out.
If not, you should contact your physician or midwife as soon as possible.