Exercise during pregnancy:benefits for you and your baby

by | Jul 21, 2019 | Fitmamas | 0 comments

Is it safe to exercise during pregnancy? Won’t I hurt the baby? What can I do and what to avoid?

These are the classic questions that pregnant women ask when they need to choose to stay active or not in pregnancy.

We all know that practicing sport is healthy, but for some reason when you are pregnant, you try to avoid it. Also the health providers, not being up to date, advise to reduce the intensity of the exercise as there is the risk of devirting the blood flow from the fetus. Nothing more antiquated and nothing more wrong. There is no scientific evidence to confirm that exercise can hurt mothers or their babies

One of the most authoritative scientific communities, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, abolished this myth in 1994 and recently issued a practical guide with questions and answers that explain the role of exercise and it’s intensity in pregnancy.

The main recommendation is that you absolutely SHOULD NOT stop exercising when you are pregnant.Of course, first check with your doctor to rule out complications that you can be exposed to however the regular exercise during pregnancy is the best thing you could do for yourself and your baby.

Overall benefits of exercise for you:

  • Reduces the risk of developing gestational diabetes, preeclampsia (too high blood pressure) from 47 to 76%. A studyon 21,000 women confirms that future mothers with a sedentary lifestyle are 2.3 times more exposed to the risk of developing gestational diabetes!
  • Exercise strengthens the pelvic floor that supports delivery and reduces the risk of C-section
  • Prevents excess weight gain and makes it easier to loose weight after pregnancy
  • Apart from the physical effects, exercise affects the mental state and thanks to the secretion of endorphins reduces stress, anxiety and depression. Makes you sleep better and alleviates lower back pain (especially prenatal yoga)

But it’s not finished here. Now we come to the central part of the importance of exercise during pregnancy, that is your baby

The future moms are afraid to exercise during pregnancy because it could harm the baby and increase the risk of miscarriage or complications. Nothing more wrong. Studies show that the benefits of staying active in pregnancy far outweigh the risks

It is true that during the exercise the blood flow that reaches the uterus is slightly reduced but the supply of oxygen remains constant, thanks to the metabolic changes that occur in your body. Be assured, your baby is not only safe but obtains many benefits while you keep yourself active during pregnancy, which ones?

Benefits of exercise for your baby

  • Boost of nervous system development. Babies of women who regularly exercise during pregnancy are born with more mature brains compared to those who don’t exercise. These effects also extend into adult life with the best academic and learning skills.

This means if you regularly exercise during pregnancy, you grow wise child

  • Reduction of the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and the metabolic syndrome both in childhood and in adult life. Thanks to your conscious decision to keep yourself active during pregnancy you can influence your baby’s cardiovascular health, body composition (fat mass, lean mass) and weight. This has the significant impact on his health in later life.

 Not convinced yet?

Think of it this way. When you exercise, your heart rate increases, blood flows faster, bringing new blood, oxygen and nutrients to your baby. REMEMBER, the only way through which the child receives nutrients and eliminates waste is through YOUR bloodstream. The more you circulate it, the more you nourish your child.

When, on the other hand, avoid to exercise during pregnancy?

While the majority of women can benefit considerably from exercise during pregnancy, there are some cases where you need to take it easy. Your doctor can advise you to pay attention when you have heart problems, suffer from lung diseases, you are at risk of premature birth or placenta previa (when the placenta grows in the lower part of the uterus covering the cervix)

In addition, in the case of twin pregnancy, you may not be able to exercise to avoid forcing the pelvic floor, which already need to support the weight of two babies.

Total bed rest in pregnancy?

Despite the extremely limited circumstances in which total rest can have really positive effects for the mother and baby, there are still too many cases when the doctor prescribes in order to protect the pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists strongly discourages it because not only there are no scientific proofs that support total rest  but on the contrary, it increases the risks of muscle and bone depletion and blood clots. Furthermore, a sedentary lifestyle together with improper diet is responsible for excessive weight gain that can cause problems both to the fetus and to the mother.

If the doctor prescribes total rest, obviously his recommendation must be followed. But try to discuss details because total rest can have different meanings form getting off  your feet for a few hours every day to virtually zero physical exertion.

How long should you exercise during pregnancy?

Your exercise plan will vary based on your skills, preferences and pre-pregnancy level.

In general, your goal should be 30 minutes a day (or at least 150 min a week) both strength / resistance and aerobic exercise.

If you haven’t exercise for a while, you are overweight, pregnancy is not the right time to start to workout isn’t it? WRONG. The idea that women who lead a sedentary lifestyle should continue to do so even during pregnancy is just not acceptable.

Beginners should start slowly, but still start. Takes 10 minutes for walking after lunch. When this become easy, you can gradually increase the time to 30 minutes (or more if you feel good)

Some women prefer to practice every day as the short walks distributed throughout the day are more realistic to them respect that 30-minute full workout

The others prefer training 3-4 times a week. It depends on you, how you feel and how your body reacts. Choose the etype of activity you like, do it for your health and well-being, it doesn’t have to be a punishment

Which are the precautions when you exercise during pregnancy?

When your doctor has given you the green light to exercise, before starting you should pay attention to some changes that your body undergoes with the progress of pregnancy

1ºThe blood volume during the entire pregnancy increases by 50% to satisfy greater needs of the fetus and also of the mother. Also heart’s and respiratory rates increase what sometimes could make you feel breathless. In the third trimester this feeling intensifies because your baby grows and pushes on the diaphragm limiting your breathing capacity and taking deep breaths.

You may also feel dizzy. All is perfectly fine because you need to supply oxygen not only to yourself but also to your baby through placenta. In other words, you “breathe for two”.

The first rule is to listen to your body, don’t overdo and dpn’t put yourself under stress. There is a very intuitive method that allows you to measure the effort of your body while you exercise, the “talk test”.

It means if you aren’t able to taqlk while you’re exercising (so you can’t catch your breath), you’re exercising too much. Slow down and breathe again. It’s fine if your heart beats and breath both increase during exercise but not to the point that you don’t get enough oxygen or you feel like fainting.

In short, you should be able to speak but not sing. Your effort is under control if you notice that your heart is beating faster but you are always able to support the light conversation.

2ºHeart rate.Many women want to have their heart rate under control during exercise, being afraid that if they exercise too much, the blood flow will not reach the placenta which will change the heart rate of the fetus. There are no researches that confirm this.

Having said that, a moderate aerobic activity in pregnancy is good either for the mother and the baby without running any risk (obviously when you are healthy and your pregnancy proceeds normally)

3rd Attention to stretching. During pregnancy the body releases a hormone called relaxin which helps to relax the joints.

Without relaxin the pelvic floor would not be able to expand and to allow the vaginal birth.

The only drawback is that relaxin makes joints become more “soft” and the ligaments lengthen. So it’s better to avoid sudden movements, jumps, turns. Excessive stretching can cause pain in the hips and lower back. Don’t exceed your 

Remember also that as the belly grows, especially during the second and third quarters, the center of gravity changes which increases the risk of falls due to loss of balance.

Keeping the core strong and developing stabilizing muscles becomes essential to prevent pain commonly accused during pregnancy. The strong core alleviates lower back pain.

Pay attention also to maintain the correct posture. How? Think to bring the baby as close to your body  as you can to prevent the lower back arching too much

Here below the video that shows you the correct posture in pregnancy

Taking into consideration the precautions mentioned above, let’s move to the practical part.

What sport should you avoid during pregnancy?

We have said that sport in pregnancy brings tons of benefits. But there are a series of activities which should be avoided (no more rugby mama;) that increase a risk of injuries and traumas such as:

  • All contact sports and sports that increase the risk of being hit in the abdomen, including ice hockey, soccer, basketball, martial arts
  • Activities that can lead to a fall, such as skiing, water skiing, surfing, off-road cycling, horseback riding
  • “Hot yoga” or “Hot Pilates”, which could cause overheating
  • Diving below 3m in depth
  • Mountain hiking (requires too much effort and can be dangerous due to altitude)

Which activities are recommended during pregnancy?

Research shows that aerobic and resistance exercise with weights bring the best benefits for mom and baby. Here’s what you could include in your training program.

1. Aerobic exercises with the natural weight of your body

Walking: it is one of the best forms of aerobic exercise for pregnant women because it is safe and effective for all levels and suitable for all trimesters of pregnancy. If you are the beginner, try to walk for 10-15 minutes and gradually increase time and pace

Jogging, aerobics, step, bicycle: If you ran regularly before pregnancy, you can continue to do so as long as you listen to your body. While some women are able to continue running throughout their whole pregnancy, the others may not be able to do so due to the pain or discomfort they feel. In this case, opt for lower-impact activities such as dance, moderate cardio, stationary bike or bicycle that do not over-stress the joints and knees and reduce pressure on the pelvic floor.

Exercising during pregnancy should ALWAYS make you feel better, not worse. You should never feel pain or discomfort. If something hurts or doesn’t seem right, this is how your body tells you that you have to stop. Don’t ignore those signals. If you used to run regularly before pregnancy, you may now consider climbing stairs as an alternative. Walking up and down the stairs can give you a great cardio workout while keeping you and your baby safe

2. Aerobic exercises without the weight of your body

Swimming is an excellent alternative to aerobic exercise. Regardless of the size of your belly, in the water, you feel weightless and swimming or doing water exercises (such as aqua gym) help to relax the muscles, reduce back pain and pressure on the joints. Also, your cardiovascular system will benefit

Water puts pressure on everything that is immersed in it. When you stand in the water, the hydrostatic pressure pushes more heavily on your feet and ankles which forces blood to flow to the heart. This is called the “venous return” and improving it helps to reduce swelling and increase the amniotic fluid (after jogging or running, the gravity pushes blood down to the feet making you feel dizzy).

Hydrostatic pressure also supports the pelvic and abdominal floor. Swimming tonifies and has relaxing effect allowing the mother to come into contact with her baby that cradles in the belly.

TIP: if you are worried about a large amount of chlorine in swimming pool water, which is toxic, before entering to the water, spread on the skin the coconut oil with powdered vitamin C (ascorbic acid) This remedy considerably reduces exposure to chlorine.

3. Resistance exercises.  Resistance exercise is not just about lifting heavy weights to get muscles like bodybuilders. Strength training is good for everyone, even pregnant women. Just use dumbbells appropriate for your fitness level, elastic bands or your body weight.

Since the resistance exercises can create some confusion for many pregnant women, I would like to share with you the video of the 5 excellent and easy strength exercises to be incorporated into your prenatal exercise routine presented by Jennifer Johnson, an expert in prenatal fitness

 

Another example of resistance movements to be included in training during pregnancy is perinatal pilates adapted to pregnancy. Pilates focuses on posture, stability, strengthening the deep muscles, balance, breath and body awareness. Helps reinforce the pelvic floor that helps in labour and postpartum recovery. I advise you to choose the classes carried out by professionals specialized in prenatal exercises

4. Relaxation, breathing and stretching exercises are a great complement to your exercise program, but they shouldn’t be the only type of exercise you do. Relaxation and breathing techniques are very useful during labour and delivery, what prenatal yoga teaches. It can be very helpful for women who find it difficult to catch the breath caused by the uterus pushing against the diaphragm during the 2nd and 3rd trimester. Regular prenatal yoga can reduce pain and ease childbirth. It also increases the fluidity of the movements and the muscle stretching, it allows relaxation and brings mental tranquillity

Exercises according to the trimester of pregnancy

First trimester

Generally speaking, you should not make major changes to your training routine in the first trimester as long as you avoid contact sports and risk of hits in the abdomen.

Pay attention not to overheat yourself during the exercises and choose airy and not excessively hot spaces.

If you have practised “hot yoga” before pregnancy, it is time to switch to prenatal yoga. Being exposed to too much heat during the first few weeks of pregnancy can increase the risk of certain malformations and neural tube defects.

If you suffer from fatigue and nausea in the first trimester, don’t worry and leave the exercise planning for the following trimesters. You may include 5-15 minutes of walking a day. Strength exercises with minimum weights or with elastic bands can help you to increase your energy, which generally is low in the first trimester. You could try the short series of Pilates to practice in bed as soon as you wake up

Second trimester:

Exercises that require lying on your back can become problematic in this quarter but it all depends on how much weight you have accumulated and where the baby is positioned.

This is because the child could pressure the vena cava that carries blood from the lower parts to the heart preventing you with the supply of blood and oxygen. This could cause dizziness. It is not problematic in the long run. Simply avoid lying on your back for extended periods from now on.

The same effect could cause some Yoga and Pilates exercises in which your pelvis goes upper respect to the heart position (“bridge positions”). Also here everything depends on where the child is positioned and on your weight. So listen to your body and make adjustments. You could possibly try to support your back with pillows or rolled towel

Third-quarter:

The last quarter is the period in which you gain more weight, the baby is already formed and now grows until the time of delivery. The joints become more “soft” and the ligaments become longer so pay attention to not stretch excessively. Participating in Pilates classes which support stability and use of elastic bands can help you. Also, the lower back is now more intense in this trimester. Swimming can give you good relief.

Remember to check your posture often during the day, open your chest and straighten your back.

In this phase the child pushes more on the lungs, making you feel without breath. Adjust the intensity of the exercises making sure you can always talk while you exercise (remember the “talk test”).

In this trimester is easy you feel overheated. Remember to slow down and drink enough. Avoid outdoor exercise during the summer and in the high humidity climate.

In the third trimester, it is also very common to experience the  Braxon Hicks contractions, not expected and generally without pain. The belly becomes hard, the uterus contracts for 30-60 seconds and then everything returns to normality. Some doctors claim that these contractions tone and prepare the uterus for childbirth.

In case you experience this type of contractions during the exercise and your date of birth and still far away, this are probably the Braxon Hicks contractions. Wait until contractions stop before start exercising again. If the contractions continue and become painful, call your doctor.

Braxon Hicks contractions are more common if the body becomes dehydrated. So again, remember to drink and re-balance electrolytes.

Conclusions:

A woman who works and takes care of her family often has a hectic life, and during pregnancy, she experiences the need to “slow down”. However, this doesn’t mean she needs to become passive and not able to move.   Sport is good in pregnancy. Indeed, apart from those at risk, future mothers can enjoy great benefits if they continue to exercise. Using common sense, taking care of yourself by listening to messages from the body, not overdoing it and not undergoing stress are the first recommendations to keep in mind while exercising during pregnancy.  

It is important to drink plenty of water to avoid the risk of dehydration, wear a sports bra, and avoid excessive overheating. Exercises that require standing or lying on your back should also be avoided, especially if the pregnancy is at an advanced stage.

Did you practice sport during pregnancy? Would you do it? Let me know in the comments below