Regarding fitness and pregnancy, it’s easy to get caught up in the myths that it’s unhealthy or harmful for women to exercise during pregnancy. It’s understandable to have concerns, especially for women who’ve had difficulty getting pregnant or experienced previous miscarriages. They don’t want to do anything to put their babies at risk.
Unless a pregnant woman has a specific condition or complications, she should most definitely stay physically active throughout her pregnancy for the health of her baby and herself. There have been many studies confirming best practice is for pregnant women to exercise PROPERLY throughout most of the pregnancy, discontinuing only towards the end of the last trimester or in the case of complication.
Let’s examine some important points about exercising during pregnancy to determine if it’s the right course of action for you.
Help, I’m Pregnant! When Should I Stop Exercising?
“Many pregnant women today work and exercise right up until they go into
It’s always wise to consult your doctor for affirmation and specific advice. Also, preventive health screenings should be done for women who are pregnant or trying to conceive. Some women develop gestational diabetes, which can present a serious health risk for mother and child, for example.
Infographic provided by Beyond The Box Nutrition
So What Is and What Isn’t Safe in Terms of Exercise?
Once a woman has calculated her due date, she can start planning workouts based, in part, on the development needs of both her developing fetus and herself. It’s a good idea to plan the days and times of the week to work out to ensure you stay on track.
Exercising for 30 minutes on most days can be beneficial during pregnancy. Even just 20 minutes a day, four times a week is good. The most important thing is to get up, get moving, and get the blood pumping.
Some people still cringe at the sight of a pregnant woman jogging and wonder why she is bouncing her baby inside her belly. Fear not. Many runners who ran pre-pregnancy continue to run throughout their pregnancies with no complications.
As long as you are healthy and not too uncomfortable, running is a great form of exercise. You may not be able to run with the same amount of energy and speed in the third trimester as in the first, but the point is if you regularly exercised before becoming pregnant, it’s okay to continue with your regimen and make modifications as needed as you exercise during pregnancy.
Resistance training is one of the best forms of exercise for pregnant women. Low to moderate intensity strength training with appropriate modifications is widely recognized now by both medical and fitness communities as highly beneficial both mentally and physically. Resistance training provides many outstanding benefits to a woman’s overall prenatal and postpartum physical and mental well-being.
Benefits of resistance training for pregnant women:
- Controls excessive weight gain.
- Reduces or avoids common pregnancy and postpartum discomforts.
- Builds adequate strength for lifting and carrying your baby and heavy baby equipment.
- Improves your overall state of mind during and after pregnancy.
- Helps you cope better with the stressors of pregnancy and new motherhood.
Pregnancy elicits specific physiological changes within the body. Certain muscles and muscle groups are affected negatively and should be given more priority over the rest when you exercise during pregnancy. For example, when performing core exercises, including the abdominals and lower back, always remember to engage the deep abdominal muscles at the start of each exercise, and maintain that compression throughout the entire movement.
The following muscles seem to weaken the most during pregnancy, so best to prioritize them while still getting an overall full body workout over the course of each week.
- Abdominals and core – the front “6-pack”, obliques, and lower back
- Hamstrings – the back of the thigh
- Gluteus – the buttocks
- Trapezius – the low and mid fibers (the shrugging muscles)
- Rotator cuff – the external shoulder rotators
- Serratus anterior – scapular depression
How Hard For How Long?
Exercise tends to get harder the further along you are in pregnancy, so it’s natural to scale back. Even expert athletes tend to cut back on the time and length as the pregnancy progresses.
It is important to stay hydrated and avoid hot temperatures. Use the “talk test” to avoid overexerting yourself, which means you should be able to carry on a conversation in between sets or while jogging — not panting and turning beet red.
As for those who were not regularly jogging or strength training pre-pregnancy, actual pregnancy isn’t the best time to take up a strenuous new activity, according to BabyCenter. “If you’ve been largely inactive before getting pregnant, ask your healthcare provider to help you plan an exercise program that leads to at least 20 to 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most days of the week.”
What Are the Benefits of Exercising During Pregnancy?
During the first trimester your body is experiencing all sorts of changes, so working out may be the last thing on your mind. However, there are many benefits for the baby and you to exercise during pregnancy, whether in the form of yoga, stretching, swimming, going for a walk, or lifting weights.
According to a 2017 study, pregnant women who exercised were less likely to have an unplanned cesarean section and less likely to develop gestational diabetes than women who didn’t participate in a fitness program. Working out can help reduce the risk of complications from pregnancy. States reporting higher-than-average cesarean birth rates had a 21 percent higher risk of maternal mortality than states with lower-than-average cesarean rates.
Exercise can also help reduce lower back pain, achy pelvis, constipation, and swelling. As the baby bump grows, it puts extra pressure on the lower half of your body, which is why it’s worthwhile to keep exercising along the way.
Pregnant or not, working out also improves your mood and increases energy levels. But it’s essential for pregnant women because they are more prone to depression and anxiety. Between 14-23 percent of expecting women experience depression. Releasing endorphins through exercise will help diminish stress, anxiety, and depression.
At a basic level, regular exercise keeps you fit during pregnancy and able to handle labor better. As a result, you’ll be able to get back in shape easier after your baby is born. As long as you are getting about 150 minutes of activity in a week, you’ll reap the benefits. Even if you can’t hit that goal to exercise during pregnancy, some exercise is better than none. Do what you enjoy, as long as it’s a safe activity, and stop if you feel lightheaded or short of breath.