Pregnancy Health and Wellbeing: First Trimester Exercises
Congratulations on your pregnancy! You are now embarking an amazing journey where your body will go through significant changes to support the growth of your unborn baby. Looking after your wellbeing by staying healthy and fit during your pregnancy is essential to cope better with these changes and the health of both of you and your baby.
Your fitness levels before pregnancy, as well as how well you are during pregnancy, will determine how much and what exercises you do. If you are new to exercise or haven’t done it for a while, during pregnancy is not the best time to try to endure a marathon. Your body will be entering a marathon on its own so be gentle to yourself and listen to your body.
According to the NHS website, staying active during pregnancy allows your body to adjust faster to changes of shape and weight gain. It will also help you cope better with the mood swings, labour and getting back into shape after birth. Be sure that exercise is not dangerous for your baby but, if you are not sure, always seek advice from a specialised personal trainer before starting your exercise plan.
What you may experience during your first trimester
The first trimester of pregnancy is considered the first day of your last period through to week 12 and a lot happens during this initial phase. It is marked by an invisible but, yet incredible transformation. It is like been at the beginning of riding a rollercoaster when you are not quite sure what is to come but you are already looking forward to the experience. To help you coping better with the physical and emotional changes that are to come, knowing the possible symptoms can help you face the months ahead with tranquillity.
It is often the hardest and most tiring stage for many women. In fact, one of the first symptoms of pregnancy for some is extreme tiredness. It is believed that the hormonal changes that are taking place, particularly the increase in hormones like progesterone and oestrogen, causes the body to slow down in preparation for the changes that are about to happen.
Blood volume pumped out by the heart and oxygen demand increases significantly within the first few weeks of gestation and increases progressively throughout the pregnancy making exercise during first trimester to be challenging. This major change happens as a result of the development of the foetus and the placenta which can cause symptoms such as dizziness, rapid heart rate, raised body temperature and the feeling of not being able to take a deep breath. This can make you feel low on energy, green to the gills, tired, and simply blah.
Each pregnancy is different, and the symptoms may vary from person to person, but the most common signs of pregnancy are:
- Missing period
- Morning sickness
- Swollen, tender breasts
- Frequent need to urinate
- Tiredness, fatigue
- Heartburn and reflux
- Food cravings, aversions and change on palate
- Mood swings
- Weight gain or loss due to changes on your appetite
- Leg and abdominal cramps
Considering all the changes that are happening in your body, the first 12 weeks of your pregnancy are crucial for the development and sustainability of your baby. The risk of miscarriages is higher and below are some common symptoms that are worth keeping an eye on and contact your doctor immediately:
- Severe abdominal pain, puffiness in the face and/or unusual swelling of the hands and feet.
- Painful urination
- Higher fever, chills and severe backache
- Heavy vaginal bleeding or unusual discharge
- Vision disturbances and sudden thirst
For your baby, this is a phase of initial development where she goes from being a fertilised ovum to a foetus of about 6cm in length at around 12 weeks. By the end of this period, your baby will have developed her heart beating, as well as the brain, stomach and intestines. Arms and legs are growing in a shape like little bumps referred to as buds.
Your body is capable of amazing things! And it can do it all without you telling it to do so.
Listen to your body during pregnancy. Sit down and rest when your body tells you to and, if you’re tired, choose sleep over exercise in this trimester.
The most important thing to do during the first trimester is to listen to your body: rest when you feel like and sleep whenever you can. Your body has the amazing ability to tell you exactly what it needs and what is happening. Exercising at this point should feel right and not extreme even if you were used to smash your favourite HIIT class regularly with easy.
Is it safe to exercise in the first trimester
Whether avid exercisers or just getting started, the modern moms and moms-to-be are an active bunch. The idea that you should sit down and relax when you find yourself pregnant is no longer a fact and you can indeed be as active as you can. Exercise is completely safe for most woman during the early stages of pregnancy. However, there are many dos and don’ts that you will need to consider when starting your exercise routine.
New guidelines for exercise in pregnancy and postpartum have been published in January 2022 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggesting that, despite the fact that pregnancy is associated with profound anatomical and physiological changes, exercise has minimal risks and confirmed benefits for most women. Also, the participation in a wide range of recreational activities appears to be safe during pregnancy; however, each sport should be reviewed individually for its potential risk, and activities with a high risk of abdominal trauma should be avoided during pregnancy.
Exercise may help you feel strong and confident from the early days of pregnancy and for years after. It soothes many of the aches and pains that may appears during the first trimester and boost your emotional wellbeing. Other benefits also include:
- Better sleep and reduce insomnia
- Improvement on your energy levels
- Increase strength and endurance
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Possibly help with recovery post labour
- Reduce the risk of offsets post-labour such as post-natal depression and muscular syndromes.
Your body is incredibly smart, and it adjusts accordingly to help with the growth of your bundle of joy. Every workout can be adapted according to your needs and not every woman will respond to exercise in the same way. Exercise and pregnancy go hand in hand, and it does not increase the risk of miscarriage or birth defects as long as you don’t have any medical or obstetric complications or participate on strenuous activities. If in doubt, seek medical advice and make sure your doctor confirms that it is ok for you to keep active.
What exercises can I do in the first trimester
In order to determine whether an exercise program is appropriate for you, the regimen must be tailored to your goals, physical conditioning, and general health. Activities like pregnancy yoga are especially designed for expectant mothers. If, however, you love running, swimming, or going to the gym, you should be able to continue with your usual routine. Don’t forget to take things at your own pace, even when you feel more energetic on some days than on others.
It is the perfect time to develop a lifelong habit of exercise if you did not do so before your pregnancy. It is recommended that you start off by exercising at moderate-intensity for 30 minutes each day, 3 to 5 times a week. For those new to exercise, better to reduce to 15 minutes a day and gradually increase as you improve. But, remember! Every little counts and you should still be able to hold a conversation as you exercise. Don’t push yourself too hard. Stop if you experience any pain, discomfort or dizziness.
Below are some examples of exercises that have been extensively studied in pregnancy and found to be safe and beneficial:
- Water aerobics, hydrotherapy and swimming
- Stationary cycling at moderate effort
- Resistance training including weights, elastic bands and weighted balls
- Aerobic exercises such as brisk walking, dancing or running (if you are someone who is used to running or jogging regularly before pregnancy)
- Stretching, Kegel Exercises, Pilates and Pregnancy Yoga
Household chores like gardening and cleaning or carrying moderate loads can also counts towards your daily activity. If you have an active job, consider taking breaks to either sit down, if you job involves standing for long periods of time, or to go for a walk if you require to be sited most of the time.
Be mindful of how your body feel as there are many alternatives for prenatal exercise. However, anything that doesn’t feel right for you, you are better of listening to your guts and avoid it. Below are some examples of activities that would not be recommended:
- Hot yoga that leads to overheating and dehydration
- Excessive back bending, abdominal twisting, feet above head
- Too much time lying on your back
- Contact sport due to risks of being hit
- High impact activities and sports leading to vigorous movements
- Exercises that cause dehydration or breathlessness leaving you unable to talk or cause dizziness
- Exercises that place jarring pressure on the pelvis and torso, such as horseback riding
- Exercises with a high risk of falling, such as gymnastic or aerial sports
- Avoid scuba diving, because the baby has no protection against decompression sickness and gas embolism (gas bubbles in the bloodstream)
- Exercise at heights over 2,500m above sea level due to risks of altitude sickness
Make sure you warm up before you start any exercise and to cool down as well after. Drink plenty of water or other suitable fluids to stay hydrated.
Whenever possible, work with a trainer who has the expertise in pre-natal training. They are trained to provide you with a thorough physical exam and advise on the type of exercises that are safe and suitable for you.
Written By Aline: Female fitness expert at MotivatePT – Reps Level 3 Qualified / Pre & Post Natal