The Power of Exercising during Pregnancy
Pregnancy is an incredible journey for a woman, both physically and emotionally. It is a time of anticipation, joy, and preparation. With the many changes occurring within the body, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is paramount. One aspect that should not be overlooked is exercise. Embracing the power of exercise during pregnancy, ideally starting in the first trimester, can help expectant mothers increase their well-being and pave the way for a healthier pregnancy.
Benefits of exercise during pregnancy
Exercise during pregnancy promotes physical fitness. By engaging in moderate-intensity activities, such as brisk walking, swimming, yoga or prenatal pilates, expectant mothers can maintain cardiovascular health and strengthen muscles. Regular exercise also aids in preventing excessive weight gain, which can be a concern during pregnancy. Maintaining a healthy weight throughout pregnancy reduces the risk of complications such as gestational diabetes and hypertension.
Another notable advantage of exercise during pregnancy is improved posture and reduced back pain. As the baby grows, the centre of gravity shifts, placing extra strain on the lower back. Regular exercise, particularly exercises that strengthen the core and back muscles, can alleviate discomfort and promote proper alignment. Prenatal exercises focusing on gentle stretching and strengthening exercises can help to support the spine, improve posture, and reduce the incidence of back pain.
Exercise has a remarkable impact on mood and mental health. Pregnancy is often accompanied by hormonal fluctuations and emotional ups and downs. Regular physical activity releases endorphins, the “feel-good” hormones that boost mood and reduce stress. It can be particularly beneficial for pregnant women who experience anxiety or depression. Engaging in exercise provides a healthy outlet for emotional well-being and helps to alleviate pregnancy-related stress.
Exercise during pregnancy has also been linked to improved sleep quality. Many pregnant women experience difficulties with sleep, whether it’s due to hormonal changes, physical discomfort, or racing thoughts. Engaging in exercise, preferably earlier in the day, can promote better sleep patterns and enhance overall sleep quality. However, it is essential to consult with a healthcare provider to determine the most suitable exercise routine, considering individual circumstances.
Impact of exercise during pregnancy on labour
Exercise during pregnancy also impacts positively on labour and delivery. Yoga and breathing exercises help build stamina, and endurance, while cardiovascular fitness through regular exercise can help with muscle strength. All of this can be beneficial during the birthing process, and can contribute to a faster recovery postpartum. It is crucial to choose activities that are safe and appropriate for each stage of pregnancy and to listen to one’s body, avoiding excessive exertion or high-impact exercises.
What to be aware of if you exercise during pregnancy
Every pregnancy is unique, and certain conditions may require modifications or limitations in exercise routines. Therefore it is essential to approach it with caution and seek guidance from a healthcare provider. The safety and well-being of both the mother and the baby should always be the top priority.
The general consensus is that your heart rate should not exceed 140 beats per minute when pregnant, so ensure you focus on low impact, slower exercises, such as yoga. Exercises that require you to lie flat on your back for a long duration of time should also be approached with caution. This is because the increasing weight of your uterus restricts blood circulation to you and your baby, which could lead to feelings of dizziness and nausea. With all types of exercise during pregnancy, it is always best to consult your doctor before performing any kind of exercise, particularly if it is your first pregnancy.
Engaging in regular physical activity offers a multitude of benefits, including improved physical fitness, better mood and mental health, reduced back pain, enhanced sleep quality, and improved labour and delivery outcomes. It is a powerful tool that can enhance overall well-being, alleviate discomfort, and contribute to a smoother pregnancy experience. It is crucial to approach exercise with care, taking into consideration individual circumstances and consulting with a healthcare provider.
Written By Hayley: Female fitness expert at MotivatePT – Reps Level 3 Qualified / Pre & Post Natal
What are the best strength building exercises during pregnancy and as your bump gets bigger?
Building strong glutes will always be beneficial as you get heavier and also to help during labour so squats and lunges can remain a safe and staple part of exercise routines. Just remember to adjust your technique as your bump gets bigger. Your feet may go slightly wider, toes turn out a little (just make sure that your knees and toes are pointing in the same direction) and you probably won’t squat as low. With your lunges you may need to hold onto something for balance and you might not want to bring your knee all the way to the floor.
I always encourage my clients to increase strength in their middle/upper back as this area often takes a lot of strain as the breasts get larger/heavier. You will also spend a lot of time once the baby has arrived feeding them or just holding them in front of you which can cause your shoulders to round forwards. A set of resistance bands are very cost effective, take up no room and you can perform so many strength building exercises with them. Try standing with your arms straight out in front of you at shoulder height, holding the band with your palms facing downwards. Exhales as you pull the band outwards and squeeze your shoulder blades in towards your spine. Try to keep your arms straight and your shoulders away from your ears as you do it. You could even do it with your back against the wall to stop yourself from cheating.
As a wellness professional what are your top tips for exercising during if I have sciatica?
My first tip would be that if you find yourself sitting for long periods of time make sure that you get up regularly to move around or instead of sitting on the sofa you could always grab a large exercise ball to sit on and gently circle your hips or rock your pelvis forwards and back. You could also try the pigeon pose on the floor with a cushion or towel underneath the glute of your bent front leg or as your bump gets bigger you can stretch the same muscles by sitting on a chair and crossing the ankle of one leg over the opposite knee and letting the opened hip relax to the side. Gently hinge forwards at your hips making sure not to squash your bump!
Lengthening the back is also a good exercise if you are struggling with sciatica during your pregnancy. Gently lengthen them out by standing with your back against the wall (the back of your head, shoulders and coccyx should be touching the wall). Your feet can be slightly forwards, hip width apart and with soft knees. As you exhale, tip your pelvis and try to press your lower back against the wall without letting your head and shoulders lose contact. Inhale as you return to neutral and exhale to repeat. Try to do this for 3 sets of 10 with a short break in between sets.
As sciatica pain is often caused by tight glutes, lengthening the hamstrings can help alleviate the pain. Place your hands onto the back of a chair or a counter top roughly at hip height. Step both feet backwards until you are creating a right angle as you hinge at your hips, your arms will be stretched out over head with your torso parallel to the floor. As you exhale try to tip your tailbone up towards the ceiling and gently press your chest towards the floor. Hold for 30 seconds. This stretch has the added bonus of stretching out the chest muscles too!
What are your top 5 tips for helping lose the baby weight?
You will now forever be postnatal! Your body has changed and that is ok, so try to fall in love with the journey and set new goals that match your new priorities (it’s not just about you anymore). A lot will depend on how active you were before and during pregnancy but either way it should be a slow return back to your post baby weight and even then your body may still look different to how it did before.
In the immediate few weeks after birth (c-section or vaginal) your only focus should be on nurturing your baby and developing your bond. After the first few weeks and depending on the type of birth experience you had, you might start to introduce some light exercise, once cleared by your doctor.
As mentioned previously your pelvic floor should be one of your main focuses in order to help prevent any future problems. I always recommend that my clients see a women’s health physiotherapist in the months post birth in order to get a proper check of their abdominal separation, pelvic floor tone and to check if they are performing their pelvic floor exercises correctly. A strong pelvic floor will also enable you to introduce more dynamic, high intensity exercises further in the future.
You may want to introduce a slight calorie deficit to aid your weight loss but please remember to keep it small and that this should be a long term goal and not a quick fix. If you are breastfeeding you can use up to an extra 500 calories a day but try not to use this as an excuse to eat what you want (500 calories really isn’t that much). You will be tired so having meals prepared and stored in the freezer is always a great way to make sure that you are getting meals of nutritional value rather than fast foods. It can also be a great way to involve friends/ family members that want to help. Why not ask them for a tray of vegetable lasagne, or a tub of chilli which you can add to a jacket potato later?
As more time passes you might start to increase your exercise routine to include weights. Again, start small and slowly build up. This is where a trainer specializing in post natal fitness will be important for you to safely build your routine over time.