Exercise during pregnancy can help you to improve or maintain your physical fitness resulting in a healthier and more comfortable pregnancy; an easier birth; and a speedier return to normal once your baby is born.
During pregnancy it should be possible for you to maintain any pre-pregnancy exercise program to some degree. Regular aerobic exercise during pregnancy appears to improve (or maintain) physical fitness. If you have not done any regular exercise before becoming pregnant, pregnancy can be a good time to start, but it is important to take it slowly and listen to your body. Regular (3 times / week) low impact exercise is better than exercising in intense spurts.
Breathing and stretching during pregnancy can also bring you many benefits. This form of exercise is more about maintain muscle tone and suppleness as well as some level of strength and fitness. Toned muscles are better able to perform their functions and learning how to combine the use of your breath with muscular stretching can provide good preparation for relaxation during labour. Research has shown that exercise during pregnancy can reduce your perception of pain during labour.
Pelvic floor exercises are one possibly one of the most talked about antenatal exercises, and they are very important during pregnancy. Toned pelvic floor muscles will provide you with better continence during pregnancy and beyond but they will also be of great assistance to you during the birth.
During labour and birth, your pelvic floor muscles guide your baby’s passive movements through the birth canal; and then they stretch and allow your baby to be born. Good pelvic muscle tone can make your pushing efforts during the second stage of labour more effective, resulting in a shorter labour for you and an easier birth for your baby.
The benefits of exercise during pregnancy don’t stop here though! Maintaining or improving your muscle tone can also make for a more comfortable pregnancy. Exercise is effective in reducing backache, as your body is better able to maintain the natural tilt of your pelvis. Exercise can help to reduce your experience of muscle cramps through improving your circulation; and it can reduce or help eliminate episodes of constipation.
A good level of physical fitness during pregnancy may reduce your overall stress and anxiety and will leave you in better shape to enjoy your new baby.
Guidelines for exercise during pregnancy
- Ask your pregnancy health care provider if you are ok to continue to exercise during pregnancy and always let your body be your guide as to whether the exercise is appropriate.
- Do at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity (according to the RPE scale) on most, if not all, days of the week. If you’re feeling good, challenged but not out of breath and you’re giving yourself sufficient recovery time during and between your workouts, you’ve got it just right. If you are unable to carry on a conversation whilst exercising you are pushing yourself too hard. If you experience dizziness, nausea, blurred vision, fatigue or shortness of breath during exercise, STOP, these can be signs of heat stroke. Never exercise to point of breathlessness or exhaustion.
- Make sure that you allow time for ‘warming up’ before exercising and ‘cooling down’ down after exercising, simple stretches can work well.
- Wear comfortable footwear giving strong ankle and arch support.
- Take frequent breaks and maintain your fluids levels.
- Avoid exercising in extremely hot weather.
- Avoid rocky terrain or unstable ground when running or cycling – during pregnancy your joints are more lax and therefore more easily sprained or injured.
- Contact sports or any sport where you run a risk of falling should be avoided during pregnancy.
Exercising 3 times per week is better than exercising in intense spurts. Walking and swimming are great forms of exercise in pregnancy.
Pelvic floor exercises not only reduce the incidence of stress incontinence, they make muscles more elastic for the birth.
Exercising can lead to a more comfortable pregnancy.