Research has found exercise before and during pregnancy benefits both the mother and the baby. However, before considering a workout routine while pregnant, a medical professional should be consulted.
Being pregnant for 40 weeks is a physical challenge. The fitter and stronger you are to begin with, the better. It is never too late to start. Being fit and strong will help make pregnancy much more enjoyable and will assist during labour. Good health will allow you to keep up with the demands of a young baby.
How will pregnancy affect your body and physical abilities?
Pregnancy changes your physical abilities in many ways. Some of these are below.
Increase in body weight (10-15 kg). This will result in the body’s centre of gravity moving forward so the curvature of the spine will increase. This may make some activities such as jogging uncomfortable, particularly in the second half of the pregnancy.
Loosening of all ligaments. During pregnancy, a hormone called relaxin is released to open the pelvis and prepare the body for birth. However, it acts non-specifically so increased flexibility occurs in all ligaments.
Increase in resting heart rate. There is more blood in your body to keep up with the oxygen demands of your growing body and baby. This means the heart must work harder to circulate the increased blood volume around the body.
Decrease in blood pressure. During the second trimester, blood pressure will fall. From approximately the fourth month, rapid changes of position and stopping suddenly should be avoided as your cardiovascular adjustments take longer. If you are doing group fitness and abdominal and leg exercises, lying on your back should be avoided, because the weight of the baby can slow the return of blood to the heart. Most of these exercises can be adapted, and preformed lying on the side. Ask your instructor for alternatives for these exercises.
Pelvic floor muscles stretch. The pelvic floor muscles stretch like a trampoline across the floor of the pelvis, running from the coccyx (tailbone) at the back through to the pubic bone at the font, and sideways to the sitting bones. The pelvic floor muscles help support the reproductive organs, bladder and bowel. The pelvic floor muscles play a large part in bladder and bowel control, as well as sexual function. During pregnancy, hormones and the weight of the baby, weaken the pelvic floor. It is extremely important pelvic floor exercises are done before pregnancy (if possible), throughout the pregnancy, and as soon after birth as is comfortable. Having a strong awareness of pelvic floor control can help to relax the pelvic floor during birth.
What type of exercise is suitable during pregnancy?
Before commencing any form of exercise always remember to properly warm up. A good warm up should begin with a low intensity activity that incorporates all the major muscle groups.
A basic rule is to listen to your body and don’t overdo it. Never over heat the body. Drink regular sips of water and rest if feeling hot or fatigued.
Lower Back: Due to reduced abdominal and pelvic floor strength, the lower back is often weakened and poorly supported after pregnancy. Abdominal and core exercises will help to regain back strength.
Exercises such as: Abdominal Bracing, pelvic tilts and pelvic floor exercises will help regain strength in these areas. Speak to a PT or Group Exercise instructor to find out more about these exercises.
Suitable activities during pregnancy include:
- Prenatal/gentle Yoga
- Gentle Pilates
- Moderate intensity walking
- Group fitness classes such as Pump, Aero Sculpt, Sculpt and Step.
- Stationary cycling
While pregnant it is great to be active every day in as many ways as possible. Developing deep core muscle strength will help the body manage the changes of pregnancy and some of the discomforts such as backache, joint strain, and pelvic loosening. If lower back pain develops, make an appointment to see a physiotherapist. If you have been exercising prior to pregnacy, it is generally safe to continue with known regular exercise techniques. However, some changes will be required as the pregnancy progresses. It is never a good idea to take up new strenuous exercise such as outdoor cycling, jogging, high impact classes or stronger forms of Yoga, Pilates or resistance training especially if never done before.
It is very important to gradually regain general fitness after the birth of a baby. Gentle exercise can be started as soon as is comfortable after a vaginal birth.
After a caesarean birth, all exercise other than pelvic floor exercises should be avoided for at least 6 weeks. As a general guide, wait at least one week after no longer feeling discomfort and after seeing a doctor.
Avoid high impact exercise, contact sports or heavy weights for at least 3 – 4 months after the birth of a baby. A gradual return to these activities is also needed so when you’re confident that your tummy and pelvic floor muscles have returned to normal strength and you have no back pain. Yoga, Pilates or a postnatal exercise class are good options when ready to begin exercising again.
Sit ups/crunches are not recommended until 6 – 8 weeks post birth. Crunches before this can lead to further separation of the abdominals, so focus on pelvic floor and deep core awareness instead.
The following parts of the body should be the focus of post natal exercise:
- Pelvic floor: All women should exercise their pelvic floor to bring strength to these supportive muscles.
- Abdominal Muscles: Stretching of the tummy muscles during pregnancy means they are unable to effectively protect the back from injury and maintain good posture. It is normal to have a separation of abdominal muscles post
- In Group classes always inform the instructor of your condition.
We recommend getting in touch with a fitness coach from the In Health Performance Coaching for safe, effective training.