Benefits of exercising during pregnancy
Exercising has immense benefits for all ages. Those who exercise stay fit and healthy – mentally and physically. During pregnancy, exercising moderately is known to be very beneficial. Exercising during pregnancy:
- Helps relieve stress, and keeps depression at bay.
- Relieves constipation, bloating and morning sickness.
- Relieves pain in back and legs.
- Keeps weight gain in control.
- Keeps you active and happy.
- Prevents complications during pregnancy, labor and birth.
- Helps faster recovery and fitness after baby’s birth.
- Relieves signs of postpartum depression.
Care and Precaution
Remaining active during pregnancy is beneficial, but exercises and physical activity should be performed with care. A woman’s body undergoes a lot of physical changes during pregnancy, some of which are internal and hard to notice and therefore, changes have to be made to how she exercises too.
Ligaments and tendons are more loose and relaxed during pregnancy due to release of a hormone called relaxin, and therefore, exercises that require extra balancing effort like standing on a single leg, jumping and bouncy movements may lead to ‘unexpected’ loss of balance and injury.
More significantly during the third trimester of pregnancy, your belly weight will be shifting your center of gravity and therefore balancing yourself will be tricky. There is a change in curvature of vertebral column too and therefore, sudden movements, getting up from a squat and balancing require more effort.
The increasing size of the uterus reduces space for the diaphragm to completely expand, and therefore you may feel shortness of breath.
The most recommended exercises during pregnancy are those which strengthen muscles to avoid injury due to relatively relaxed joints, and those which help in correcting body posture which help in reducing back pain. The exercises that are generally not recommended during this time are those which require sudden and bumpy movements that can cause loss of balance and / or can put excess pressure on joints.
Here are some important points to keep in mind while exercising:
- Comfortable clothing (avoid extremely loose clothing and prefer breathable soft cotton) and footwear (make sure your footwear is extremely comfortable and supportive) is a must.
- Mild exercises and stretching (warm up) is recommended before beginning the exercise routine to help the body to get ready for exercise.
- During exercise body temperature rises and body dissipates the heat through skin. If the body heat is not dissipated properly, the core body temperature keeps rising and can lead to hyperthermia (abnormally high body temperature). Studies have shown relationship between hyperthermia and fetal abnormalities, and therefore most doctors suggest avoiding vigorous exercises that can cause excess body temperature. Hot and humid environment is to be completely avoided to prevent hyperthermia. Exercises should be performed in an obstacle free, comfortably cool, fresh and airy environment.
- Drinking water or freshly prepared fruit juice in between helps prevent dehydration.
- Exercising should be immediately stopped in case of feeling of exhaustion, breathlessness, dizziness, nausea, uterine contractions, fluid leakage or vaginal bleeding, or any kind of pain and the personal OB/GYN should be contacted immediately on observing any such symptoms.
- The duration of the exercise should not be more than that recommended by the doctor, or beyond comfort level.
- Any new form of exercise should not be performed without consulting the doctor.
- Exercises which require resting on the back, bending from the abdomen, those involving high-impact (jumping, horse riding, skating etc) and those which can put pressure on joints, should be avoided.
- Slowing down the pace of exercising few minutes before stopping (cool down) is also recommended.
- Special Cases during pregnancy where exercising can be risky:
- Preeclampsia or Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Pregnancy with multiples (twins, triplets or quads)
- Preterm labor
- Vaginal bleeding
- Leakage of amniotic fluid
- Placental position towards the lower part of the uterus (Placenta previa)
- Incompetent cervix
- Heart or Lung disease
Pregnancy exercises are meant to refresh the mind and body and prove beneficial for both the mother and the developing baby.
It is important to discuss all the forms of exercises with your doctor, and find out the ones which are suitable specifically for your pregnancy, before beginning them. Also, while performing the exercises, apply the precautionary steps to ensure your safety while exercising.
Joining a special group or class meant for pregnancy exercises is helpful and takes care of your special needs.
A trainer who specializes in pregnancy exercises would be a great guide for you. Make sure you share what your doctor recommended for you with him / her.
Walking is the most common, beneficial and easiest exercise during pregnancy. Going for an early morning walk rejuvenates the mind and body. A friend who joins in for your daily walk makes it more enjoyable and keeps you more regular and motivated. If you like to brisk walk, try to reduce the duration to a comfortable level and increase the duration of normal pace of walking.
Exercises which can be done while sitting or standing and require comfortable limb movements can be performed during pregnancy. These exercises will strengthen muscles of legs, arms, pelvis and abdomen.
Moderate water aerobics and swimming is known to be good for pregnancy. Swimming strengthens abdominal muscles and limbs. Water supports your body weight and puts less stress on ligaments and tendons and therefore is a safe way to exercise during pregnancy.
Yoga is gaining popularity with pregnant mothers due to its immense benefits. If you are new to yoga, it is very important to consider help of a yoga expert.
Joining special yoga groups / classes only for pregnant women is the best option but care should be taken about which exercise suits you best.
Those who want to practice yoga at home should consider an expert coming home and teaching the right posture and balancing for a particular exercise.
Do not attempt difficult yoga exercises or the ones for which high flexibility, strength and balancing is required.
For beginners, simple yoga exercises like hasta uttanasana (hands joined above the head while standing), Anuloma pranayama (alternate breathing by each nostril while sitting on the floor), sukhasana (sitting cross legged), virasana (hero pose – very beneficial for pregnancy), anjali mudra (salutation seal) and dandasana (staff pose) are appropriate.
For those who have been practicing yoga and have developed good flexibility and balancing can try bitilasana (cow pose – which can become more uncomfortable with the increasing belly weight) and Utkatasana (Chair Pose) also.
Kegel exercise is a must for all pregnant women and is equally beneficial after childbirth. Kegel exercise is done to strengthen the pubococcygeus muscles in the pelvis which is extremely helpful during vaginal delivery. Strengthening of this muscle also helps in reducing leakage of urine while coughing, sneezing or laughing (known as urinary stress incontinence). Kegel exercise also prevents protrusion or prolapse of organs near the pelvis (uterus, vagina) from the pelvic floor. These exercises also help increase sexual satisfaction.
To find out which muscles to contract, stop the flow of urine in between and hold it for 2-3 seconds and then release. The muscles used to stop the urine flow are the ones which need to be contracted for about 10 seconds and then relaxed. This is to be done 20-25 times continuously and 3-4 times a day.
- Handbook of Nutrition and Pregnancy
- Feed the belly by Frances Largeman-Roth, RD
- Expect the Best by Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D.
- Pregnancy for Dummies by Joanne Stone, MD, Keith Eddleman, MD, and Mary Duenwald