Far from being the taboo it once was, pregnant women are now encouraged to prepare themselves for the demands of labour and caring for a newborn, by keeping up a suitable fitness program. Even those that never used to exercise can gain something from adopting an appropriate regime during pregnancy and beyond.
There are some things you can’t avoid during pregnancy, such as frequent trips to the bathroom throughout the night, weight gain and hormonal changes that leave you feeling frazzled. However, you can minimise the bad effects of some pregnancy symptoms by maintaining a regular exercise routine, and there are many benefits to take advantage of:
- Lifts your spirits – exercise boosts levels of serotonin, a brain chemical linked to mood, putting you in better spirits.
- Prepare your body for childbirth – labour requires stamina, focus and plenty of determination; the fitter you are, the better equipped you will be for giving birth.
- Reduce constipation – by moving more you’ll accelerate movement in your intestine.
- Faster return to pre-pregnancy healthy weight – you will gain less body fat, making it easier to lose the excess kilos once baby is born.
- Sleep better – exercise can assist in managing restlessness and disturbed sleep during pregnancy.
- Maintain a level of fitness – if you were a regular exerciser before falling pregnant, you’ll be keen to stay in shape.
- Reduce stress – pregnancy is both a joyous and stressful time, exercise can temper the emotional rollercoaster.
- Reduce pregnancy discomfort – exercise can help manage back pain and strain as your belly grows.
- Me-time: – it will be the last time you can enjoy your exercise high without having to coordinate babysitters and sleep times once baby is born.
- Preparation for the physical strain of labour
What type of exercise
During pregnancy, the way your body responds to exercise is different. During pregnancy, change in hormones, such as levels of relaxin, causes your ligaments to soften and can increase your risk of joint injuries.
With your belly growing, your centre of gravity will have changed and will affect your balance. This extra weight gain – typically between 10-15 kilograms – puts greater strain on your joints and muscles.
During pregnancy, your resting heart rate increases making pre-pregnancy heart rate targets during exercise no longer applicable. During the second trimester of your pregnancy, your blood pressure will drop. It is important to avoid activities that involve sudden changes of position.
General exercise suggestions
Be guided by your doctor or health care professional before participating in any exercise program while you are pregnant and following childbirth.
Depending on your personal medical advice, some general suggestions include:
- Aim for four exercise sessions per week
- Avoid exercising beyond your current fitness level
- Always begin with a 10-minute warm-up
- Exercise on soft surfaces, such as grass or carpet
- Don’t do more than 20 minutes of vigorous activity per exercise session and keep an eye on your heart rate. Aim to keep it below 140 beats per minute or, if exercising in water, below 125 beats per minute.
- Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise
- Cool down thoroughly for at least 10 minutes
- Include some gentle stretching and avoid bouncing movements
- Wear a supportive bra
- Once you are showing (after 20 weeks) avoid activities that may results in an impact to your tummy.
- Don’t overheat. Wear multiple layers that you can remove, if needed. Natural fibres, such as cotton, will let your skin breathe.
- Avoid activities that may restrict your (and therefore your baby’s) oxygen supply such as mountain climbing or SCUBA diving.