Wondering if exercising during pregnancy is a good idea? Engaging in low to moderate intensity exercise while pregnant reduces the duration of and exertion during labor. Not just that, it also allows for a speedy recovery after delivery and reduces the risk of pregnancy-related complications. While pregnant, steer clear of contact and high-intensity sports. Take to lighter forms of exercise like walking, stationary cycling, and swimming instead.
Pregnancy brings with it several concerns regarding day-to-day activities, one of which is exercising. And whether you’re an exercise enthusiast or simply like staying fit with regular exercise, there’s a good chance your loved ones have advised you to avoid hitting the gym until childbirth. However, keeping up with exercise can actually give you a host of benefits, provided you’ve got your gynecologist’s approval. We’ve listed them out for you below.
1. Keeps Your Weight In Check
According to the Institute of Medicine:1
- Normal-weight women should gain 25–35 pounds
- Underweight women should gain 28–40 pounds
- Overweight women should gain 15–25 pounds
- Obese women should gain 11–20 pounds
Although gaining weight during pregnancyis important, it’s important to stick to the recommended amount so as to avoid being overweight and giving way to pregnancy-related complications. These complications include the risk of having high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, and other heart conditions. Your little one may also suffer from issues related to obesity and diabetes later on in life. So, be sure to consult a professional and stick to your exercise regime along with your diet chart. However, if you are at risk of pre-term birth, do talk to your gynecologist about gentler options.2
2. Fights Fatigue And Improves Sleep
A lot of pregnant women experience extreme tiredness during their first and third trimesters. And if you’re generally an active person, it might get frustrating to have to sleep through most of your day. To make things worse, some women also have trouble sleeping during the first weeks of pregnancy, besides nausea and vomiting. This is a normal part of pregnancy and is a signal from your body to slow down and give yourself the time to adjust to the changes it is going through. Primarily, the tiredness comes from hormonal changes, especially progesterone which rises sharply in the first trimester. Besides this, as blood volume increases to supply the developing placenta and fetal circulation, your heart pumps faster and stronger. This results in faster pulse and breathing rates. Fatigue in the third trimester could be attributed to low iron levels.
Studies have found that mild exercise can instantly energize you and help you sleep better later on in the day. Start by going for an easy walk or sign yourself up for some prenatal yoga classes. You will soon start noticing an increase in your energy level.3
3. Improves Posture And Reduces Pain In The Back And Joints
Carrying a little one in your belly puts pressure on your spine and legs. And the pain you might be experiencing could be related to these physical changes that happen during pregnancy as well as hormones, changes in the center of gravity, and worsened posture. Unfortunately, it typically gets worse as pregnancy progresses. One way to relieve this pain is to do back-strengthening exercises and yoga stretches that aim at your back and joints. However, be sure to maintain good posture throughout so as to avoid any injuries and to ensure you train your body to maintain good posture throughout.4
4. Relieves Constipation
During pregnancy, your body produces more of the hormone progesterone, which is a muscle relaxant that prepares your body to adjust to the growing size of your baby by loosening up smooth muscles, including the ones in the digestive tract. This causes food to pass through the intestines more slowly, resulting in constipation. Besides this, iron supplements in high doses can also worsen constipation. You can relieve this by exercising regularly and consuming a fiber-rich diet.5
5. Reduces Stress
Pregnancy comes with a fair share of stress and anxiety. And while mild stress isn’t harmful, prolonged stress can lead to an increased risk of miscarriage, low birth weight of the child, shorter gestation, preterm birth, and mood disorders in the child later on. Exercise boosts the level of serotonin and endorphins in your brain, which help improve your mood.6
6. Shortens The Duration Of Labor
Engaging in physical exercise regularly during pregnancy has been found to result in a shorter initial stage of labor.7 This is because exercise increases the circulation of the chemical norepinephrine in the body, which in turn increases the frequency and strength of contractions of the uterus. As a result, there is bound to be a lesser need for external intervention and fewer signs of fetal compromise during labor.8
7. Lowers Exertion During Labor
Labor can be a difficult experience for many women, especially for first-time moms. And prenatal classes do not entirely help or prepare women for the physical and the mental exertion that accompanies it. This is where exercise can do wonders. Research suggests that physically active women tend to have lower exertion during labor.9 This is because regular exercise during pregnancy keeps excess maternal body weight, which has been known to increase labor duration, at bay. So, it’s a good idea to adopt an exercise regimen in consultation with your doctor for more comfortable labor.
8. Reduces Recovery Time Post Delivery
Exercise not only helps during labor but also speeds up recovery post delivery. Women who exercise during pregnancy have been found to recover faster after delivery, enabling them to perform simple chores much sooner than sedentary women.10 This is because exercising during pregnancy improves their overall health and also reduces the chances of a Cesarean delivery.11
9. Reduces The Risk Of Pregnancy-Related Complications
Exercising has often been linked to possible complications during pregnancy. However, research suggests that regularly engaging in moderate intensity exercise can, in fact, lower the risk of pregnancy-related complications like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia (characterized by high blood pressure and protein in urine).12 Exercise allows optimum glucose utilization and prevents insulin resistance, lowering the risk of gestational diabetes.13 Not just that, it also controls blood pressure and prevents the occurrence of preeclampsia.
Exercises Recommended For Pregnant Women
Depending on your physical fitness and the trimester you’re in, it’s recommended that you switch up the intensity and type of exercise you do. While the former can only be determined by your doctor, here are a few trimester-based recommendations:14
- First trimester: Considering the fact that most women at this point are struggling with fatigue and new changes in the body, a 30-minute walk, meditation, and prenatal yoga be the most ideal options.
- Second trimester: In this stage, most women are more energetic and accustomed to the changes in their body. Good options include sweating it out on the elliptical, cycling on a stationary bike, yoga, swimming, jogging, or walking for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Athletes can train during this time, but it might be best not to push yourself for a marathon until after childbirth. To get the most of your work out, find a good trainer.
- Third trimester: The final stage is one where women feel uncomfortable and awkward as their joints go lax and back feels strained. At this point, swimming is a good option as is walking. Contrary to popular notion, neither will bring on labor. Do note that yoga postures need to be modified to be more comfortable and safe at this point.
Sports that have chances of causing abdominal injuries such as hockey, boxing, wrestling, and football, as well as sports that can cause grievous injuries such as gymnastics, horseback riding, and skating, are strongly discouraged during pregnancy.15 Long hours of standing and exercises involving lifting of weights should also be avoided.
What often worries women about exercising during pregnancy is that it may result in premature labor or delivery, abortion, or fetal injury leading to congenital deformities. Research suggests that there are no such risks when healthy women undertake moderate exercise under proper supervision.16 That said you should avoid exercising if:
- You are experiencing vaginal bleeding
- You are at risk of pre-term labor
- You are pregnant with twins or triplets
- You are very obese and have not discussed exercise with your provider
- You have placenta previa
- You already have a major injury
- You have cervical insufficiency
- You have uncontrolled high blood pressure
Additionally, do talk to your doctor about any abnormalities to watch out for, especially if you have a history of miscarriage. Care should be taken to avoid any sprains or strains, and if you are starting out begin with about 3 exercise sessions a week for up to 20 minutes per session at a low to moderate intensity.17
Keep all these tips in mind and start exercising today to ensure good health for you and your baby.