Exercising a Healthy Pregnancy

When you’re pregnant, the last thing you usually feel like doing is working up a sweat. Between the sleepless nights, mood swings and morning sickness, it can be tough to motivate yourself to get moving. But, when you overcome your initial reluctance, you’ll discover that the benefits of being active make it well worth your while.

In the past, expectant mothers were advised to avoid exercise, and move as little as possible. Nowadays, however, the experts have found that it’s much better for moms-to-be to get moving. We all know that it’s good for our health and longevity to have some sort of movement routine, but it’s interesting to understand why exercising specifically while you’re pregnant is so important.

How it all works

When you’re pregnant, your body spends nine months adjusting to accommodate your growing tenant, and preparing itself to give birth. As your little one develops, and takes up an increasing amount of space, your stomach and intestines shift to accommodate it, and your pelvic girdle opens up.

One of the many incredible ways in which your body adapts to this remarkable change is by releasing a hormone called relaxin. This magical ingredient ultimately causes the cervix to dilate and prepares the uterus for labour. Way before then though, it loosens the ligaments in your pelvis, which allows your bod to expand and adjust as your little bundle grows.

The flipside of this fascinating process is that it can make your pelvic girdle feel a little rickety, which often leads to back pain, especially as your term progresses. This is doubly true if you have a pre-existing condition, or if this is not your first pregnancy. If you’re already in a good exercise routine then your core’s likely strong enough to support you, but if you’re not much of a mover, it can be problematic.

What you can do

The first thing, regardless of how active you are in general, is to speak to your gynae about the kind of exercise she or he recommends for your unique situation and your current stage of pregnancy.

High impact and contact sports are obvious no-nos, but some other seemingly innocuous activities can also do more harm than good. For example, Bikram yoga is a no-go, as the heat can be dangerous for mother and baby. Generally speaking, activities that require you to balance, or lay on your back or stomach are also discouraged, especially if you’re past the halfway mark. Ultimately your best bet is to find out what your practitioner recommends.

Assuming that you’re in relatively good health, and are free from injuries or limiting conditions, there are a few kinds of exercises that are ideal for preggies across the board, regardless of your level of fitness.

  • Low impact cardio – preggy aerobics classes are a great way to get the exercise you need in a safe environment. However, if you prefer to go at it alone, then walking, swimming, low-altitude hiking and stationary cycling are all beneficial.
  • Dancing – Gentle movement classes like Nia are ideal because they place very little strain on your body. Rather, they aim at free-form movement that matches your existing fitness and strength levels.
  • Preggy Pilates – Nothing really beats a good Pilates class at targeting your core muscles. You’ll find that instructors who specialise in preggy classes are equipped to help you build or sustain the strength needed to support you during your pregnancy, and beyond.
  • Aqua classes – Regardless of the style of preggy aqua class you take, being in the pool gives you a weightless feeling that’s very welcome in the third trimester, and the water’s gentle resistance never pushes you beyond your body’s own limits.

Aside from the benefits of supporting your body as it prepares for labour and birth, there are other reasons why it’s such a good idea to move and stretch your pregnant self.

Combat fatigue and boost endorphins

It’s easy to nurture sedentary habits when you’re constantly feeling weak and tired, but this can become a vicious circle. Even though pregnancy fatigue is a very real thing, you’ll find that going for a short, slow walk always feels like the right thing to do once you’re done.

This is because you’re getting your pelvis to move, and you’re taking in more oxygen than you would be if you were sitting on the couch. This in turn prompts the body to release those feel-good endorphins, which usually gives you the natural boost you need to make it to bedtime.

Assist in carrying comfortably, and recovering well

As your pregnancy progresses, you’ll feel heavier, and as your baby grows you’ll likely experience heartburn – as well as the discomfort of knobbly bits poking you in the ribcage and bladder. By doing a few simple stretches – either at home or in the gym – you can encourage your little one to shift position slightly, which in turn makes life much easier for you.

Making the effort now will also pay dividends after you give birth. Regardless of whether you have a C-section or natural delivery, your pelvic floor has undergone nine months of stretching and weight bearing. This means that it needs all the help it can get in order to bounce back into shape, which it can and will!

Enjoy a better headspace

Simply being outside, or in a class, lets you look at something other than your computer screen or the all-too familiar walls of your home. If you’re a solo exerciser, then being out and about is probably your sacrosanct time to clear your head, and take in the scenery – whatever it may be.

On the other hand, if you prefer the company of others, then group classes are fantastic ways to meet fellow moms-to-be, and enjoy the camaraderie of shared experiences.

What you should know

As you enjoy a sensible antenatal exercise regime, your trainer, instructor or biokineticist will agree that it’s important to keep a few things in mind:

  • Expectant mothers may respond differently to the same exercise they’ve done before falling pregnant and this is absolutely normal. In other words, don’t beat yourself up if you’re not able to move the way you used to; your body is busy doing something awesome.
  • It’s important to stay hydrated, especially when doing pool exercises, because you don’t always realise how much you’ve been sweating, and how much moisture you’re losing.
  • Moms-to-be often worry about overheating when they exercise, or that their baby’s not receiving enough blood. Interestingly, your blood volume increases in accordance with the baby’s growth so that is not an issue. However, overheating can occur, so the experts recommend taking regular breaks, and not trying to push your body too far.
  • It’s vitally important to be aware of how you feel while exercising. Shortness of breath, dizziness, stomach pain or bleeding should be cause to stop immediately.

A general rule of thumb with any exercise you do is to pay careful attention to your body. Particularly when you’re pregnant, if your lower back becomes tender then it’s time to chat to your doctor, and possibly reassess your mode of exercise.

Welcome to a happier, healthier pregnancy

If you’re keen to get started with an exercise routine that supports you at your current stage of pregnancy and beyond, then we invite you to meet our team. With highly qualified trainers and biokineticists, you’re in capable hands and can be sure to benefit from appropriate activities for your unique physical situation. Visit us at www.myhealthandfitness.co.za – and find the right health and fitness professional to suit you – an expert who will not only help you meet your personal fitness goals but provide you with all the health and physical care advice you need.

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