During pregnancy, it is to be expected that the body will undergo many physiological changes. Prenatal exercise can help your body adapt to these changes. Some of these include postural changes, lumbar lordosis resulting in lower back pain and a shift in the center of gravity resulting in gait changes. Women also experience increased levels of the hormone ‘Relaxin’, which in turn increases ligament laxity causing joint mobility. Weight gain is inevitable, thus the focus during pregnancy should not be on weight loss, but rather on controlled and healthy weight gain.
“In the absence of either medical or obstetric complications, all pregnant women should be encouraged to participate in aerobic and strength-conditioning training at a moderate intensity on most or all days of the week”.
– American Collage of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ACOG)
Benefits of prenatal exercise
The benefits of exercising during pregnancy are endless. Prenatal exercise increases cardiovascular and muscular fitness while significantly decreasing the risk of developing gestational diabetes or pre-eclampsia (a potentially dangerous pregnancy complication characterised by high blood pressure). While increasing upper body and abdominal strength improves posture, it also decreases incidents of back pain. Regular exercise improves circulation, minimises swelling, increases self-esteem, promotes better sleeping patterns and increases energy levels. Research suggests that a mother’s fitness levels can result in shorter labour, fewer medical interventions and less exhaustion during labour. Enhanced recovery after childbirth is another major benefit.
How much exercise should I be doing?
According to the ACOG, during pregnancy, women should partake in mild to moderate intensity exercise on most or all days of the week. A minimum of 3 days a week is a good place to start. Exercise duration should be anywhere between 30 to 60 minutes long. Women who are pregnant should be aware of the decreased amount of oxygen available to them during aerobic exercise. This is due to the enlargement of their uterus pushing the diaphragm up and decreasing the vertical diameter of the thoracic cavity. Respiration becomes more thoracic as abdominal movements become restricted. It is therefore not uncommon to be short of breath when exercising during pregnancy. It is encouraged to modify the intensity of exercise according to symptoms. Pregnant women should stop exercising when fatigued and never exercise to exhaustion.
Is one form of exercise more beneficial than another?
When choosing your preferred exercise regime, it is important to consider whether it is safe, comfortable, and individualised to you and your maternal health. Beneficial forms of exercise include cardiovascular exercise, aquatic exercise, strength and toning, Kegel exercises, resistance training and gentle stretching.
Cardiovascular exercises are those which involve large muscle groups working in a continuous rhythmic manner such as walking, cycling, rowing or swimming. Strengthening and toning exercises such as Pilates for example, should focus on posture and pelvic stability. It is also important to adapt your exercises according to which stage of pregnancy you are in.
Aquatic exercise has no adverse effects on the foetus. Benefits of immersion in water include thermal regulation, decreased oedema, minimal risk of injury due to limited impact on joints, positive hydrostatic effects of buoyancy and freedom of movement without the fear of falling. Aquatic exercise is diverse and allows you to incorporate all the recommended exercise components in one place while immersed in warm water. From strength, resistance and cardiovascular training to gentle stretching techniques, aquatic therapy offers it all.
What should I be avoiding?
It is suggested that any sports or activities which may involve direct contact or pose the risk of falling should be avoided. These activities include hockey, soccer, gymnastics or horse riding for example. Exercising at altitude or activities such as scuba diving are also discouraged due to altitude and decompression sickness.
Long periods of physical activity while lying on your back should be avoided after your first trimester. This is because the growing uterus compresses the inferior vena cava. This results in relative obstruction of venous return and therefore decreased cardiac output, which can result in maternal hypotension [low blood pressure].
Postpartum exercise – how important is it really?
The physiological changes which occur during pregnancy remain for up to six weeks after delivery. Exercise can be resumed gradually post delivery given there were no complications. Exercising after pregnancy has been associated with decreased postpartum depression or anxiety. It also increases your chance of losing weight gained during pregnancy. And can improve issues with bladder control and sleep cycles.
There are many misconceptions associated with exercising post pregnancy. It is important to know that exercising post pregnancy does not adversely affect the mother’s ability to produce milk. Nor the infants acceptance of breast milk or the nutritional quality of the milk.
Fish & Field Prenatal Exercise Classes during Covid?
At Fish & Field we offer prenatal exercise in the form of aqua classes twice a week on a Tuesday and Thursday evening at 5pm for 45 minutes. These classes are dynamic and individualised to suit the needs of each lady independently. Given the current circumstances we find ourselves in, due to the covid-19 pandemic, we are keeping our classes small. This allows for social distancing during the class. Smaller classes also ensure that each lady is provided with our undivided attention throughout the class.
Should you not feel comfortable in a group class setting, we do provide one-on-one sessions as well. We encourage all those expecting moms who are wishing to be active in a safe and warm environment to contact us for more information. If you have any questions, please visit our website or feel free to give any one of our Bio’s a call.
Author: Biokineticst Nicole Ramsay