Decades ago, conventional wisdom led women to believe that they were extremely fragile during pregnancy. This meant halting all physical activities such as exercise and basically becoming a couch potato. Thankfully, today women know better than that.
Exercise does wonders during pregnancy because it greatly improves your overall health and wellbeing. It boosts mood, enhances the quality of sleep, reduces pregnancy aches and pains, and prepares you for childbirth by strengthening muscles and building endurance.
This is especially important because, during pregnancy and childbirth, a woman’s body is subjected to a great deal of stress. Exercise also makes it much easier to get back in shape after your baby’s born and helps ease constipation, backache, fatigue, varicose veins, circulation problems and other health issues related to pregnancy.
The most recommended exercises for pregnant women are walking, swimming, yoga, stretching, and low-impact aerobics. Pelvic exercises called Kegel exercises are also beneficial to the expectant mother, helping to strengthen the pelvic floor. The pelvic floor muscles support the uterus, bowel, and bladder; these body parts are put under pressure during pregnancy and childbirth.
Before beginning an exercise regimen during pregnancy, it is important for women to first consult your healthcare provider. This is to eliminate any possible medical conditions such as preterm rupture of membranes, pregnancy-induced hypertension, preterm labour, persistent second- or third-trimester bleeding, poor fetal growth, incompetent cervix or multiple-birth pregnancy which may preclude a pregnant woman from exercising. Women must also take care not to become overheated or dehydrated while exercising.
An increase in core body temperatures in early pregnancy can cause fetal defects, and dehydration in late pregnancy is associated with premature labour. This can be avoided by drinking plenty of fluids and wearing loose, comfortable clothes. You must wear a brassiere providing full support to the breasts and shoes that provide cushioning for your foot or joints. A warm-up and cool-down phase should be included in any exercise regime, with an emphasis on gentle stretching to prevent muscle strain, muscle cramps and joint injuries.
Knee joints are more prone to injury because of the pregnancy hormone relaxin, which softens ligaments and tendons. Avoid exercises on your back after the first trimester or whenever you feel dizzy, lightheaded or nauseated because the weight of your uterus puts pressure on the vein responsible for returning blood from the lower body to the heart.
If you already had an exercise regimen prior to becoming pregnant, you can probably still work out at the same level during pregnancy, as long as your body is comfortable and your doctor gives his blessing. Generally, extremely vigorous physical activity is not recommended during pregnancy. This includes contact sports, such as football and basketball; adventure sports, such as water skiing and scuba diving; and sports that carry a high risk of trauma, such as horseback riding and downhill skiing. The best way to gauge if you are overdoing the exercise is if you experience symptoms such as chest pains and vaginal bleeding or uterine contractions. This is your cue to stop exercising immediately and seek medical advice.
Many hospitals and fitness centres are now offering exercise classes especially for pregnant women, which allow participants not only the opportunity to exercise but to be in the company of others like themselves. This lets them share their aches and pains with someone who really understands how they feel, therefore building the wide support system which is important to women.
The way you feel and the way you look during pregnancy and as a new mother depends on how you take care of yourself during pregnancy regarding diet and exercise. By eating a sensible diet and by exercising on a regular basis, you can maintain or improve your fitness and health during this time when there are extra demands on your body.