EXERCISE IN PREGNANCY
While traditional wisdom tells women to “take it easy” during pregnancy, new evidence shows it’s not harmful, and may even benefit your baby, to stay active. Maintaining a regular exercise routine throughout your pregnancy can help you stay healthy and feel your best. Regular exercise during pregnancy can improve your posture and decrease some common discomforts such as backaches and fatigue. There is evidence that physical activity may prevent gestational diabetes (diabetes that develops during pregnancy), relieve stress, and build more stamina needed for labor and delivery.
If you were physically active before your pregnancy, you should be able to continue your activity in moderation. Don’t try to exercise at your former level; instead, do what’s most comfortable for you now. Low impact aerobics are encouraged versus high impact.
If you have never exercised regularly before, you can safely begin an exercise program during pregnancy after consulting with your health care provider, but do not try a new, strenuous activity. Walking is considered safe to initiate when pregnant.
Pregnant women who choose to continue training during pregnant would need to adjust their nutritional needs. Fetal growth and development requires adequate energy and proper nutrition. So, if you think of it this way when an individual works out and trains, their calorie, macronutrient and micronutrient requirements would raise and when these individuals fall pregnant these needs increase further.
The 2nd and 3rd trimester, you will need 300Kcal extra per day on top of your normal calorie requirement. It is an estimate it will vary from person to person. This increase can be met by slightly increasing portion sizes or adding one or two snacks to your diet. Athletes in weight restricted sports or people with weight loss program can affect yours and the baby’s health. Moreover, pregnancy is not a good time to restrict calories. Inadequate calorie intake can have severe consequences.
In general, pregnant women who exercise should aim for about 20 to 25g extra protein per day on top of what you would normal consume.
As far as micronutrient is concerned, the table below gives a good recommendation for pregnant women who exercise. All nutrients are important during pregnancy but there is a special focus being placed on total calories, protein, Folate, Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Iron and Magnesium. All these recommendation can be achieved through whole food sources. These nutrients ensure the healthy development of the baby and also support the mother at this stage of her life.
Who Should Not Exercise During Pregnancy?
If you have a medical problem, such as asthma, heart disease, or diabetes, exercise may not be advisable. Exercise may also be harmful if you have a pregnancy-related condition such as:
- Bleeding or spotting
- Low placenta
- Threatened or recurrent miscarriage
- Previous premature births or history of early labor
- Weak cervix
Talk with your health care provider before beginning an exercise program. Your health care provider can also give your personal exercise guidelines, based on your medical history.
What Exercises Are Safe During Pregnancy?
Most exercises are safe to perform during pregnancy, as long as you exercise with caution and do not overdo it.
The safest and most productive activities are swimming, brisk walking, indoor stationary cycling, step or elliptical machines, and low-impact aerobics (taught by a certified aerobics instructor). These activities carry little risk of injury, benefit your entire body, and can be continued until birth.
Tennis and racquetball are generally safe activities, but changes in balance during pregnancy may affect rapid movements. Other activities such as jogging can be done in moderation, especially if you were doing them before your pregnancy. You may want to choose exercises or activities that do not require great balance or coordination, especially later in pregnancy.
What Exercises Should Be Avoided During Pregnancy?
There are certain exercises and activities that can be harmful if performed during pregnancy. They include:
- Holding your breath during any activity.
- Activities where falling is likely (such as skiing and horseback riding).
- Contact sports such as softball, football, basketball, and volleyball.
- Any exercise that may cause even mild abdominal trauma such as activities that include jarring motions or rapid changes in direction.
- Activities that require extensive jumping, hopping, skipping, bouncing, or running.
- Deep knee bends, full sit-ups, double leg raises, and straight-leg toe touches.
- Bouncing while stretching.
- Waist-twisting movements while standing.
- Heavy exercise spurts followed by long periods of no activity.
- Exercise in hot, humid weather.
What Should a Pregnancy Exercise Program Consist Of?
For total fitness, a pregnancy exercise program should strengthen and condition your muscles.
Always begin by warming up for five minutes and stretching for five minutes. Include at least fifteen minutes of cardiovascular activity. Measure your heart rate at times of peak activity. Follow aerobic activity with five to ten minutes of gradually slower exercise that ends with gentle stretching.
Here are some basic exercise guidelines for pregnant women:
- Wear loose fitting, comfortable clothes as well as a good support bra.
- Choose shoes that are designed for the type of exercise you do. Proper shoes are your best protection against injury.
- Exercise on a flat, level surface to prevent injury.
- Consume enough calories to meet the needs of your pregnancy (300 more calories per day than before you were pregnant) as well as your exercise program.
- Finish eating at least one hour before exercising.
- Drink water before, during, and after your workout.
- After doing floor exercises, get up slowly and gradually to prevent dizziness.
- Never exercise to the point of exhaustion. If you cannot talk normally while exercising, you are probably over-exerting yourself and should slow down your activity.
Warning for Pregnant Women
Stop exercising and consult your health care provider if you:
- Feel chest pain.
- Have abdominal pain, pelvic pain, or persistent contractions.
- Have a headache.
- Notice an absence or decrease in fetal movement.
- Feel faint, dizzy, nauseous, or light-headed.
- Feel cold or clammy.
- Have vaginal bleeding.
- Have a sudden gush of fluid from the vagina or a trickle of fluid that leaks steadily.
- Notice an irregular or rapid heartbeat.
- Have sudden swelling in your ankles, hands, face, or calf pain.
- Are short of breath.
- Have difficulty walking.
- Have muscle weakness.
How Soon Can I Exercise After Delivery?
It is best to ask your health care provider how soon you can begin your exercise routine after delivering your baby.
Although you may be eager to get in shape quickly, return to your pre-pregnancy fitness routines gradually. Follow your health care provider’s exercise recommendations.
Most women can safely perform a low-impact activity one to two weeks after a vaginal birth (or three to four weeks after a cesarean birth). Do about half of your normal floor exercises and don’t try to overdo it.
It is important to stay exercising while pregnant. Obviously, you are not going to be able to do the same type of exercise the further on you go with your pregnancy. When an athlete becomes pregnant, most will choose to continue training or competing throughout the majority of their pregnancy but for people who are not training at that level and go to the gym regular or fitness classes, you must try and keep it up. Maybe switch to alternative exercise as you progress in your pregnancy. There is no reason to stop exercising unless you are advised not to exercise by a health care professional.
If you’re pregnant and considering a healthy diet, be sure to take the time to assess what you eat to ensure you are choosing properly balanced meals. If you need help, seek guidance from a dietitian.
- The Pregnant Athlete, part 1: Anatomy and Physiology of Pregnancy. Journal of Human Kinetics. https://journals.humankinetics.com/doi/abs/10.1123/att.15.2.39.
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