Today is National Women's Health & Fitness Day, and we can't think of a better time to talk about the importance of staying physically active during pregnancy. When you're feeling achy or uncomfortable, it might not be top of your mind, but maternity exercise has some serious benefits. Did you know that exercising can reduce the risk of pregnancy complications and even help ease labor pains?
Staying active is recommended for most pregnant women, but there are important exceptions; read ahead for safety steps to follow before beginning a maternity fitness routine. To be clear, this is not about exercising for weight loss or appearance but more about keeping your body moving so that you are in tip-top shape come delivery day.
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Before You Get Moving
While exercise is generally very safe and usually recommended, your medical record and history can significantly impact what type and level of exercise you should do while pregnant. Certain health conditions can pose limitations. If you have a history of heart disease, diabetes, asthma, or other diseases, it is vital that you consult with your doctor or midwife first to see what activities they would suggest for you.
Exercise might also not be recommended for those experiencing pregnancy-related conditions such as cervical issues, leaking of amniotic fluid, vaginal bleeding, past miscarriages, dizziness, high blood pressure, or Tachycardia (heightened heart rate over 100bpm). If unsure, it's always best to speak with your doctor beforehand.
You'll usually be able to remain active if you've had a fitness routine before getting pregnant. You might just need to tone down the intensity and pay attention to your body's signals. Not that into working out? There is no need to feel bad; nearly 60% of women do not have an exercise routine before getting pregnant, so you're in good company. As long as you're cleared by your doctor, now is a great time to start this healthy habit.
Benefits of Maternity Exercise
For those who are healthy without complications and can keep active, there are plenty of benefits. The most well-known exercise benefits are improved muscle tone, endurance, and strength, all qualities that are of great aid during labor. If you suffer from backaches, bloating, or swelling, staying active can also help increase blood flow and reduce gassiness and inflammation, offering much-needed relief. According to John Hopkins, it can even help you drift to sleep easier and experience quality deep sleep.
Staying fit doesn't just impact your body, but your mind too. When you exercise, endorphins are released; this feel-good brain chemical boosts your mood and energy levels while lowering stress signals. We'll take all those positive vibes; thank you very much!
These benefits combined can reduce the risk of gestational diabetes or the need for a C-section, and best of all can shorten the time you will be in labor. In other words, it's a total win for most moms-to-be.
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Some of the Best Exercises to Consider
Craft an exercise routine that is customized to your needs and preferences. For some, these will be group classes that don't look much different from sessions taken before you were pregnant. For others, your routine might include long walks with your dog or home workouts in front of the TV. There is no wrong or right answer here; just getting moving is literally a step in the right direction. Here are some suggested maternity exercises:
Tailor sits and presses are great at reducing lower back pain. They focus on strengthening your pelvis, hips, and thighs, all-powerful muscles that aid in childbirth. A tailor sit is achieved by sitting on the floor with your knees bent outward and your soles touching in the center. Draw your feet as close as you comfortably can toward your belly.
To take this up a notch as a tailor press, sit in the same position, lean forward, and place your hands under your knees. Press your knees down toward the floor while pressing your hands toward the ceiling to apply opposing pressure. Count to five, then repeat.
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Walking is one of the most basic forms of exercise, but it's also one of the most impactful. Best of all, you can enjoy staying active while going about your regular daily routine. It's an excellent choice for beginners that offers aerobic activity with minimal joint stress. Think about ways to incorporate more walking throughout your day, such as taking the stairs instead of an elevator or escalator, parking farther away in the lot, or taking a leisurely stroll to your corner deli.
Want to take this concept to the next level? Try indoor cycling on a stationary bike, or follow along with a low-impact aerobic workout and add light weights for strength training.
Sports like water aerobics and swimming are perfect for pregnant women. Because water makes you feel almost weightless, it puts less strain on your joints and carries less risk of injury. It also helps your body drain excess fluid, reducing the chance of edemas.
Swimming can reduce tension and improve flexibility. You might not notice it at first, but water resistance helps tone and strengthen muscles with every movement.
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Prenatal Yoga is one of the most popular exercise choices. It builds muscle and focuses on breathing techniques and meditation, which proves super helpful during labor. It's the perfect training to get your mind-body connection in sync before delivery day.
Just be sure to tell the instructor you are pregnant before class begins if attending a typical yoga class; they will modify poses more tailored to you. Steer clear of any hot yoga classes, though. They are not recommended while pregnant when it's best to stay cool and hydrated.
Not all exercise has to be planned; even everyday household chores can keep you in good shape. Gardening is a very relaxing activity with the extra benefit of a vitamin D boost from being out in the sun. Whether your planting, pulling weeds or cutting grass, it's a great way to stay active while pregnant.
Even house cleaning can have you working up a sweat. Put on your favorite music and have a "refresh your home" day with your partner. Feel free to unload groceries or anything that isn't too heavy before your baby arrives to tone your arm muscles. Squat down to pick up the bags and keep your core engaged.
There are many enjoyable and practical maternity exercises, but some require more caution than others. If you're unsure if an activity is safe while pregnant, check with your obstetrician beforehand.
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Exercises to Avoid
Safety comes first, so be mindful of exercises you should avoid. Skiing, snowboarding, or horse riding can be dangerous while pregnant since falling is a significant risk. You'll also want to stay on the sidelines for contact sports like football, basketball, and volleyball to avoid any abdominal trauma.
While most water sports are recommended, scuba diving and water skiing are not. Any exercises that involve holding your breath for long periods are also off the table. In your first trimester, you'll also want to avoid any exercise that requires you to lie on your back, since this can decrease blood flow to your uterus.
For safe exercises, it's crucial to stay in tune with your body and not overexert yourself. If an activity doesn't feel right, stop doing it. As a good rule of thumb, you should be able to carry on a normal conversation while working out. If you can't, you're probably pushing yourself too hard. If you ever feel faint, have abdominal pain, chest pains, uterine contractions, vaginal bleeding, or notice any other sudden physical irregularities, give your doctor a call or head to the emergency room.
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How to Check-in with Your Baby
Demands on your body will increase as your pregnancy develops. Your body knows what it needs, so it will naturally make adjustments to ensure a safe environment. One of the best ways to check in with your baby and make sure you aren't overdoing exercise is to count the kicks. Typically, babies kick about five times an hour and sleep in 20-minute cycles.
If you don't feel any kicks right away, don't panic. Wait an hour or so and if you still have concerns, call your doctor or midwife. Amazingly, exercising can have your baby kicking up a storm, as a rush of oxygen and glucose is sent their way. This is a temporary reaction and nothing to be concerned about.
Tips No Matter Which Exercise You Choose
More important than the type of exercise you practice is how you choose to work out while pregnant. Certain conditions can turn a great activity into a poor choice, like high temperatures or humidity. Here are some general tips to keep in mind no matter which workout you are doing:
Time it Right
If you weren't that active until now, be sure to pace yourself and build up endurance to greater exercise times. Aim small, like 15 minutes a day. For those continuing their fitness routines, try to get in 30 minutes of moderately intense exercises three times a week.
Rather than focusing on lifting more or increasing an exercise's intensity, concentrate on more frequent repetitions with lower-impact routines. Aerobic exercises are ideal, but always be mindful of your breathing and pause when you feel tired or overheated. Ensure the fetal heart rate is as stable as possible and avoid exerting more than 70% of your maximum heart rate.
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Dress the Part
Put your tight stretchy workout clothes in the back of your drawer and say bye-bye to them until your baby is here. Instead, choose workout clothes that are cool, comfortable, and loose-fitting. Wicking fabrics are a godsend while pregnant, as is a supportive sports bra.
Don't skimp when it comes to shoes, either. You want a running or walking sneaker that provides enough cushioning and support under your arch and heel. This will help reduce the risk of foot injuries and make your fitness routine a lot more comfortable.
Make sure you're staying cool and hydrated and away from high heat and humidity. Drinking plenty of water is especially important while pregnant; think 8 ounces for every half-hour working out. Just be sure to choose a location where there is a bathroom nearby, so frequent breaks won't pose a problem for you.
Warm-Up & Down with Stretches
You must start and end each workout with a five-minute warm-up and cool-off stretches. This will help keep your muscles limber and slowly ease your body in and out of your routine. Neck, shoulder, and ankle rotations are beneficial while pregnant to improve circulation and prevent fluid retention.
When doing floor exercises, be sure to stay on a flat, cushion surface and get up slowly to avoid dizziness. You'll also want to make sure you aren't holding your breath, especially if lifting weights.
How Soon Can I Exercise After Delivery?
Most women can resume exercising two weeks after giving birth and up to four weeks for those who had a C-section. Check with your doctor to see when they would recommend getting back into your fitness routine.
Post-natal exercise can reduce your risk of deep vein thrombosis or even postpartum depression and help boost your energy level. With a new baby, we'll take all the energy we can get! And while those are a lot of positives, there's no need to jump right back into it. This is an excellent time for you to recover and enjoy bonding with your new baby.