It’s not headline news that your body undergoes an incredible level of change during your pregnancy. Some women feel uncomfortable throughout the entire nine months, physically challenged in ways they could never imagine, and some women find that their bodies attune to its multiple strange transformations, like a goddess of fertility. Whatever kind of pregnancy you experience, there is a common question that arises amid expectant mothers: should I be exercising?
The short answer is that every woman’s body is different, and therefore our bodies respond to pregnancy in different ways. Exercising won’t harm you or your baby, and in fact there are many benefits to staying active throughout your pregnancy. However, there are also things to avoid, so it’s good to be in the know about what you should and should not be doing.
Here’s how to tighten your buns, while you have a bun in the oven.
Swimming, running, aerobics, and yoga – these kinds of exercises are all recommended during pregnancy. Not only will they keep you in great shape, but they will enhance your overall health on the inside. Light cardiovascular exercise and stretching will build stronger muscles and joints which can help you handle the weight, better circulation, as well as feeling energised.1
If you were a regular road runner or gym bunny before you were pregnant, you are likely to be extra keen to continue the frequency of your routine, but you will need to reduce the intensity. Three workouts per week can help maintain muscle tone and overall fitness, without going overboard.2
You can increase your heart rate and burn some serious calories, however, the recommendation is to do so with the aim that you can still hold a conversation while you are exercising. This measurement is recommended to prevent you from carrying out anything too strenuous.1
Exercising during pregnancy is not only beneficial for your figure and internal health, but it is also recommended by doctors to reduce the labour of labour.1
Work that pelvic floor
If there is one type of exercise to perform during pregnancy, pelvic floor exercises are key. Highly recommended by all health professionals, pelvic floor exercises work the muscles of your vagina, anus, and urethra to reduce the risk of incontinence. Many women experience incontinence during and after pregnancy due to the strain of childbirth, and the impact of carrying a child. Stress incontinence is when you might leak slightly from a cough, laugh or sneeze. This is normal and can also be reduced by keep your pelvic floor strong.1
The best thing about pelvic floor exercises is that you can do them at any time. Tense your muscles on the bus, at the dinner table, or watching TV – easy. Also, it’s worth making pelvic floor exercises a part of your life forever, baby or no baby. Routine clenching will keep your delicate areas nice and strong, preventing weakened muscles that are part and parcel of the aging process.
Possibly the most fun way to burn off those extra calories, and despite common misconceptions, having sex during pregnancy is totally safe. There are different positions to try out to make you feel more comfortable, but it is worth noting that pregnant women will have an insatiable appetite in the bedroom.
During the second trimester, at about 14 weeks, most women experience an increased libido which will, quite literally, get the juices flowing. Due to a surge in hormone levels, pregnant women will have an increased amount of blood flow to the pelvic region as well as a more lubricated vagina.
This increased sex drive also provides a boost of energy. And there’s more good news – sex when pregnant also increases the intensity of your orgasms, which not only has its psychological benefits, but it also means that your muscles in the uterus are getting a workout – which will help you push when the big day comes.3
Healthy heart, healthy mind
Exercising during pregnancy is great for your mental health post-pregnancy too, as it has been known to lower the risk of postnatal depression.5 Not only this, but exercise in general has a positive effect on our brains, releasing endorphins that keep us happy and help to relieve stress. All these factors can contribute to a healthy and more relaxing pregnancy.
Exercise (with) caution
So, we’ve established that exercising while pregnant is in fact safe, yet there are some rules to follow to ensure that you are not putting yourself at risk. Not all exercise is appropriate – you wouldn’t start doing deadlifts or skydiving from 13,000ft, for example.
Ensure that you keep hydrated and do not exercise in hot weather – you don’t want to overheat and faint. Warming up and cooling down is important anyway, but definitely shouldn’t be neglected when pregnant. Stretching properly keeps you supple, protects your muscles and prevents injury. It is also unsafe to lie flat on your back for extended periods of time.1
Finally, avoid any sport or activity that has a risk of falling, such as horse-riding, and do not participate in contact or extreme sports, including scuba diving. Also, avoid high altitude. Anything around 2500 metres above sea level and higher – is a big no no, and besides, you’ve got another big mountain to climb in the meantime…
Having a healthy mind is as crucial as having a healthy body. Exercise is great for helping to relieve stress and depression, but being inactive can also have its benefits.
Make sure you rest appropriately after every workout, and on the days where you really aren’t feeling up to it, there is no harm in putting your feet up and having that day off! Light yoga and Pilates exercises can be great for these more restful days.6
Tune-in to your body
There is no right or wrong when it comes to keeping fit and exercising during your pregnancy. If you’ve always exercised, then your body should be able to cope with the demands of light exertion. Exercise at a pace and difficulty level that is right for you, and speak to your doctor or pharmacist if you have any concerns about exercising when pregnant.
For more advice and support on a range of topics and conditions, pop along to our women’s health clinic.