Pregnancy often causes expecting mothers to feel tired, as well as experience a myriad of uncomfortable symptoms such as swollen ankles and back aches. However, this shouldn’t be a deterrent for exercising. In fact, it’s good to get moving, because being active during pregnancy has its perks!
The benefits of exercising during pregnancy are numerous, both mentally and physically. Having a regular exercise routine may help with backache, ease bloating and prevent swelling in the joints. Some pregnant women also find pregnancy workouts to be quite the mood and energy booster. Above all, a good exercise programme plays a role in smoother pregnancy, with benefits such as a lower risk of gestational diabetes and a shortened labour. And if you are worried about gaining too much weight and becoming a little tubby, exercise has been shown to lower the incidence of weight gain in pregnancy.
Will exercise cause preterm labour or affect the baby’s growth?
Some people falsely believe that exercise can result in preterm birth (PTB) in a low risk pregnancy. This is a myth. For some women, exercise may even decrease the risk. By improving the overall fitness level of the expecting mother, exercise may decrease the odds of requiring a caesarean delivery and increase the chances of a natural birth. There is also no reported risk of exercise causing any sort of growth restrictions on the baby.
In general, the types of exercises that are considered safe for a pregnant woman include brisk walking and aerobic exercises like jogging, stationary cycling, dancing, resistance (weights and rubber bands), swimming, stretching, yoga, pilates and hydrotherapy or water aerobics. Contact sports such as boxing and hockey should be avoided. It will be prudent to also steer clear of activities with a higher risk of falling such as cycling, and deep water sports such as scuba diving.
When should a pregnant lady start exercising, and how often?
Aerobic activity can be commenced from the first trimester and maintained until delivery. The recommended frequency of 150 minutes of exercise a week still holds. This can be divided into 30 – 60 minute sessions, 4 – 5 times a week. During these sessions, ensure that heart rate does not exceed 60 – 80% of the maximum heart rate threshold, keeping to no more than 140 beats per minute. Keep well hydrated before, during, and after exercise.
Considering how quickly the bodies of pregnant women change, it will be good to be mindful of the types of exercises that are better suited for each stage of pregnancy – from early pregnancy to just before labour. Bear in mind that it is much easier to start exercising from early on in the pregnancy journey and maintain the good habit throughout. It will be much harder to scramble to get an exercise regime in later on in the pregnancy. Here are some pregnancy exercises that are safe and suitable for each trimester.
Exercising in your first trimester
This trimester is typically the most trying for many mums-to-be as your body adjusts to a major change. At this stage, especially if you don’t usually observe a particularly active lifestyle, try going easy on yourself and start slow. For example, it probably isn’t a good idea to attempt a marathon or a 10km run, but going for a brisk walk shouldn’t be a problem. If you’re just getting started, try brisk walking for about 10 – 15 minutes each time, before gradually increasing your walk duration to 30 minutes. You may also consider carrying a light dumbbell in each hand to get a bit of weight training done during your walks.
Exercises that are safe for your first trimester:
- Walking and jogging
- Water aerobics
- Low-intensity strength training, such as squats and lunges without the use of heavy weights
- Pelvic curls
- Pelvic brace
Exercising in your second trimester – the most enjoyable trimester!
Here’s where many mums-to-be start to feel relieved and are finally feeling better. At this stage, your morning sickness and fatigue is likely to have decreased, giving you the energy to do more – so, take advantage of this spurt! Jogging can still be done in the early second trimester all the way up till week 22 – 24. Although it is safe to be jogging slowly after 24 weeks’ gestation, it does get more challenging because of the bigger tummy. Exercises that involve lying on your back for extended periods of time should be minimised, as they may place a strain on your body as your belly gets bigger and heavier.
Exercises that are safe for your second trimester:
- Hip flexor and quadriceps flexes
- Incline pull-ups
- Mermaid stretches
- Side-lying leg lifts
- Prenatal yoga
- Brisk walking with weights
- Swimming and water aerobics
Exercising in your third trimester
As your body prepares for childbirth and your load gets heavier, you may notice a slowdown in what you can do: you may not be able to walk as fast as you did in the earlier stages of your pregnancy, and bending down seems somewhat impossible. Now will be a great time to build on your mobility and abdominal strength with some moderate cardio. However, do note that your centre of gravity has changed rather drastically, so it is advisable to avoid exercises that require a great deal of balance.
Exercises that are safe during your third trimester:
- Brisk Walking
- Prenatal yoga
- Pelvic floor exercises
Basic exercise guidelines for expecting mothers
While the guide above gives you a general picture of what you can do, it is important that you take the necessary precautions to keep yourself safe when exercising. Here are some general tips on exercising safely during your pregnancy:
- Don’t push yourself too hard: Take a break if you feel nauseated, dehydrated, or experience any abnormal vaginal discharge, bleeding or pelvic pain.
- Avoid sports that carry a high risk of falling or abdominal injuries: Examples include mountain biking, rollerblading, horseback riding, bungee jumping, and contact sports such as soccer or basketball.
- Talk to your doctor: Seek clearance from your doctor before attempting any exercises that may be strenuous.
- Match the intensity of your exercise to your overall fitness level: Everyone is different – for example, a mum-to-be who leads a sedentary lifestyle may find running more strenuous than a mum-to-be who is a professional athlete. The key is to listen to your body, and stop when it tells you to.
- Fuel up: When you eat, remember to take into account your needs for your pregnancy as well as your exercise programme.
In general, most exercises should be safe for a healthy mother-to-be as long as she observes moderation and knows when to stop. If you are unsure if it’s safe to continue some of your workouts during pregnancy, check with your obstetrician. Regular exercise can help you cope better with the changes you are facing, and help give you an easier time in the delivery room. In the meantime, stay safe, stay healthy, and congratulations in advance on the new addition to your family!