Fit, Fabulous and Pregnant: The Why and How of Exercising While Expecting
Just because you're carrying around a little bun in the oven doesn't mean you can't, or shouldn't, be fit and fabulous. Here's the reality: the average woman gains 35-40lbs during pregnancy, and the average baby weighs 7lbs. So, you do the math. Admittedly, you will lose 10 pounds or so within the first month after birth due to water and blood volume loss, but in the end, most of us end up with a beautiful baby as well as a lot more junk in our trunk. So the time to take action is NOW before the weight gain gets out of control.
Granted, while coping with all-day morning sickness, mind-numbing exhaustion and your ever diminishing range-of-motion (third-trimester shoe tying should be an Olympic sport), the idea of exercising may seem like a cruel joke. But being active now is more important than ever. Besides helping to minimise excess weight gain, exercising while pregnant has been shown to increase energy, relieve stress and reduce labour complications. Further, being in good shape before having a baby makes getting back into shape post delivery a faster and easier endeavour. And the benefits don't stop with you; countless studies have shown a healthy, active mother equals a healthy baby.
All right you know it's good for you and good for your baby and probably good for the world economy, but what about when you just can't? The obstacles for the pregnant would-be-exerciser are plentiful, but where there's a will (and the knowledge), there's a way. To combat the top three exercise obstacles read on:
Obstacle #1: Nausea
Tactics: Find a time of day when you're less prone to feeling ill. Even if you have been a 6 am spin devotee for years, you may need to switch to an afternoon yoga class. Try eating a small snack, such as crackers or a banana 30-minutes before exercising. Motion-sickness bracelets such as Sea-Bands are another option. Many women also swear by ginger to help alleviate persistent morning sickness. Experiment on what will work for you, don't give up.
Obstacle #2: Frequent Urination
Tactics: Bring your workouts indoors (e.g., try a group exercise class, walk on the treadmill, etc.) so you can be close to a bathroom. If you prefer walking in the fresh air, plan a route in a neighbourhood that has plenty of coffee shops or restaurants, or locate the bathroom at a local park and do laps in the vicinity. Try to go first thing in the morning (after you've had your morning bathroom time) before you've had time to consume copious amounts of liquid.
Obstacle #3: Exhaustion
Tactics: Just as you need to pinpoint the times in the day when you are less nauseated, you need to find that sweet spot of energy, keeping in mind that you may have to change your schedule completely as your pregnancy progresses (get used to it, once the baby comes everything changes). You can also break your workout into short sessions taking rest breaks in between periods of exertion. And while it sounds counter-intuitive, just moving will give you more energy. So even when the thought of lifting your eye-lids makes you head for the covers, promise yourself you'll move for five minutes. After five minutes re-evaluate your energy level, can you go on? Chances are yes; once in motion, it's easier just to keep going (inertia is on our side here).
So we can all agree, exercise is the way to go: it's good for you, good for your baby, and you now have the tools necessary to fend off any detours, let's get started. Please keep in mind, however, that before you begin any exercise program, be sure you have your health care provider's okay and proceed with caution if you have a history of pre-term labour or certain medical conditions, including:
- High Blood Pressure
- Heart Disease
- Placenta Previa (a rare condition in which the placenta can detach from the uterus before delivery and can cause excessive bleeding before or during delivery: not a condition to be trifled with)
If you have not been active until now, congratulate yourself on taking a positive step and tread lightly, start slowly, rest often and listen to your body. If it hurts or doesn't feel right, stop. You want to keep yourself healthy not be a superwoman.
If you were active before pregnancy, there's no need to stop now. You may just need to scale it back a bit and use common sense. If you were a 5-mile a day runner before pregnancy, you can continue all the way until delivery as long as you make sure you're well hydrated, avoid over-heating and wear good shoes. However, if you're into team sports, you may have to hang up your football shirt for now. Other activities that pose a high risk of falling or abdominal trauma and should be avoided include basketball, in-line skating, skiing, horseback riding, gymnastics, and vigorous racquet sports. Oh, and scuba diving is not safe at any time during pregnancy.
What to do?
With all those potential risky activities ruled out, what should you do? Some excellent options include:
Many health care providers and fitness professionals say swimming is the safest exercise for pregnant women. Swimming keeps your body toned without adding weight and stress to your joints.
Walking is always a good option. It can be done practically anywhere and is safe for your ever-expanding body. Set realistic goals and wear good shoes to decrease the risk of falling or pressure on your feet.
The best thing about biking is that the bike supports your weight, so there is less stress on your body. A stationary bike is also a good option because it being stationary dramatically decreases your chances of falling.
Side note: falling is a big concern for pregnant women as their centre of gravity shifts; maintaining balance becomes a critical skill.
Stair Climbing and Elliptical Machines
These machines provide a minimal-impact workout that can help safely raise your heart rate and usually the expanding belly isn't an issue.
This is an abdominal exercise that keeps your core strong, and it's safe to do throughout the whole nine months. It will help to keep muscles strong for delivery and will help prevent lower back and pelvic pain. From a standing position, place your fingers on your hip bones and trace them inward. Then, breathing deeply, imagine you’re wearing a belt or a tight pair of trousers and pull your tummy button back towards your spine. Don’t hold your breath – just pull in that lower part of your tummy. Hold this pulling-in movement for 10 seconds, relax and repeat. Do 5-10 of these at a time throughout the day.
The Wall Push-Up
This is an effective, safe way to work the upper body to strengthen arms, chest and upper back muscles. Start by standing a couple of feet away from a wall, feet hip-width apart, and then lean forward and rest your hands against the wall shoulder-width apart. Bend your elbows and lower chest until your forehead reaches the wall keeping back straight. Then straighten your elbows and push back to your starting position. Start with 12 repetitions, and slowly increase to 20.
Pelvic Floor Lifts
Essential for everything from the delivery to preventing stress incontinence, pelvic floor exercises are often overlooked, but you can so easily incorporate these into your day. The first pelvic floor exercise is to lift your pelvic floor muscles (as if you were trying to stop your urine flow) to a count of ten. Hold this contraction for 10 seconds (if you can’t hold for 10 seconds, hold for as long as possible and slowly build up to 10 seconds). Relax and rest for 10 seconds. Repeat 5-10 times. The second version is to lift your pelvic floor muscles quickly and hold for just one second before relaxing and resting for one second. Repeat this total of 10 times. Do all the above several times a day at least.
Most forms of yoga will be safe for you and your baby, as long as they are not excessively rigorous. Most fitness centres/yoga studios offer special prenatal yoga classes. These are a good option, as they tend to use poses that are the most beneficial for pregnant women. Also, try to avoid lying flat on your back for extended periods and try not to overstretch.
Remember to listen to your body, rest when needed, and keep yourself hydrated. This is not the time to try and break any records. As your shape changes, you may need to experiment to find the workout that works for you. Your daily run may morph into a walk, and that's ok. The most important lesson in keeping fit while pregnant is being flexible: understanding that you aren't going to feel great every day, your body is not always going to cooperate, and getting in a work out may be difficult but making the effort will pay off. The harder you work now, the easier it will be when the baby arrives. And then you will become a fit, fabulous, mama.