Carefully planned and monitored exercise during pregnancy can be fun and beneficial for you and your baby. Health care providers suggest that exercise during pregnancy is safe and beneficial for pregnant women, provided you have an exercise history prior to conception.
Very unfit women and woman who have not exercised regularly prior to conception should not undertake an intense exercise program during pregnancy.
If you are pregnant or planing a pregnancy the following guidelines for exercise during pregnancy will be useful. The limitations put on exercise is for the benefit of the developing baby, as you can generally handle exercise much better than the foetus. If you have any specific concerns, consult your local doctor or obstetrician.
- Avoid overheating. If you overheat during exercise, particularly during the first trimester, the baby may be at risk as he or she is unable to dissipate heat as you can. Avoid prolonged exercise and limit the aerobic phase of your workout to around 15 minutes. Give yourself breaks during the workout to rest and cool off. Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise. Take a water bottle with you, and try to drink its entire contents by the end of the workout. Your core temperature may rise without perspiration so do not use sweating as an indication of how hot you are. Avoid saunas and steam baths at all times. Avoid exercise on hot humid days and wear light, loose fitting clothes.
- Avoid high intensity exercise. Exercising at a heart rate of around 140 beats per minutes does not have abnormal effects on the foetus but at around 180 beats foetal it could. To keep exercise intensity at a safe level substitute any intermediate or advanced exercise sessions with a lighter paced program. Do mainly low impact and less vigorous arm movements. Because of your increased weight, weight bearing exercise such as aerobics, jogging, or using a stair-climbing machine may need modification than non-weigh bearing exercise such as swimming or cycling.
- An increase in your resting heat rate is normal physiological change and should not be taken as a sign that you are becoming less fit. Learn how to measure your heart particularly during exercise and check it regularly. A heart rate of 23 beats or less over ten seconds is ideal. If it is higher, lower the intensity and re check in five minuets to ensure you are working within a safe range. Remember that you do not need to keep, up with the non-pregnant participants or compete with what you were able to do before pregnancy. Gradually reduce the intensity of your workout and, after you have finished get a drink, move around and cool off before commencing floor exercise or stretching.
- Avoid prolonged and frequent exercise after week 28. Exercising more than four times a week after week 28 even at moderate levels has been associated with decreased birth weight and gestation duration.
- Limit the amount of exercise that you do on your back to 2-3 minutes, particularly from your second trimester. Exercising on your back (as when doing abdominal exercise) can cause a reduce reduction of blood flow to your heart and head, causing you to feel faint and light headed. Also, the blood flow to the placenta and baby can decrease. If you begin to feel dizzy of light headed, turn onto your left side and rest.
- When performing abdominal exercises, support your abdominal muscles by crossing your hands over the area. About 30% of pregnant women will experience a separation of the rectus abdominus during pregnancy. Ask you doctor to check this at each antenatal visit. If separation does occur, abdominal exercises should cease.
- Avoid the use of hand weights over .5 kg. Heavier weights have been shown to increase the heart rate higher than 140 beats per minutes. Hand weights should also be avoided if pins and needles are experienced in your palms.
- To strengthen your pelvic floor muscles to help preventing urinary incontinence, perform Kegel exercises. While seated or lying down, pretend that you are trying to stop yourself from urinating. The small muscles you are squeezing are your pelvic muscles. Hold each contraction for 10-15 seconds and repeat at least 10 times. If stress incontinence is a problem for you, do this several times each day.
- Wear a good, supportive bra for your enlarging and possibly tender breasts.
- Avoid or modify exercises which involve turns, twists and rapid changes in direction as they may put you at risk of injury. As your body shape changes so does your centre of gravity which may affect your balance and co-ordination.
- Stretch gently. The hormone relaxin is increased in your body during pregnancy and causes increased joint laxity, which may make you more susceptible to injury.
- With exercise, pregnant women sometimes experience low blood sugar levels resulting in light-headedness or faintness. A light snack approximately two hours before exercise should prevent this. Carry a small carton of fruit juice to your workout in case this occurs.
- If at any time during your exercise session you feel very hot, faint dizzy, short of breath, experience vaginal bleeding, have palpitations, blurred vision, disorientation, severe or continuous headaches, lower abdominal pain, tightness or cramping, back or pubic pain, STOP IMMEDIATELY. If you experience any of these symptoms, consult your obstetrician.