Pregnancy and Exercise
Before commencing on any exercise program it is important to understand that the overall goals of exercise whilst pregnant must differ from exercise before pregnancy. Rather than training to gain in fitness, the main goals vary from training to maintain your current base fitness level and to help maintain posture and support the weight of the baby in the uterus.
If considering to embark on an exercise program whilst pregnant, you should first consult your GP or midwife to raise any concerns that you may have. Your gym instructor, personal trainer or fitness professional may request a letter from your GP or midwife advising of any health concerns for both mother and baby.
In the past, any form of exercise during pregnancy was considered to be taboo and as such, pregnant women were encouraged to adopt a less physically demanding life style. It is now recognised that adopting a less active life style during pregnancy can bring on health problems for the mother after delivery and in later life.
Benefits of exercise
Medical examiners have now discovered that short periods of gentle to moderate exercise can be beneficial to both mother and baby.
You should also be aware of the chemical and hormonal changes that affect exercise whilst pregnant.
Progesterone is released within the first trimester ( 0 to 3 months ) and causes vascular under fill. This is where the blood vessels soften and widen (vasodilatation) causing the blood pressure to fall.
Relaxin is a hormone released in the second trimester ( 3 to 6 month ) It’s function is to soften the ligaments, cartilage and the cervix in preparation for child birth. The effects of relaxin means that joints throughout the body are potentially vulnerable and therefore should not be overly stressed.
Oestrogen is a hormone that promotes breast growth, this can cause the breasts to become uncomfortable during exercise.
Pelvic floor muscles
Pelvic floor muscles act as a hammock to cradle and support the uterus, bladder, bowels and other pelvic organs. They form a figure of eight around the urethra, vagina and anus. As the uterus grows in size and weight these muscles become overly stressed and start to sag. This can cause several potential problems including stress incontinence ( the leaking of urine )
It is important that you are made aware that these would ideally be performed daily for the rest of your life, however on a more realistic basis should be performed daily for at least six months to a year. It should also be known that the full benefits of exercising these muscles will be seen for about 6-8 weeks.
To tighten the pelvic floor muscles, start by pulling in around the anus and the vagina.
Pelvic floor exercises can be performed in any position
Start by contracting the pelvic floor by lifting and holding for up to 10 seconds and then gradually release. Begin with 5 sets of 10 reps per day, working up to 10 sets of 10 reps per day
Try not to contract the abdominals, buttocks or thigh muscles
Keep breathing steadily and deeply throughout
Remember that quality is better than quantity
(The importance of breathing out on exertion should be emphasised to help reduce the build up of intra-abdominal pressure)
Do’s and Don’ts
Approach exercise with an open mind
Focus on other than your performance ie; speed, distance and fat burning
Use common sense when taking part in any physical activity
Err on the side of caution, if in doubt about an exercise don’t do it.
Keep hydrated and give adequate rest periods between exercises and routines
Ask for help and advice
Set unachievable or unrealistic goals
Continue if exercise produces pain in any way
Ignore mental or physical fatigue
Train if motivation is low
Use excessive weight or resistance than is required for the exercise to be effective
Train lying on your back after the first trimester
Be afraid to ask if you have any doubts