Mama Monday – Exercise in Pregnancy
Happy Mama Monday, friends! Today I’m writing about a subject that is very important to any expectant mama: Exercise!
Many expectant mothers have questions about exercise, often a result of fear. It is understandable and expected that a woman would want to protect her growing baby, and as a result women often fear harming their baby with the strenuous, jumpy, or jerky movements associated with exercise. Add to that fear the intense fatigue that accompanies pregnancy, and the notion of exercise can quickly fall by the wayside! Always, always consult your physician first, but generally, if you are experiencing a normal pregnancy without any high risk factors, you should be able to engage in low impact activities to stay healthy and prepare for birth.
Here’s the deal: I want to emphasize that exercise in pregnancy is less about curbing weight gain and has so much more to do with keeping you healthy and to prepare you for childbirth. Childbirth is referred to as labor for a reason; it’s work! Think of it this way, if you knew that you had been signed up to run a marathon nine months from now, and had no way of getting out of it, wouldn’t you put some thought into training for it? I bet you would!
Whether or not you plan to receive medical pain relief through narcotics or an epidural, your body still has a marathon to run in order to bring your newborn into this world. Making sure to take care of your body through nutrition and exercise is vital to ensuring a safe, healthy, and memorial birth experience.
What to Expect When You’re Expecting includes an informative section on exercise in the “Fifth Month” chapter. The authors emphasise four kinds of exercise that are important to incorporate into your prenatal routine: aerobics, calisthenics specifically designed for pregnancy, relaxation techniques, and pelvic toning (Eisenburg et al, p 190). Let’s take a brief look at each of them in detail.
Aerobic exercises are those that increase the flow of oxygen into your lungs, muscles and bloodstream. Activities that do this include walking, jogging, swimming, or other activities that raise your heart rate and speed up your breathing. While you should always check with your doctor before engaging in any amount of exercise during pregnancy, a good rule of thumb for aerobics is anything that gets your heart rate up for 20-30 minutes every day. You should be breathing more heavily than usual, but not gasping for air or straining to breathe in any way. The benefits of aerobic exercise include improved circulation, increased oxygen and nutrients in your muscles (good for you and baby!), increased muscle tone and strength (you need those muscles to birth your baby!), and it can help you control blood sugar levels and burn calories. Also, the better your body is working as a result of good nutrition and adequate exercise, the better you’ll feel and have a better chance of relieving many of the discomforts of pregnancy and childbirth!
To incorporate aerobic exercise into your daily routine, choose activities you enjoy. Do not use this time in your life to begin training for a triathlon, but know that anything you have been doing regularly up until conception you can continue to do as long as it is comfortable to you. Jogging, running, weight lifting, aerobics or dance classes are all safe as long as they do not cause too much strain and as long as they are activities your body is already accustomed to. If you regularly engage in yoga or Pilates, please seek out instructors who offer these classes specifically for pregnant women. In those cases, there are specific considerations that need to be made. Avoid contact sports, as falls and strikes can be detrimental to your growing baby. I really enjoyed the Walk Away the Pounds workouts with Leslie Sansone during my pregnancies. You can choose from 10, 20, and 30 minute walks which incorporate light weights and plyometrics which work your thighs and abs! Swimming is also great because it’s easy on your joints and facilitates the forward position conducive to the ideal fetal position for birth (head down, face towards mom’s back).
Calisthenics are another type of aerobic exercise that incorporate movements that increase both flexibility and strength. Kicking, stretching, abdominal exercises, and push ups are just a few exercises that fall into this category. Some exercises may be too strenuous for pregnancy, but most can be modified and are still important to maintain as you anticipate the birth of your baby. For example, while crunches and sit-ups aren’t recommended, you can still exercise and keep your ab muscles strong by sitting on a birth ball and doing alternating knee lifts, as well as standing knee lifts and kicks. Walk Away the Pounds videos incorporate these kinds of low impact ab training exercises! You can also modify push ups by standing and pushing up against a wall. Find a good list of safe calisthenics for pregnancy to decide what to include in your workouts.
Some women think they don’t need to worry about relaxing until they’re in labor; however, learning and practicing relaxation techniques is helpful to your mind and body while you are expecting as well as while you labor to meet your baby for the first time! There’s no question that relieving stress for your mind and body improves your health, sleep, and overall demeanor. Find a time daily that you can be alone and resting, either lying down in bed or reclining (on your left side, not your back), while you listen to soothing music, pray, or meditate for a half hour or so – long enough that you feel completely relaxed. Whatever you do during this time, make sure focus on your breathing by taking long, slow and deep breaths, as well as try to relax every muscle in your body. For some people, it’s helpful to make a mental checklist or use guided relaxation to relax everything from head to toe. Your partner can help you by reminding you, “Relax your forehead, eyebrows, cheeks, chin, neck, shoulders, and so on.”
It’s also a good time to begin creating a music playlist for labor, if music is something that helps you relax and focus on your breathing. This is extremely helpful if you already have children or a hectic home; you can just plug your earphones into your ipod and melt away into your tunes! You may also enjoy showers, baths, or massages by someone specially trained to work with pregnant women. Try treating yourself to a manicure and pedicure too, since it gets a little difficult to reach those toes later on in pregnancy!
Pelvic toning happens to a certain extent through other forms of exercise, but there are some specific exercises that you should really focus on during pregnancy for a few different reasons. Keeping your pelvic muscles, abs, and lower back strong will help alleviate strain during pregnancy and keep your body fit enough to handle the stress of labor. Also, exercising a group of muscles called Kegels keeps your pelvic floor strong, which supports your uterus during pregnancy, helps to make contractions effective during labor (and decrease need for episiotomy), and lessen the possibility of incontinence problems after you give birth!
Pelvic tilts or pelvic rocks (lying on back until fourth month, and standing or on hands and knees thereafter) are the number one way to keep your pelvis toned during pregnancy. Begin with your pelvis in a resting position (usually slightly curved backwards with the curve of your lower back), and slowly bring your hips and buttocks forward, imagining a “c” shaped curve toward your belly button. Try to hold for 5-10 seconds, then release, and repeat as many times as you can in a sitting. Shoot for 30-60 a day, splitting between a session in the morning when you wake up and in the evening before you go to bed. It’s a great way to kick off your relaxation time!
Kegel exercises are specifically for toning the pelvic floor, and are accomplished by contracting the muscles in your vagina and buttocks. An easy way to access them is to use the same muscles you would use to stop the flow of urine when using the restroom. Men can exercise these muscles too, so get daddy to do them too! You might feel less silly about the exercises knowing your partner is doing them throughout the day along with you. Squeeze and hold the muscles for a beat or two, and repeat 10-30 times, several times a day. To remember to do them, set yourself a goal to do ten each time you come to a stop light, eat a meal, or while brushing your teeth or watching TV. These are important muscles to keep healthy for all women, not just mothers. Keeping your Kegel muscles strong will lessen problems with incontinence as you age (and after you give birth) and will also improve satisfaction during intimacy!
Stay fit and take care of those babies with these great online resources:
- What To Expect When You’re Expecting – Exercise In Pregnancy
- American Pregnancy Association – Exercise Guidelines
Love and Honey,