Historically, pregnancy was seen as a time to cease all activity and spend nine months as a couch potato – which let’s face it, is no fun for anyone! Luckily, modern day studies have shown that exercise is extremely beneficial during pregnancy and now comes widely recommended.
When exercising during pregnancy, it is important to always follow the advice of your GP or midwife and if possible, seek the help of a fitness professional with specific qualifications in pre and post-natal exercise.
1. Reduced risk of low birth weight
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends healthy pregnant women to exercise for 15 to 30 minutes, 3 to 4 times per week. Women who do not exercise within the recommended frequency of 3 to 4 days per week increase the risk of their baby being born with a low birth weight. Infants with a low birth weight are more likely to experience post birth complications and developmental problems. It is important to note that these risks are applicable to both women who don’t exercise enough and also who exercise too much.
2. Easier shorter labour
One of the less visible changes that occurs during pregnancy is the effect on your pelvic floor muscles. These muscles are located between your hips and provide a variety of functions including: supporting internal organs such as the bowels and uterus, controlling bowel and bladder function, and assist in the birthing process. As your baby grows, the additional weight increases the pressure on the pelvic floor muscles and they can become weakened and dysfunctional.
Training these muscles during pregnancy will help to prevent stress incontinence and will also help when the day comes to deliver your baby. A strong pelvic floor will help to push out your baby and will also help your baby to turn.
3. Quicker post-natal recovery
The more you can maintain a base level of fitness and offset some of the common biomechanical issues that develop during pregnancy, the quicker your body will be able to recover and the sooner you’ll be back to leading an active life. This isn’t about running marathons or hitting the gym, it’s about recovering quickly so you can really enjoy the time getting to know your new baby in as little discomfort as possible.
4. Reduced risk of low back pain and postural imbalances
During pregnancy your centre of gravity will become greatly altered due to the position of your growing baby and associated weight gain. Your bump will raise your centre of gravity and also move it forward, increasing the mechanical stress on particular areas of your body, such as the lower back. As your bump grows, your stomach muscles will be stretched and weakened, causing the lower back to become tight and sore. These issues are compounded by the stretching of ligaments that stabilise the pelvis, hips and back and can become very debilitating.
Specific exercise during pregnancy will help to offset these issues by strengthening muscles such as the abdominals and reducing tightness in the lower back.
5. Reduced excessive maternal weight gain
Weight gain during pregnancy is caused by a variety of physiological changes that are occurring within your body, the obvious one being the little person you have growing inside you. Along with your growing baby you will also gain weight as the placenta grows, you retain more fluids, blood volume increases and you store additional maternal fat. All of these factors are perfectly natural and are essential for a healthy pregnancy. In fact, gaining too little weight during pregnancy can increase the chance of premature or low weight babies and health problems later on.
However, the old adage of “you’re eating for two” and the traditional view that during pregnancy you should take complete rest, leads some women to gain excessive maternal fat that they find hard to lose at a later stage. Contrary to common belief, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends an increased calorie intake of only 200 calories in the last 3 months of pregnancy.
Exercising during your pregnancy will help to burn a few extra calories, keep you more active and maintain a basic level of fitness. You shouldn’t be aiming to lose weight or increase your fitness, but by being active and following good nutritional advice you can help to keep your weight gain within healthy levels.
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