For the longest time many people, including medical staff, believed pregnancy was a time of rest and that pregnant women should not exercise. Now, we know better. Exercise is not only safe but recommended for the vast majority of expectant mothers.
The body of evidence supporting exercise before, during and after pregnancy is growing all the time. Many of the myths previously believed to be gospel are being debunked and we are starting to get a strong understanding of both the level of risk (which is low) and the benefits of exercise.
Being healthier and more before conceiving sets both Mum and Bub up to have positive health outcomes through the pregnancy and after birth. Exercise (along with a healthy balanced diet) plays a big role in helping us manage our weight. Keeping within the ideal weight range (BMI <30) can make conception easier and improve the likelihood of having a lower risk, uncomplicated pregnancy.
Blood Glucose Levels (BGL’s) can have a big effect on menstrual function and weight management. Regular exercise and consuming a balanced diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats are the best ways to keep BGL’s in an optimal range throughout the day.
Proper management of BGL’s and body weight is a fantastic way to support conception and ensure good health outcomes for both Mum and Bub moving forward.
Exercise during pregnancy in the vast majority of women has been shown to be incredibly beneficial despite the years of concern over how safe it really is. The same benefits that non-pregnant people see from exercise occur in pregnant women too. Exercise during pregnancy has been shown to help manage BGL’s and prevent/manage gestational diabetes as well as high blood pressure and it’s associated disorders such as preeclampsia. Exercise also helps with feelings of well-being and positive mental health which is so important during what can be a challenging time.
The consensus amongst researchers these days is that exercise during pregnancy has a positive effect on the birth process by supporting mothers to carry to full term as well as improving their likelihood of a safe and effective natural birth. The healthier and more active Mum is during her pregnancy the better chance Bub has to lead a happy and healthy life also.
Child birth and the postpartum period bring so much change, especially for the mother. Her body has changed, she has a tiny human to look after and sleep is a thing of the past. Exercise is such an important tool to support Mum in her recovery (especially pelvic floor, weight control and mental health) as well as helping her take back control of her life and body.
Research also suggests that kids with active parents are far more likely to be active themselves. Only 50% of kids with inactive parents participate in sport, kids of active parents play sport over 60% of the time and kids of parent who are active and involved in sport have a 90% chance of being active.
What do the recommendations say?
Sports Medicine Australia released a summary of recommendations in 2017 which summarised all of the latest evidence on exercise and pregnancy. Here is what they had to say:
This includes continuous activities such as walking, cycling (stationary), swimming, running, jogging and anything that gets your heart rate up and keeps it elevated over time. The goal is to complete 150-300 minutes per week spread over most if not all, days of the week at a moderate intensity (able to talk but not sing). Being closer to the 300-minute mark is associated with greater benefits including better weight management and reduced risk of Gestational Diabetes.
Higher intensity exercise is usually perfectly fine also and cuts your exercise time in half (10 minutes of higher intensity is the equivalent of 20 minutes of moderate intensity).
Bodyweight, resistance bands and light weights are all appropriate here. The recommendation is to get a minimum of two strength session in per week with one set of 12-15 repetitions each exercise. Targeting all the major muscle groups using between 8 and 10 different exercises per session will ensure the whole body is looked after.
A few things to be mindful of:
-Ensure any weights are used safely and are not in a position to be dropped or hit into the bump
-Keep an eye on your breathing and make sure you exhale as you move the weight (i.e. on the way up out of a squat)
-Listen to your body. If you feel uncomfortable or experience pain in an exercise that you have not felt before try another exercise or get in contact with an Exercise Physiologist or Women’s Health Physiotherapist to see how you can make it more comfortable
Pelvic floor exercise
Pregnancy places a lot of additional stress on the pelvic floor and can lead to issues after birth (incontinence, prolapse) if we don’t take care of it early on. Pelvic floor exercises are easy to do and can be done anywhere at any time.
To contract the pelvic floor squeeze through the vagina as if you are trying to stop the flow of urine. You should feel the muscle squeeze inward and upward. This should be done daily, up to three times throughout the day.
Aim for 8-12 holds each time varying in length from 4 to 30 seconds. Varying your body position (leaning forward so elbows are resting on knees, straight upright or a slight lean backwards) can help target all of the muscles of the pelvic floor. Similarly, trying the exercise sitting, lying down, on all fours and in standing helps to ensure you are able to do the movement in a variety of movements and activities.
Take home message
Exercise is not only safe but also incredibly beneficial for you and your pregnancy. A combo of aerobic, strength and pelvic floor exercises are your best bet for the best results. Make sure to have a chat to your GP, obstetrician, gynaecologist or exercise physiologist prior to starting anything new or continuing your current routine just to be sure.
This blog was written by Tori, who is our Exercise Physiologists with a keen interest in all things women’s health. Feel free to get in touch if you want to know more!