Give yourself and your baby a head start. With a prenatal exercise routine you can improve posture, reduce back pain, get energized, and prepare for labor. Exercise also helps to prevent some of the common annoyances associated with pregnancy such as constipation, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, swelling in the ankles, and leg cramps by boosting circulation and stimulating the digestive process.
Women who exercise are less likely to miscarry and their labor may be easier. Obesity increases the risk of hypertension, preeclampsia, diabetes, and delivering a large baby. Women who are overweight should diet before they conceive and then switch to a maintenance diet of 1,800 calories a day while trying to get pregnant. Regular exercise can help avoid excessive weight gain.
But don’t overdo the exercise to the point of losing too much weight. Being underweight also increases the risk of pregnancy complications. Preterm delivery and having a low-birth-weight baby are risks for women of average height who weigh less than 120 pounds.
The Best Exercises
One of the best and easiest ways to stay in shape is walking. Swimming and other water exercises also are good options because the buoyancy effect of water may increase your comfort by supporting your weight, reducing the weight on your back and pelvis, and decreasing any sensation of lack of balance. Whatever your choice exercise is, be ready to adapt it to your expanding belly. Be sure to begin your exercise routine with some warm-up and cool-down exercises and stretches that focus on hip, neck and shoulder movement and lower-back flexibility. Strengthen your legs, pelvic, and back muscles to prepare for the stress of pregnancy and work of labor. Try to exercise for at least 20 minutes five to seven days a week.
Exercising Caution As Well As Your Body
Being pregnant necessitates taking some special precautions while exercising:
- Prevent dehydration. Keep a water bottle nearby and drink frequently during exercise. Wear loose-fitting clothing.
- Avoid exercises where there is a risk of hitting your belly. Contact sports such as soccer and activities in which there is a real risk of falling hard on your belly such as snow skiing should be avoided. Your center of gravity also changes during your pregnancy, so activities such as rollerblading and bicycling that require balancing can become more challenging and risky.
- Avoid activities that require lying on your back for more than five to 10 minutes, such as full sit-ups and leg raises, after the first trimester since this position may reduce blood flow to your uterus and baby. Instead do stretching exercises on your side or standing.
- Avoid overexertion. Exercise at a pace that allows you to still talk easily. As pregnancy progresses you may not be able to exercise for long periods of time. If something doesn’t feel right while doing an activity, stop.
- Avoid rigorous exercise in hot, humid weather.
- Contact your doctor if you experience vaginal bleeding, amniotic fluid leakage, increased uterine contractions, difficulty walking, persistent nausea or vomiting, or severe shortness of breath.
You can start with 10-minute walking sessions. Check with the fitness centers in your area or a local YMCA for prenatal exercise programs. Before you begin a pregnancy fitness program, talk to your doctor. Look forward to improved posture and circulation as well as stronger muscles if you follow a well-designed exercise program.
Now I’ll talk about specific exercises to improve your strength and well-being.
If you were going to run a marathon, would you prepare for the race? Childbirth is one of the most physically stressful experiences a woman ever faces. Thus, pregnancy is a time to focus on fitness for you and the baby. Exercise elevates mood and allows you to relieve or prevent the common aches and pains of pregnancy. Good overall muscle strength makes life easier before and after the baby is delivered.
Below are some exercises that promote good posture; strengthen your back, pelvis and abdomen; improve circulation; and increase flexibility. Bad posture is a common cause of misery during pregnancy. It is important to watch your posture at all times but especially during pregnancy. Avoid the rounded shoulders and upper back with the exaggerated lower-back curve that some pregnant women develop.
For each of these exercises do two or three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions, resting one to two minutes between sets.
Sit on the floor against a wall (for adequate support) with your back straight. Bring your feet close to your body and cross legs Indian-style. Drop knees to floor. Imagine you have a string pulling your head upright as you drop your knees. This exercise promotes good posture and relieves tension in the lower back.
Roll your shoulders back and stand erectly. Do shoulder rolls whenever you think of it. Often times women will develop upper back pain from heavier breasts or when they try to fling shoulders back to compensate for the weight of the baby dragging the body forward. This exercise relieves upper back pain and encourages good posture.
Cat Back/Pelvic Tilt
Kneel on the ground on your hands and knees with your hands just before your shoulders and knees in line with your hips. Keep head straight and neck aligned with spine. Relax your back so that it is parallel to the floor. Don’t let your spine sag. Keeping arms straight, inhale and arch back like an angry cat and allow head to drop down while tightening buttock and tummy muscles. Hold position for several seconds. Exhale, relax and lift head up to original position. This exercise combines arching the spine with pelvic rocking to relieve your spine of the baby’s weight.
You can also do this exercise in a standing position by rolling the hips and buttocks forward as if trying to push the fetus up toward the chest. This exercise strengthens your abdomen and back. Strong belly muscles help support and protect the spine. Think of toned belly muscles as a natural corset. As you get used to this exercise, you can do it while walking or standing.
Stand with your legs hip-width apart and back straight against a wall. Place hands on hips. Slide down wall slowly. Keeping your body weight toward your heels, bend knees, lowering buttock to the floor as if sitting in a chair. Avoid knees extending over toes. Hold for five to 10 seconds. Straighten legs to starting position. This exercise works all the lower body muscles and tones your thighs and butt. It also improves torso stability. Practice it frequently to strengthen the muscles needed for labor.
Sit in a straight back chair. Spell the alphabet by writing the letters A to Z in the air with toes of one foot and then switch to the other foot. Foot exercises help keep the blood moving in your legs to prevent varicose veins. The valves which help move blood through the veins back to heart may soften in pregnancy, producing pooling of the blood in the legs and swelling of the veins especially when standing.
Kegel exercises or pelvic floor exercises tone the muscles in the vaginal and perineal area in preparation for delivery. Kegel exercises consist of pulling in and contracting the muscles around the vagina and anus as if stopping the flow of urine. Some doctors and physical therapist recommend that all women do Kegels every day.
If you are having problems with your pregnancy such as bleeding, high blood pressure or preterm contractions, you may need to avoid certain exercises as they may adversely affect the baby. Thus, speak with your doctor before engaging in any type of exercise program.