In the past, some healthcare professionals frowned upon pregnant women exercising, especially after the second trimester. But research is showing just how important exercise can be.
One recent study has even suggested that exercise could even boost a baby’s brain function. 20 minutes of moderate exercise three times a week was shown to improve a newborn’s brain development, according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Montreal.
Studies have also shown that women who exercise in the first and second trimester felt better in the third trimester. Women who exercised said they felt they did not have to work as hard during labour. It is also well known that lack of exercise can lead to excessive weight gain in pregnancy, which puts women at higher risk for complications such as gestational diabetes and need for caesarean section.
Although there are many types of exercise suitable during pregnancy, here are some that you can try at home.
- Kegel exercises (also called pelvic floor exercise) build your ability to control and relax the muscles supporting uterus, bladder and the bowels. Kegel exercises can help you control these muscles during labour and delivery, as well as reduce urinary leakage (incontinence). Kegels can be performed three times a day, with 10-20 repetitions each, and they can be done anywhere without anyone knowing you are doing them! It is important to not do these while trying to empty your bladder, as this can lead to abnormal voiding patterns.
- Pelvic tilt. This exercise is designed to tone muscles in the vagina, lower back, and abdomen. It may increase hip mobility and reduce lower back pain during labour. The pelvic tilt can be performed on the floor on your hands and knees or standing.
- Cardio. Regular exercise that gets the heart going is great for your overall health and reducing fatigue. Your body will appreciate both when it comes time to deliver! Swimming or water aerobics are also good prenatal exercises because you work the most muscles in your body, and your buoyancy avoids impact. Walking is another nice form of activity, but you should do it at a decent enough pace to have it “count” as cardio exercise.
- Stretching exercises are important to keep your body loose and relaxed. Some stretching you can do include rotating the neck, shoulders and ankles.
A general guideline for any prenatal exercise is that if you can’t carry on a conversation during whatever exercise you are doing, you need to scale back until you can. If you are already a runner or very fit, just check with your doctor when it comes to more advanced forms of working out.
Yoga is in a class by itself, as it combines many of the benefits the mother-to-be will rely on during childbirth. Yoga, an Indian-based discipline and philosophy, teaches:
- Proper stretching
- Breathing techniques
- Meditation and concentration
- Good posture
- Conscious relaxation techniques
Many prenatal classes that include yoga are available, and it’s a great way to bond with other expectant mothers.
Remember, whichever activity you choose to do, talk with your health professional before starting or modifying your exercise (there are certain kinds of exercise that should be avoided in pregnancy, such as any with risk for abdominal trauma, SCUBA diving, and exercises where your core body temperature remains very elevated as in hot yoga). Together, you can choose the right exercise that will make your childbirth easier and more relaxed.
Reviewed by Dr. Jen Lincoln, November 2018
- Université de Montréal, Exercise during pregnancy gives newborn brain development a head start. American Family Physician
- Exercise During Pregnancy. National Institutes of Health
- Exercise during the childbearing year. Cleveland Clinic
- Exercise During Pregnancy. MayoClinic
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