Exercise during pregnancy
Pregnancy is generally a sign of good health and not an illness. The majority of pregnancies will be uncomplicated and women continue to live their normal daily lives while pregnant, this should also include getting exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle. Exercise during pregnancy has advantages for the mother and unborn child. Expectant mothers who exercise have an improved self image and feel less stressed. Furthermore exercise improves muscle tone and helps pregnant women prepare for birth. Being active during pregnancy also leads to a better postnatal recovery and quicker return to pre-pregnancy weight.
Recommended exercise during pregnancy includes walking, antenatal pilates, antenatal yoga, swimming and antenatal aquaerobics. Exercising in water adds buoyancy therefore, mothers feel lighter and better able to exercise. Such activities and exercise improves posture therefore decreasing backache, which is a common complaint during pregnancy. Pregnant women also often experience trouble sleeping and exercise on a regular basis can improve quality of sleep. Exercise will also improve womens’ circulation to avoid cramps and reduce swelling in the legs. Pelvic floor exercises (or Kegel exercises) are simple yet important exercise during pregnancy and throughout a woman’s life. The hormone changes and increasing weight of the unborn baby, lead to additional strain on the pelvic floor (the muscles from the pubic bone to the coccyx) therefore starting or continuing pelvic floor exercises during pregnancy, and continuing after birth helps to prevent long term problems.
Previously active women, experiencing an uncomplicated healthy pregnancy, should not hesitate to continue their exercise regime. Pregnant women who are new to exercise should discuss exercise with a midwife or doctor prior starting. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recommends beginning with 15 minutes of continuous exercise three times a week, increasing gradually to 30 minute sessions, from four times a week to daily. Women, who suffer from lung or heart disease, high blood pressure, are heavy smokers or are pregnant with twins or triplets may need to refrain from exercise, in such cases the woman must always discuss exercise with their midwife or doctor prior to continuing or commencing exercise.
So as to set some ground rules for exercising during pregnancy, just like any other person prior to commencing exercise, a warm up, and after exercise a cool down period is essential. Keeping well hydrated with a good water intake is of utmost importance. Furthermore pregnant women should avoid lying flat on their backs after 16 weeks gestation. The intensity of exercise in pregnancy should be sufficient to induce an increase in heart and breathing rate but the expectant mother should still be able to maintain a conversation when exercising. Exercise should be discontinued as soon as the expectant mother experiences any discomfort, vaginal bleeding, dizziness or trouble breathing. In such cases immediate medical attention should be sought. Some sports should be avoided during pregnancy these include, scuba diving, contact sports, horse riding and skiing.
Exercise together with a nutritious diet are two of the most important ways expectant mothers can optimise their and their unborn babies health and wellbeing, and prepare for labour and birth. The expectant father also has a role in encouraging the mother to keep active during pregnancy and can join her for brisk walks or few a few laps in the swimming pool as they prepare for their new arrival.
BSc. (Hons) Midwifery MSc. Midwifery