Pregnancy can be a time of new and confusing things for many women. What crib to buy, what to eat or not eat, morning sickness and fatigue are just a few examples of what women think about and experience. Another concern during pregnancy “Is it safe to exercise? Should I exercise?” First things first, your doctor is the one whom you should be asking this question to. Pregnancy places a large amount of stress on a female’s body and it is very important to receive clearance from ones doctor before proceeding with physical activity of any kind. If the complications are minimal and risks are low, exercise can benefit expectant mothers in many ways.
Never stepped foot in the gym? Starting an exercise program prior to being pregnant is ideal, however, it can still be beneficial to become physical active after becoming pregnant. Some benefits of deciding to or continuing to be physically active include healthy weight gain, improved circulation, reduced overall discomfort, improved mood, easier pregnancy, labor and delivery due to improved cardiorespiratory and muscular function and decreased risk for preeclampsia. Although a daunting task when a person is feeling tired, nauseous, and nervous, being physically active through one of life’s greatest journeys can prove to benefit expectant mother in many positive ways.
During pregnancy it is healthy to gain around 25-35lbs over a 9 month period. Whoa, wait 25-35lbs! Although this may sound like a lot if you break down where the excess weight is coming from, wrapping your head around this amount of weight becomes understandable. Things such as baby’s weight, extra stored protein, fat and nutrients, extra blood, additional body fluids, increased breast size, increased size of uterus and surrounding tissue and muscles, amniotic fluid and the placenta are all contributing factors in weight gain during pregnancy. It is important to gradually gain weight according to your doctor’s recommended amounts and this can healthily be achieved while staying active. Gaining too much weight all at once can lead to becoming overweight. This can cause complications such as gestational diabetes, hypertension, preeclampsia, increased risk of neural tube defects and heart abnormalities. Therefore, moderating weight gain and reducing total body fat throughout pregnancy can be the direct result of being active and exercising which in turn increases energy expenditure.
Edema (water retention) and poor circulation are two common side effects of continual weight gain during pregnancy. Exercise increases blood volume, cardiac output and number of blood vessels. Therefore, exercise can improve circulation which in turn can prevent the discomforts and pain from swelling. Nutrients and oxygen delivery to mother and fetal tissues is very important during pregnancy and exercise can improve this delivery through improved circulation. Exercise can also improve the efficiency of one’s lymphatic system, which is a part of the body’s circulatory system. Efficiency is improved by encouraging the return of accumulating interstitial fluid to the blood. Sound too technical? Overall improved circulation, which can be achieved by exercising during pregnancy, is a good thing!
Pain, discomfort, happy one minute, sad the next? Being pregnant can throw many women for a loop, however, managing these symptoms can also be achieved by physical activity. Maintaining normal function and range of motion in major joints can lessen lower back pain, edema in the legs, stiff joints, constipation, bloating and insomnia. Increasing strength and maintaining muscle mass transforms into improved energy. Not sleeping well? Making an effort to include regular physical activity can improve sleep. Studies show, when compared to sedentary expectant mothers, pregnant mother expressed being happier and more content through all three trimesters. When humans are physically active there is stimulation in ones body that releases mood elevating hormones. What does this mean…smiles and sleep for all! Many pregnant women fall into the traps of negative body image while pregnant. This can add to the negative mood already being created from production of hormones that come with expecting a child. Putting a little extra effort into participating in any form of physical activity can shatter those negative views and improve your self-image.
Cardio, something most women love to hate. Stop right there! The benefits outweigh the negative image running through your mind as you picture yourself, beach ball on stomach, sweat running down your face and with barely enough energy to complete everyday tasks let alone cardio. Cardiovascular exercise has a major effect on cardiorespiratory function. Following exercise there is an increase in hemoglobin’s binding capacity as well as an increased number of circulating red blood cells and blood volume. This means more oxygen to momma and baby. Labor length can be reduced due to improved endurance and stamina resulting from better aerobic conditioning achieved by doing that dreaded cardio. Weight bearing exercises can strengthen skeletal muscles associated with child birth. This can result in reduced pain during and after giving birth.
“According to a 2002 study, women who participated in strength training during all three trimesters required less pain medications and had an overall healthier delivery than women who did not. In addition most exercisers did not have to undergo induced labor or any other type of medical intervention such as a caesarean.” (Williamson, 2011.)
Who wouldn’t like some extra help when it comes to the nerve-racking event of delivering a child?
Preeclampsia is a condition during pregnancy that is characterized by high blood pressure, sometimes with fluid retention and proteinuria (presence of abnormal qualities of protein in urine, indicating possibility of damage to kidneys). This can majorly effect mother and baby. Preeclampsia is a condition expectant mothers want to avoid, however, it is a condition that affects 5-8% of all pregnancies and can progress rapidly. Here is where our last benefit we are going to discuss comes into the picture.
“New studies suggest that moderate cardiovascular exercise helps prevent preeclampsia and its harmful effects on pregnancy outcomes. Additionally, exercise effectively reduces blood cholesterol level through pregnancy. A lower blood cholesterol level is associated with a lower risk of gestational diabetes and preeclampsia during pregnancy” (Walling, 2002.)”
Something as simple as running on a treadmill can reduce your risk for this feared condition and put your mind at ease when it comes to these complication during an already stressful time as an expectant mother.
When your mind is racing from cribs to diapers, labour to complications, rest assured exercise is one thing you can actively do to improve some of the above symptoms involved when expecting a beautiful bundle of joy. Make sure you discuss your plans of physical activity with your doctor first. It is very important to know exactly, in your specific case, what you can and cannot do when it comes to exercise. If you are cleared to remain active; put on those yoga pants, lace up those running shoes, grab a bottle of water and get active! Eliminate your fear and worry about poor circulation, weight gain, mood swings, preeclampsia, difficult delivery and more.
By: Nicole Trach