There are plenty of benefits to staying physically active during pregnancy. Regular exercise reduces fatigue, nausea, pain, and anxiety. Exercise also means that you maintain your strength and fitness in the body, which contributes to good health. Physical activity has also been shown to reduce the risk of pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, and preeclampsia. Women who exercise during their pregnancy recover more easily after giving birth. There are no risks with physical activity and exercise for either the baby or the birth outcome in an uncomplicated pregnancy.
What kind of exercise am I allowed to do when expecting a child?
Pregnancy is a good time to promote healthy changes in your life. If you are a generally active person, you can more or less continue exercising, as usual, the first few months and gradually reduce the intensity of your workouts towards the end of the pregnancy. Both strength training and cardio training at a moderate level, i.e., 60-70% of your maximum heart rate, are healthy benchmarks for you when expecting a child. For a moderate level, taking a walk could sometimes be enough to achieve a satisfactory intensity level. Remember that all training should feel good both during and after the exercise session.
Pelvic floor training
Finding and strengthening your pelvic floor muscles can reduce the risk of urine leakage both during and after pregnancy. It can also make it easier for you to find your pelvic floor after birth. Focusing a little extra on being able to relax in the pelvic floor can make the birth easier because these muscles need to be stretched out to be able to let the baby through during a vaginal birth.
Finding your pelvic floor
The pelvic floor is a muscle plate that sits at the bottom of our pelvis, which, together with supporting tissue, has the task of stabilizing our internal organs and withstanding the pressure that comes from the top of the abdomen. The muscles also control our ability to hold and release urine, feces, and gasses. It also plays a vital role in the body’s sexual function.
In order to find your pelvic floor muscles, it can be good to lie down in a comfortable position, either on your back or your side. Try to enter a relaxed state; take a deep breath. Try to squeeze around the rectum as if you are resisting passing gas, and at the same time, try to squeeze around the vagina and urethra. Trying to imagine that you are holding back urine is a good approach to activate the right muscles. The feeling should be that your openings are closed and possibly that you also feel a lift of the muscles inside the body. You should hold this squeeze for about 2 seconds, then release it and completely “open up.”
Once you have identified the right muscles and found the right technique, you can start increasing the force of your squeezes. These exercises are called kegel exercises, and you are supposed to use maximum pressure to hold the tension for about 5-8 seconds. You should repeat this 5-10 each workout. It is also important to relax the pelvic floor, so you don’t go around squeezing your pelvic floor all day.
Am I allowed to exercise the abdomen while pregnant?
During pregnancy, muscles, connective tissue, and membranes in the abdomen will gradually be stretched and thinned out to provide space for the baby and uterus to grow. This is, of course, completely harmless, and it’s called rectus diastasis and essentially is deterioration in the strength and function of the abdominal muscles.
You can continue to exercise your abdomen throughout the pregnancy, but you may need to perform lighter exercises as your belly gets bigger. The exercise should never be uncomfortable or painful and preferably not provoke a sharp peak or ridge formation in the middle of the abdomen. This means that the exercise is too heavy for what the structures of the abdomen can handle. Currently, no evidence suggests that abdominal exercises neither reduce nor increase residual rectus diastase risk after birth. However, maintaining strength in the abdominal muscles during pregnancy can facilitate a faster return to exercise after birth.
Am I allowed to run while pregnant?
Running results in increased abdominal pressure and putting the stress of twice your body weight on joints and muscles. Essentially this means that a greater load is placed on your pelvic floor, which is already particularly exposed by the uterus and baby during pregnancy. The pelvis also has a reduced ability to stabilize during pregnancy.
If you are a frequent runner and believe that it feels fine to run while pregnant, you can continue throughout the first trimester and sometimes even longer. As your belly gets bigger, it becomes more important to listen to your body. If you experience either of the following while running, contractions, pain, heaviness from the pelvic floor, or urine leakage, then you should stop. If you are not an avid runner, then it isn’t recommended to start while being pregnant.
What exercises should I avoid when expecting a child?
During pregnancy, you should avoid exercises that increase the risk of falling or other activities that could result in congenital disabilities, such as MMA, ice hockey, horseback riding, for example. You should also avoid exercising in the following conditions: at high altitudes, in deep water, or very hot or humid climates.
Signs to stop exercising
When expecting a child, you should pay extra attention to the body’s signals and stop exercising if you experience syndromes such as:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Painful contractions
- Water discharge
- Severe calf pain
- Severe pain in the abdomen or pelvis
- Dizziness or nausea
After week 16, it is recommended to avoid supine exercises due to an increased risk of developing Vena Cava syndrome, which is when the uterus is pressing on a large vessel (Inferior Vena Cava). This could cause impairs of blood returning to the heart. You can read more about this in the article “exercise during the second trimester” in our Pregnancy category.
In case of any medical conditions or high-risk pregnancy, you should consult your physician or other health care professional before doing any exercise to make sure it is safe to perform.
Exercising with pregnancy-related issues
All women react differently to pregnancy, so it is difficult to provide general training advice that will suit everybody. For example, if you experience pelvic pain, back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, or pelvic floor symptoms - seek help from a physiotherapist or naprapath with expertise in women’s health. This will allow you to get an examination and tailored advice. For more information on relieving pelvic pain, see the article about “Pelvic pain” in the Pregnancy category.
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