There was a time when pregnant women were considered ‘too delicate’ to exercise. Nowadays, exercise during pregnancy (so long as Mom is healthy) is considered extremely beneficial. Not only can it help reduce complications during pregnancy but it can also help in a safer, sometimes easier, labour.
Lee Archer, the owner of the Institute of Fitness Professionals has designed ‘Pop Fit’ for Virgin Active South Africa, an exercise programme for expectant and new mums. She offers a comprehensive guide to training while pregnant.
Archer clears up three myths around exercise and pregnancy.
Pregnant ladies should not do resistance training as this may cause joint injury.
It is true that pregnancy floods your system with Relaxin – a hormone that loosens ligaments to prepare your body for delivery. However a 2011 University of Georgia study found that a low to moderate intensity strength program is safe, even for fitness novices provided the mom has had the all-clear from the doctor.
Research has come a long way with exercise and pregnancy in the last two decades and we now know that we can do most physical activities when pregnant and that especially strength, resistance and functional training are beneficial for the mom-to-be during pregnancy and after the birth of her baby.
Training needs to be done under the supervision of a fitness professional who is qualified and knows how to modify and adapt the training programme for the mom-to-be according to her pregnancy stage.
Exercise during pregnancy would result in a high core body temperature that might damage the embryo or developing foetus.
Current medical science shows that well-hydrated, fit pregnant women in fact can moderate their core body temperature more than sedentary, non-pregnant women.
Having said this, pregnant women should still be careful to not increase core temperature too much during exercise. A qualified instructor will keep tabs on this. Exercising in a well-ventilated environment, with frequent breaks and hydration is important.
Exercise during pregnancy reduces the rate of oxygen and nutrient delivery to the developing foetus by the shunting of blood away from the internal organs during exercise.
It is the normal physiological response for the cardiac output and blood volume to increase when pregnant. In addition to this, the placenta develops in such a way that a constant stream of nutrients is transported through the placenta to the mom.
So, no wrapping yourself up in cotton wool? “No” says Archer, “just remember to follow the guidelines for exercising while you are pregnant.”
• Regular exercise (3 to 5 times a week) is preferable to occasional activity
• Swimming, stationary cycling and brisk walking are highly recommended
• Exercise sessions should be preceded by a five minute period of muscle warm up, such as slow walking or stationary cycling at low resistance
• Exercise should be done on a safe surface, such as a wooden floor or tightly carpeted surface to reduce the risk of injury
• Moderate to intense aerobic activity should be limited to 15 to 20 minutes. Lower intensity activities may be conducted continuously over a longer period, but should not exceed 45 minutes
• Care should be taken to rise from the floor gradually so as to avoid an abrupt drop in blood pressure and to continue some form of activity involving the legs for a brief period.
• Exercise sessions should be followed by a brief cool down period of gradually declining activity that includes gentle stationary stretching. Stretches should not be taken to the maximum resistance
• A pregnant woman should consume enough calories to meet the needs of her pregnancy (300 extra calories a day) as well as her exercise program
• Women should not try to lose weight by exercising during pregnancy
• Exercises that require jumping, jarring motions or rapid changes in direction should be avoided
• Avoid exercises that involve lying on your back after the 4th month (after the first trimester) as the pregnant uterus may compress the aorta and cause a decrease of blood flow to the foetus. The same goes for any exercises that notably compress the tummy area.
Five benefits of exercising when pregnant
Control weight gain. Research has shown that when exercising during pregnancy you are more likely to put on 3kg less than someone who does not exercise while pregnant. A healthy weight gain (10-16kg) during pregnancy is and should be expected.
Helps with labour, delivery and recovery. Unfortunately this is not a 100% guarantee but having a strong cardiovascular system will give you more oomph and stamina in the pushing stage of labour. Research suggests that women who continue regular weight-bearing exercise throughout pregnancy show a marked decrease in the need for pain relief during labour, in the incidence of maternal exhaustion, and in the need for artificially rupturing the membranes to stimulate the labour.
Decreased pregnancy related discomforts. Studies indicate that women who exercise regularly during pregnancy have a lower occurrence of lower back.
The three factors that seem to influence a decrease in maternal discomforts include exercise that is regular, weight bearing and sustained over time.
Regular exercise in the general population is associated with lower incidence of upper respiratory infections. Researchers have observed that exercising pregnant women experience lower incidence of colds, flu symptoms, sinusitis and bronchitis. On the other hand people who exercise too strenuously have an increased incidence of upper respiratory infections. Moderation is the key!
Increased levels of stamina. Regular exercise increases the oxygen-carrying capacity of the haemoglobin, so that with each breath more oxygen is delivered to the tissues as well as the growing foetus. This puts less strain on the heart muscle and contributes to increased stamina.
Pregnancy in itself stresses the cardiovascular system of the mom, therefore the combination of being pregnant and exercising improves aerobic capacity.
Happy mom, happy pregnancy, happy baby! Pregnant ladies and new mothers who exercise, tend to have a more positive attitude than those who don’t. In any case, women who exercise regularly during and after pregnancy report a better body image and overall feeling of wellness.
Staying active during pregnancy will make your pregnancy more comfortable and ease post birth recovery, not to mention a healthy body and mind. And a healthy mom equals a happy baby!
For information on the Virgin Active Health Clubs offering Pop Fit classes or to purchase 8 or 16 sessions go to www.myvirginactive.co.za. Remember to check your club timetable for information on class times. You can book your session 7 days in advance through ‘Online bookings’.