Are you wondering whether an exercise programme during pregnancy will benefit you and your baby? Here I outline some of the many potential benefits to you both.
There is no doubt that pregnancy, labour, birth and motherhood are all challenging, yet wonderful, tests of both physical and mental endurance and strength. During pregnancy and birth a woman's body undergoes huge physiological, anatomical and hormonal changes and the healthier and fitter a woman is- the better prepared she is to cope with these demands.
When a pregnant woman makes the decision to nurture her body, clean up her nutrition and improve her overall health and wellness she is doing both herself, her developing baby and her future life as a mother, a great service.
An active pregnancy has many physiological and mental benefits for both mother and baby and many women are now taking the opportunity to kickstart healthy lifestyle changes that can be carried through to the postnatal healing phase and beyond into motherhood.
Long gone are the days when pregnant women were encouraged to put their feet up, eat for two and slowly watch their bodies become deconditioned during an inactive pregnancy. In fact for many years now, research, national health organisations and exercise organisations, such as the ASCM, ACOG & RCOG have recommended that women who are experiencing a healthy pregnancy, with no contraindications or complications (that would be exacerbated by taking part in physical activity) should actively engage in a pregnancy-safe exercise programme for the benefit of both mother and baby.
Benefits are numerous and can include the prevention or reduction of many common uncomfortable prenatal symptoms such as:
Leg cramps and swelling of the limbs (oedema)
Exercise can also help to prevent medical conditions arising such as:
Deep vein thrombosis
Pregnancy induced hypertension/hypotension
Carpal tunnel syndrome
The ideal type of prenatal exercise should target the entire body with regressive programming so that the intensity of the exercise decreases as the pregnancy increases. It should be flexible- providing variations for varying levels of ability, and functional so as to prepare the mother for actual labour, birth and motherhood. It should also be enjoyable, supportive and somewhat educational so that the mother understands what she is doing and why.
Time spent exercising is time spent focusing on oneself so it is a self-nurturing activity that provides time out from daily stressors, a chance to reconnect with oneself (with reduced distractions) and the opportunity to clear thoughts and refresh not only the body but also the mind. It will contribute towards the mental and emotional wellbeing of the mother via the release of feel-good hormones (endorphins) which will help to encourage relaxation, ease anxiety and manage depression.
Increased energy levels and feelings of vitality
Improved blood flow & circulation to mother & baby facilitating placental & foetal growth
Counteracted postural deviancies caused by pregnancy
Improved/maintained cardiovascular endurance
Improved/maintained muscular strength and endurance
Improved/maintained core strength
Preventing or reducing diastasis recti
Assisting with labour
Reduced recovery time after birth
Preparedness for motherhood
The potential to new make healthy lifestyle habits
Increased self-care & self-nurturing
It is important to remember that whilst exercise is beneficial to a pregnant woman who has no increased risk factors or contraindications that would prevent her from participating in prenatal exercise programme. It is also best to understand when exercise during pregnancy may not be recommended and to seek out the safest exercise experience by training with a knowledgeable Fitness professional who is trained in prenatal and postnatal exercise and who fully understands the importance of in-depth health screening, bespoke individualised programming and the journey of pregnancy and motherhood. Once you have found that person, and committed to your class/training, enjoy the process and pat yourself on the back for making the health and vitality of both you and your baby a priority.