Superstitions are aplenty about exercise in pregnancy. Therefore, should a pregnant woman exercise?
INDEED, the belief that exercise is a no-no for pregnant women has left many confused about the whole thing.
In fact, in a 2010 survey conducted by a research portal, a surprising 39% of women thought it true that a woman should refrain from exercise when she finds out that she’s pregnant.
I shall wholeheartedly rebut this conventional folk wisdom with actual science and exhort all women, “Why not?”
For a start, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) suggests that all women should be encouraged to participate in aerobic and strength-conditioning exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle during their pregnancy.
Furthermore, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise per day on most, if not all, days of the week, unless you have a medical or obstetric complication.
When a woman is pregnant, many changes take place within her body. These changes occur to prepare the new mother to cope with the growing baby-bump during the next nine months.
Generally, a pregnant woman with no obstetric complications should maintain her usual daily routines, e.g. drive a car, go to work, or visit the shopping mall. This includes beginning or maintaining an exercise regime.
In fact, you need to be physically active during pregnancy.
It has terrific benefits that are associated with a better pregnancy outcome, giving your body a greater ability to handle the physical stresses and discomforts of pregnancy and labour.
As a new mum-to-be, many of you can attest to the fact that being pregnant can be extremely laborious on the back, legs and arms.
To help put your mind at ease, here are some basic tips to make sure you are not overdoing it and how you can reap the full benefits of exercise during your nine months.
What is your exercise background?
If you have been sedentary for most of your life, starting an exercise regime whilst pregnant is going to require a little more care and attention.
Start by walking around the park for 15 to 20 minutes at an easy pace (you should still be breathing comfortably and not panting).
After getting used to walking, you may gradually increase the intensity, either by upping the speed or duration.
Always watch out for your breathing. You should still be able to breathe with ease and should not be gasping for air because that means you are cutting the oxygen supply to your baby.
For those of you who are seasoned exercisers, your routine should be toned down a notch, just to be safe.
If you’re a keen runner, do a shorter run than usual. If you lift weights or jump about a lot, then carry lighter weights and switch to low impact aerobics, depending on the trimester you are in.
If you start to feel “odd”, listen to your body and don’t do the exercise.
Be reminded that this is not the time to break any personal performance records.
Again, make sure breathing is as close to normal as possible.
Which trimester are you in?
The first trimester is always a little more “sensitive” than the others.
It is during this trimester that pregnant mums experience the most morning sickness and mood swings. It is also the trimester with the highest rate of miscarriage.
During this time, you should only exercise if you are game for it. You should stop or slow down at the first sign of dizziness, headache or shortness of breath.
The second trimester is widely known as the “honeymoon trimester”.
It is when the baby bump is at a manageable size, and morning sickness and mood swings are much less apparent.
This is the time you can gradually increase the intensity of your exercise if you are feeling up to it.
The third trimester is when your strength and endurance are put to the test.
The weight of your baby now sits at 0.9-1.5kg during month seven. This weight will go up to anywhere between 3.0-3.2kg as it approaches full term.
As long as there’re no risks of delivering prematurely, exercise is safe during this trimester.
You should, however, consider switching every exercise to low-impact exercise, i.e. no jumping or bouncing.
Running should also be kept to a minimum.
Heavy weights should also be avoided as this will apply pressure on your joint ligaments and tendons, which become more relaxed closer to term.
It’s all about the BLT!
BLT refers to your back, legs and thighs. These are muscles that will need to be strengthened, whether you are planning to have a baby, already pregnant, or have given birth.
Your back, especially the lower back, will feel a lot of the load once your tummy grows bigger.
If you have not been exercising, chances are you will experience lower back pain when you sit, stand or walk for long durations.
Here are a couple of lower back exercises you can try:
·Lying glute bridge
Lying supine on a mat, have your knees bent to 90°. Your feet should be comfortably resting apart, and your arms resting by your side.
Breathe in slowly and raise your hips towards the ceiling. You should be squeezing your bum muscles as you do this.
Go only as far as you can, without exerting too much force.
Once at the top, breathe out slowly and lower your hips back to the floor.
This exercise works out the lower back and glutes (bum muscles).
To make it a little more challenging, you can extend both arms in front of your chest and clasp your hands together, keeping them upright and straight throughout the exercise.
Do at least three sets of 10 repetitions.
Get down on all fours, with your palms right beneath your shoulders and your knees at hip-width apart.
Your back should be relaxed and neither of your limbs should feel too much pressure.
Arch your back and let your tummy sink down. Inhale deeply, then curl your spine by pulling your tummy inwards and tucking your tail bone back. Your back should resemble an angry cat’s back.
Exhale slowly and let your back relax into its original position. Again, do three sets of 10 repetitions.
Your legs and thighs will need to get used to carrying the extra load as well, so strengthening these muscles will save you some fatigue and soreness. Here is a great exercise for lower body strength:
You will need a fitball for this. Place the ball between the middle of your back and the wall, and rest your body weight onto it. Your legs should be a step forward so you have room to squat down.
Inhale deeply and lower your body to the ground by bending your knees, leaning against the ball at all times. The lower you go, the more you are training your leg muscles. Exhale and straighten your knees to stand back up again. To challenge yourself, carry a light weight in your hands. Three sets of 10 repetitions should do it.
Kegel exercises help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles – the muscles you use to control your urine flow. Strengthening these muscles help prevent haemorrhoids, support your growing baby, and assist you during labour.
To perform a kegel, squeeze your pelvic floor muscles as if to hold your urine in. Hold this for about five seconds, then relax.
Repeat this multiple times, holding each kegel for five seconds, and slowly working towards longer holding periods.
Carrying around a growing weight for months causes muscles to fatigue, so stretching plays an important role in finding comfort.
Lower back stretches, especially, are much enjoyed by pregnant women at the beginning and the end of each day.
Here are some you can try at home. You may hold these stretches for as long as you want.
Kneel down on the mat and have your bum sitting on top of your feet. You may tilt your heels apart for your bum to rest on.
Spread your knees apart so your tummy has room.
Bring your upper body down, arms outstretched in front of you, face down.
Sit down on the mat with legs crossed. Keep your back straight and your arms and shoulders relaxed.
Hold your right knee with your right hand, and place your left hand behind you.
Slowly twist your upper body to the left, using your hands as a guide.
Do the same on the opposite side.
Yoga for pregnant women has been extremely beneficial for mothers in any stage of their pregnancy. It provides really good stretches for the lower back, glutes and hamstrings.
With these few tips in mind, you can now sail through your pregnancy without gaining too much unwanted weight, and keep your cardio and exercise regime in check.
Do note that as every pregnancy is unique to each woman, it is advisable that you consult a doctor before attempting any exercises.
Karen Siah holds a bachelor’s degree in Sport and Exercise Science from the University of Auckland. Apart from being a certified personal trainer for pregnant and post-partum women, Siah is the founder of Kia Kaha Fitness, a company passionate about improving the lives of working Malaysians through fitness. To find out more about Kia Kaha Fitness, visit their Facebook page @ Kia Kaha Fitness or email Karen@kiakaha.com.my. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.