Exercise is crucial in pregnancy. Movement in pregnancy supports circulation of your blood, increases oxygenation of your cells, tonifies your pelvic floor, helps the body eliminate toxins, keeps your bowel movements regular (aka avoids being constipated), balances hormones, stimulates secretion of neurotransmitters and hormones that make you feel good, balances your blood sugars, tonifies your nervous system, helps you cope with stress, and so much more!
Women are often scared into not exercising when they are pregnant for fear they will overdo it and hurt the baby. You can most certainly exercise safely throughout your entire pregnancy. And your baby’s health will be better because you got in all that nourishing movement!
Exercising Safely during Pregnancy
As a general rule, pregnant woman can maintain their exercise level that they had prior to becoming pregnant. If you are a morning jogger, keep hitting the pavement. If you like to play tennis on the weekends with your gals, continue to show up at the court. If you like to get your movement by dancing around the house while doing chores, dance away my friend.
Or if you don’t have a regular exercise routine, pregnancy is the perfect time to start. Start slow to give your body time to build muscle and strengthen your heart and blood vessels. This could be going for a walk for 5-10 minutes per day or practicing a gentle yoga flow for 30 minutes or biking on a trainer for 20 minutes, or swimming laps at your local pool. Find something you enjoy doing and do it everyday; increasing the duration and/or intensity until you find a sweet spot where you get your body sweating and increase your heart rate.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) states, “physical activity does NOT increase your risk of miscarriage, low birth weight, or early delivery”. They also recommend that pregnant women exercise for at least 30 minutes 5 days a week of moderate-intensity aerobic movements.
With all this being said, there are a few exercises to avoid or at least be aware that they may be dangerous to do while pregnant. Contact sports or sports that entail a risk of falling should be avoided due to the risk of getting hit in the belly. Exercising in extreme heat and humidity is also generally not recommended. Unless you are used to high altitudes, exercising in high altitudes or even the potential for low oxygen states with scuba diving should be avoided.
A Pregnant Body Just Isn’t The Same
In pregnancy, your ligaments (which hold your joints together and provide limitations for excessive movement) become more relaxed. This relaxation of your ligaments is caused by relaxin and progesterone that your ovaries and placenta create an abundance of in pregnancy. It is important to be aware of this while pregnant because your joints will have more mobility and the risk of injury becomes higher.
It may be obvious, but pregnancy also throws off a woman’s center of gravity. Even in activities you are used to doing, this change can throw off your balance and put more stress of your joints.
As your uterus grows bigger, laying on your back can put pressure on your inferior vena cava, which is a blood vessel that returns blood to the heart. When practicing yoga or other forms of exercise that require you to be on your back, be aware that you can squish this inferior vena cava which disrupts blood flow to the heart.
As a pregnant woman, your body is putting a lot of its energy into growing a human. You may find that as you exercise, you tire more quickly or don’t have the energy to go as long or as intense as you did before you got pregnant. This decrease in energy is normal, but there are also lots of things you can do to increase your energy in pregnancy as well.
Your heart also works harder in pregnancy because it has a whole other being to oxygenate and bring blood flow too. When exercising during pregnancy, your heart rate will increase faster than it did prior to pregnancy.
Nourishing and Hydrating your Precious Body
When you are moving your body, you should also be cognizant of staying hydrated to nourish all your cells, increase muscle repair, and prevent dehydration. You may even want to add a bit of salt to your water to replace any electrolytes lost through your sweat. To do this, add a pinch of salt to a glass of water. Your water should taste more robust, or like it has more body to it, but should not taste salty (if it does taste salty, you’ve added too much salt).
A pregnant body already has an increased demand for macro- and micro-nutrients to nourish the baby. Add exercise on top of growing a human inside of you and you’ll need to make sure you are eating enough calories and getting enough nutrient dense food in your diet every day.
If you have complications in your pregnancy, such as placenta previa, cervical insufficiency, preeclampsia, or severe anemia, talk to your health care professional about what movements are safe for you. We should all be moving in some way while we are pregnant. A sedentary life should never be an option.
Listen to your body. You know your body and your capabilities better than anyone. Pay attention to when your body is telling you to decrease the intensity of the exercise or when your body is craving movement after a sedentary day. Listen to your body and then make changes with your exercising that take into account what your body is trying to tell you.
If you feel like you need more guidance, talk to your health care professional about how to get in nourishing movement during your pregnancy!