Regular exercise helps you to maintain your health, and having a regular exercise routine can improve your posture (thus reducing lower back and hip pain), help you avoid excessive pregnancy weight gain, alleviate discomforts such as backaches and fatigue, and improves your prenatal fitness level and strength.
In order to accomplish this, it is a good idea to incorporate some form of strength-based exercises for muscle fitness – this can be achieved with weights or specific exercises that use your own body weight. Try to avoid high-impact exercises (e.g. jumping jacks, sports such as football, etc.) as much as possible as they may do more harm than good. You may opt to do pilates, walking, swimming, yoga, or other similar forms of exercise to help keep your muscle tone.
What is your exercise background?
It is not advisable to start doing strenuous exercises if you did not do so regularly before you became pregnant. Make sure your fitness instructor knows about your pregnancy. Keep in mind that exercises that are beneficial do not necessarily have to be strenuous.
Be sure to start off slow if you are new to exercise. You can get off to a quick start with short walks around the local taman – expect to spend about 15-20 minutes at an easy walk that leaves you breathing comfortably and not gasping for air. Once you are accustomed to this, gradually increase the intensity either by increasing your walking speed or the duration of your walk. Always keep tabs on your breathing – make sure that you are able to breathe with ease and not fighting for your breath as that may mean less oxygen for your baby.
Are you a seasoned fitness buff? If you are, it is advisable to tone down your routine a little just to be on the safe side. For instance, if you are into running, keep it up but do shorter runs than usual. If you lift weights or jump about a lot, switch to lighter weights and change to low impact exercises (e.g. squats instead of jumping jacks). Remember to exercise in moderation. The key is to listen to your body when you are exercising – if something feels wrong (e.g. uncomfortable or too strenuous), then you should stop immediately and avoid that particular exercise for now.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise daily or on as many days of the week as possible, unless there is a medical situation that prevents you from doing so (e.g. pregnancy complication).
Keep your routines fluid
Depending on which trimester you are in, you will need to vary your exercise routine accordingly. You should exercise with caution during your first trimester as the highest rate of miscarriages happen during this trimester.
The second trimester normally puts less strain on you and with a baby bump that is still easily manageable, you can increase the intensity of your exercise if you feel up to it.
The third trimester is more physically demanding as your baby bump is a substantial burden. You may continue exercising provided that your doctor does not caution you against it. However, do consider doing only low-impact exercises (i.e. no jumping, bouncing, or running) and avoid using heavy weights (as they will apply too much pressure on the ligaments and tendons of your joints).
Target the right muscles
It is a good idea to focus on the muscles in your back, legs and thighs. These are the muscles that will bear the brunt of weight from your baby bump as your pregnancy progresses. Chances are high that you will feel lower back pain if you have not been exercising.
So what can you do to target these muscles? Try simple exercises such as a glute bridge (works the muscles in your buttocks), do the angry cat pose (helps stretch your back muscles), do squats (works your leg muscles and glutes), and kegel exercises (works your pelvic floor muscles).
There are several basic things you will need to keep in mind, namely:
- make it a point to warm-up before exercising and to cool down when you are done.
- stay active daily. If you can’t do your normal 30 minutes of walking, try to fit in whatever you can. Doing less is better than doing nothing at all.
- if the weather is very hot, avoid strenuous exercises.
- stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
- are you attending a fitness class? If you are, ensure that you have a qualified instructor and that he/ she knows about your pregnancy.
- avoid high-risk exercises as much as possible. This includes cycling (especially racing and downhill mountain bikes), hockey, or gymnastics. Falls may risk damage to your unborn baby.
Stop exercising and consult your gynaecologist if you:
- experience any
- vaginal bleeding,
- sudden gush of fluid from the vagina or a trickle of fluid that leaks steadily,
- chest pain,
- abdominal pain,
- pelvic pain,
- or persistent contractions.
- there is a sudden absence or decrease in foetal activity.
- suddenly feel
- faint, dizzy, nauseous, or light-headed
- cold or clammy.
Find a Routine that Works for You
Just like the saying “different strokes for different folks”, everyone will have their own preference when it comes to their exercise routine. The main thing is for you to find an exercise routine that is safe and yet excites you – after all you might as well find something that you enjoy doing if you intend to do it regularly.
An educational collaboration with Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society of Malaysia.