Prenatal exercise benefits
If you had an exercise program before you became pregnant, you can continue with this in the first trimester as long as you have the all clear from your doctor. As your pregnancy goes on, you may need to adapt your program.
If you didn’t have a regular exercise program before, now is the ideal time to adopt a new, healthier way of life from which you will reap the rewards for years to come. If you do start exercising now, build up gently; listen to your body and do only what feels comfortable.
Regular gentle exercise is much better than intense irregular bouts of exercise (which aren’t advisable in pregnancy), since your body responds more positively to consistent, moderate exercise.
How exercise helps
In addition to increasing your energy levels, exercise helps you maintain a positive outlook and feel confident about your changing body image. Exercise can also ease common pregnancy discomforts such as nausea, leg cramps, swollen feet, varicose veins, constipation, insomnia, and back pain. By keeping muscles strong and toned, exercise makes it easier for your body to deal with changes in posture during pregnancy. There is also evidence that increased fitness helps shorten labor and your postpartum recovery time and lessens your overall anxiety about the birth.
A nutritious, balanced diet is vital in pregnancy. If you’re exercising too, eating well to keep energy levels balanced is doubly important. Eat regular, nutritious meals, ensuring that your calories come from wholesome, fresh foods, and avoid high-calorie sugary snacks.
Do’s and don’ts
Exercise is safe in pregnancy as long as you follow the simple guidelines listed below. As your pregnancy progresses, you will probably need to adapt and moderate your exercise program.
- Warm up and cool down properly.
- Drink enough water before, during, and after exercising.
- Wear comfortable clothes that don’t restrict your rib cage.
- Exercise regularly and consistently.
- Adjust your expectations; pregnancy is not a time to go for personal bests.
- Build your strength, but do this gradually. Focus on your back, shoulders, chest, and lower body.
- Practice Kegel exercises (see Start squeezing!) daily to maintain the pelvic floor tone.
- Breathe properly while exercising, especially when lifting weights.
- Protect your back when getting up from a lying position: roll onto your left side and sit up using your legs
- Avoid exercises that feel awkward or uncomfortable.
- Focus on posture and alignment.
- Stop immediately and seek advice if you feel severe localized pain, vaginal bleeding, or general unwellness.
- Eat frequent small meals and snacks to maintain energy and avoid having your blood sugar levels fall.
- Exercise in a hot or humid environment.
- Do jerky or bouncy moves or twist or rotate your abdomen.
- Lift weights that are too heavy.
- Do sports where you risk falling, such as skiing or horseback riding.
- Overstretch: the pregnancy hormone relaxin can make you feel more supple than you are.
- Exercise to exhaustion. If you’re tired, decrease the intensity or duration. Get an hour’s rest for each hour of exercise.