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Fit mom-to-be: What you need to know for a healthy pregnancy

By Carly Anderson, BA Kinesiology, CSEP-CPT, Recreation Coordinator, PSP Ottawa – 

Fitness during pregnancy has been a hot topic the past few years as more and more women are pushing the boundaries of what was considered “normal exercise” during pregnancy. The most common medical advice has been “listen to your body” and “continue with what you have been doing” or “don’t start a new activity while pregnant”; but what exactly does “listen to your body mean”? Many very fit women are used to pushing themselves when it comes to fitness regime and struggle to determine what is too far when pregnant. “Continue with what you have been doing” also has its flaws, as some adjustments need to be made during pregnancy, like reducing impact on the pelvic floor from movements like running and jumping. Lastly, the advice to “not start a new activity while pregnant” is not sound either, as research shows that gaining too much weight during pregnancy can negatively affect fetal development and put the baby at risk of weight-related issues in their future.

Listening to your body is very common advice from both medical professionals and fitness trainers. But when listening to your body, you need to understand what it is telling you. Most common things the pregnant body may say look and sound like this: pain, incontinence, pressure and injuries. Avoiding any of these symptoms while exercising is vital to keep both mom and baby safe. Pain, even in a non-pregnant exerciser, should be acknowledged and categorized. Understanding when you have pushed too far and the body is screaming pain messages at you will keep you from causing injury.

The hormonal changes occurring during pregnancy affect how the body responds to exercise stimulus. The Relaxin hormone’s main purpose is to prepare the pelvis for birth by softening the ligaments. However, it is not targeted to this specific area of the body; its effects are strong throughout the body. The pregnant exerciser needs to ensure that she is managing movement and not putting herself at risk for injury, such as twisting an ankle. Take caution when jumping down from a height or doing activities like volleyball, which has unpredictable jumping. One should find ways to adapt their activities, such as using a box to step down from the pull-up bar versus jumping down from that height. Mom needs to be mindful that she is choosing physical activities that “minimize the risk of loss of balance and fetal trauma.” (Davies, Wolfe, Mottola, MacKinnon)

Incontinence is a topic that many women do not want to discuss in public, but which is becoming more common on social media. This is not a normal part of pregnancy! When leakage is happening there is a problem with the internal pressure system of the diaphragm and the pelvic floor. The changes caused by pregnancy can exasperate the pressure problem. If you are experiencing leakage when exercising, please seek the assistance of a pelvic floor physiotherapist. Common movements that cause leakage are jumping, running and squatting. First step is modifying those movements which cause the incontinence, substituting running for rowing, doing step-ups instead of box jumps and decreasing the weight if loaded squats are causing an issue.

Avoiding excessive weight gain is vital to a healthy pregnancy. Remember the body will do what it needs to do and morning sickness can negate the consumption of heathy nutrients. If possible seek help from a registered dietician that can create a personalized eating plan. Pregnancy can change how the body uses insulin, which can cause strong cravings for foods high in carbohydrates and sugars. Weight gain is essential during pregnancy but should be done in gradual increments. For a healthy calorie intake, add 300 calories to your baseline per trimester. Aim to eat lean meats, vegetables, fruit, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. Try to eat small meals if suffering from morning sickness.

When starting a new exercise program aim for 15 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week to start with. Aerobic exercise can be activities like walking, swimming, rowing and Zumba. Choose something you enjoy and that feels good. Then gradually increase up to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise four times per week. “Reasonable goals of aerobic conditioning in pregnancy would be to maintain a good fitness level throughout pregnancy without trying to reach peak fitness or train fir an athletic competition.” (Davies, Wolfe, Mottola, MacKinnon)

Adding weight training during pregnancy is also recommended. If you have never done weight training, consider seeking help from a professional fitness trainer to make sure you are doing the movements correctly. Recommended exercises are lower body strengthening like squatting, Romanian deadlifts, upper back strengthening like ring rows and core stabilization exercises like farmer`s walk to help prepare to carry car seats safely. Exercises to avoid include crunches or sit ups as the abdominals are stretching out from the Relaxin hormone.

A healthy and fit pregnancy is important for both mommy and baby. “Women and their care providers should consider the risks of NOT participating in exercise activities during pregnancy, including loss of muscular and cardiovascular fitness, excessive maternal weight gain, higher risk of gestational diabetes or pregnancy-induced hypertension, development of varicose veins and deep vein thrombosis, a higher incidence of physical complaints such as dyspnea (difficulty breathing) or low back pain, and poor psychological adjustments to the physical changes of pregnancy.”  (Davies, Wolfe, Mottola, MacKinnon) All very good reasons to maintain physical activity or to start while pregnant.

Reference: Gregory A.L Davies, MD. Larry A. Wolfe, PhD. Michelle F. Mottola PhD. Catherine Mackinnon, MD. No. 129-Exercise in Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period. E58 February 2018. JOGC. Reaffirmed SOGC Clinical Practice Guideline.

This post is also available in: Français (French)

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