This week starts the first post in the Losing the Baby Weight series. Like I mentioned last week it has been difficult for me to start writing about this because there are so many different variables that come into play with how quickly a mama recovers after having a baby.
Here are the topics for the next 4 weeks:
Wednesday, June 12: Pregnancy & Exercise
Wednesday, June 19: What To Expect After You Deliver
Wednesday, June 26: The First Six Weeks
Wednesday, July 3: Nutrition
As a personal trainer and yoga instructor I felt confident in my ability to answer my clients questions regarding exercise and pregnancy. Then I became pregnant. Welcome unwanted advice and opinions from strangers. It might be because I taught yoga and bootcamp classes up until I delivered but I heard my share of comments that were pretty judgmental about how active I was while pregnant with Caden. I have learned that you will never please everyone. Being a good parent is about making informed decisions that will be best for your family.
In hopes to encourage you mamas-to-be I am sharing my experiences of exercising while pregnant and also what I have learned from researching this topic. The majority of this post will focus on those who already exercise. If you are pregnant and have never exercised now is the perfect time to start (always check with your doctor before you begin a exercise program). Walking, stretching, and gentle yoga are great activities for those new to physical activity.
If you have persistent bleeding during the 2nd and 3rd trimester, pregnancy induced hypertension, preterm labor with current or a prior pregnancy or any other questionable contraindication to exercise please consult with your doctor.
Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy
Continuing to exercise during pregnancy at a moderate intensity level can:
- Improve sleep. Many pregnant women have a hard time falling and staying asleep but those who exercise say that the quality of sleep is greater and they feel more rested in the morning.
- Reduce the discomforts of pregnancy. Exercise can lessen the amount of aches and pains you feel as your baby grows.
- Reduce stress. Growing a baby can be stressful. Studies have found that after exercise the brain releases chemicals that actually put you in a better mood.
- Prepare your body for childbirth. The better shape you are in the more prepared your body will be to handle the demands of labor. It is still going to hurt but your body will be able to adapt to the stress and in some cases labor might be shorter. Might be. It is not a guarantee but it cant hurt to try.
- Improve your self image. When you take care of yourself you feel better.
- Speed up your weight loss after baby is born. This is the major reason to exercise while pregnant. Of course if you have not been cleared by your doctor don’t exercise and don’t feel guilty.
These are all reason to love exercise!
Exercise Intensity, Heart Rate, & Rate of Perceived Exertion
Over the years the recommendations issued by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) on pregnancy and exercise intensity have dramatically changed:
- 1985: The ACOG issues a statement that the maximum heart rate during pregnancy should not exceed 140 beats per minute and women should not participate in strenuous exercise for more than 15 minutes.
- 1994: A new statement is released removing specific limitations regarding exercise during pregnancy. The ACOG said, ‘‘there is no data in humans to indicate that pregnant women should limit exercise intensity and lower target heart rate because of adverse effects.’’ They still recommended that women avoid exhaustion during exercise.
- 2002: The ACOG published ‘‘Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period: ACOG Committee Opinion 267.’’ In this paper, the ACOG Committee recognizes that ‘‘in the absence of contraindications, pregnant women should be encouraged to engage in regular, moderate intensity physical activity to continue to derive health benefits during their pregnancy as they did prior to their pregnancy.’’
It has been many years since the maximum heart rate during pregnancy was recommended not to exceed 140 beats per minute. If a doctor or trainer tells you otherwise there is a good chance they are sharing outdated information. What you want to be mindful of is not allowing your body to become overheated to the point that it can not cool itself down.
If you regularly exercise with a heart rate monitor you can continue to do so while pregnant or you can evaluate your intensity using the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE), or how you feel based on a scale from one to ten. As a general rule, keep your RPE in the 5-6 range during pregnancy workouts.
Your 5-6 RPE pre-pregnancy will not feel the same as your 5-6 while you are pregnant. During pregnancy the body produces more blood and the heart works harder to circulate the excess. The increase in blood is responsible for fatigue, nausea and dizziness during the first trimester.
Can you run while pregnant? If you were a runner before you became pregnant you can continue running during pregnancy. Keep in mind pregnancy is not the time to try and break a personal record. Moderation is the key. As you progress in weeks be prepared to cut back on mileage and intensity as needed.
I ran several 5ks while pregnant and up until 19 weeks was averaging 18 miles weekly. Due to varicose veins I ditched running during the second trimester and spent more time in the gym, on my yoga mat, or in the pool.
Ladies this is so important! Labor was the most intense workout of my life. My whole entire body was working with each push. I was so thankful that I continued to strength train at moderate intensity during my pregnancy. When you are lifting be careful when you are doing heavy squats and lunges. During pregnancy your body releases the hormone relaxin which lubricates your joints to prep for delivery. Your range of motion will slightly increase which can increase your chance of an injury. Be mindful of your movement.
Oh yoga! I love you! Yoga and swimming were the best things I did for my body while pregnant. If you are just starting a yoga practice check out Mimi Solaire or Shiva Rae for two prenatal practices that can be done in the comfort of your own home or find a local studio that offers a class for pregnant mamas. For those who have practiced prior to pregnancy let your teacher know asap so they can offer modifications. I tell my students to avoid deep backbends such as wheel and postures that encourage deep twisting.
Yoga offers a unique way to challenge and adapt to your growing belly and shifting center of balance. With that being said it is up to you to know your limit. Personally I continued my handstands and forearm balances during my pregnancy. I felt strong and confident that I was not going to fall out of the postures I placed my body in. I am not recommending that you do same. I am only sharing this information to let you know that I had a safe and successful pregnancy and no harm was done to Caden.
Swimming is a great way to build endurance and increase cardiovascular conditioning. Water creates as much as 12 times more resistance than air, which means it will strengthen your muscles and give you a cardio workout at the same time. The water also creates a safe environment for the body and is a great way to rehab after an injury. If you are new to swimming or need to brush up on your strokes most local pools or masters swim programs offer lessons for adults. Water aerobics is another great low impact option.
If you are dealing with varicose veins you have my sympathies. Here are a few helpful tips to possibly prevent or at least minimize your discomfort while pregnant:
- Exercise daily. Try swimming or water aerobics. The pressure from the water will encourage the blood flow in your legs to move back towards your heart.
- Wear compression socks. Your best options is to be fitted by a doctor who specializes in the treatment of varicose veins. There are many grades of compression socks on the market and you want to be sure you are buying a pair that will encourage circulation and not cut it off.
- Sleep on your left side. The inferior vena cava is on the right side, lying on your left side relieves the vein of the weight of the uterus, thus decreasing pressure on the veins in your legs and feet.
- Don’t cross your legs while sitting.
- Don’t stand still for long periods of time.
For most, varicose veins will improve after delivery. For others, like myself, there are a variety of ways to treat them. I just started my treatment and should be finished in 2 months. Yay!
Is exercise harmful to the baby?
Your baby will not be harmed or deprived of nutrients or oxygen because you exercise. Your body will deplete its own nutrient stores to ensure that the baby is going to get everything needed. Exercise has also been shown to make the placenta stronger.
General Tips for Pregnancy Workouts
- Properly warm up and cool down as this will help to reduce the risk of injury.
- If you feel dizzy or lightheaded at any time discontinue your current activity and give your body time to recover. This will happen sometimes due to increased blood flow.
- High risk activities should be avoided. If you road bike avoid the risk of becoming off balanced by finding a indoor cycle class. Any risk or trauma that could potentially happen to the abdomen should be placed on hold until after you deliver.
- Continue to challenge and strengthen your core. You may need to nix the crunches after the first trimester but there are plenty of plank variations that are awesome and safe.
- Be mindful of the amount of time you spend on your back. I never had a problem performing exercises for a short amount of time on my back but everyone is different.
If you are a healthy mama-to-be with a normal pregnancy hopefully you feel encouraged to continue or start exercising. Let me know if you exercised during pregnancy and what you did. I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject! Lets motivate and encourage each other!