With exercise during pregnancy being so beneficial to mother and baby you want to follow a prenatal exercise program. Before starting follow my top ten essential pregnancy exercise tips to keep you safe and have a fit, healthy pregnancy.
1. Always Warm-up
A warm-up routine before the main exercise is even more important during pregnancy, give your body at least 10-15 minutes of a through warm-up to encourage the blood, nutrients and oxygen to circulate to the muscles and not just your uterus and baby. Your warm-up will also gradually increase your heart rate safely and reduce the risk of injury, aches and pains. A good warm-up with dynamic stretches combined with low impact moves will safely prepare your body and muscles.
2. Do Core Strengthening Exercises
Many women are concerned about doing abdominal exercises during pregnancy and rightly so as they are not sure which ones to do. During any of the trimesters, the muscles you want to strengthen are your deep stomach muscle, the ‘Transverse Abdominis’, this muscle wraps around the abdomen horizontally, predominantly below navel level, your back muscles, bottom and pelvic floor. These all make up your ‘core’, will keep your back healthy, help you deliver your baby and reduce risk of pelvic floor issues. Traditional abdominal exercises such as sit-ups, crunches, cross overs should be avoided as these isolate one muscle at the front of your abdomen, the rectus abdominis, but the forward action of the upper body may result in stretch the connective tissue that goes across your midline to in fact weaken your back and do nothing for helping strengthen your pelvic floor.
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3. Abdominal Separation
This is often called Diastasis Recti or Diastasis. As the baby grows inside you during pregnancy this causes intra-abdominal pressure where the paired muscle at the front at your abdomen (otherwise known as your six pack) distances at your mid-line, forming a gap and where the connective tissue at your midline stretches and weakens. A diastasis recti is where that distance is greater than 2 and half fingers width during pregnancy just above or below your belly button. If you have this, you want to avoid any movements that will stretch or put further pressure on your abdominals and core moves.
- Traditional abdominal exercises, such as crunches, sit-ups or bicycle crunches
- Twisting movements
- Some yoga moves such as the cow pose, up dog or backbends
- Pilates reformer or pilates mat movements that require a ‘head float’ or double leg extension
- Avoid any exercise where you can see your abdominals ‘bulge’ out
- Planks and some moves where you are on all foursYou can heal diastasis after you’ve had your baby by doing the right kind of postnatal core exercises.
4. Top muscles to strengthen and stretch when you are pregnant
Strengthening and stretching commonly weak and tight muscles during pregnancy will keep your body healthy and reduce risk of aches and pains. Although you want to exercise and strengthen most of your muscles, there are typically certain muscles you want to focus on, those most effected by the postural and hormonal changes.
Muscles to strengthen
- Lower and Upper back
- Bottom and hamstrings (backs of the thighs)
- Pelvic Floor
Muscles to stretch
- Back, both the lower back and the upper back
- Hip flexors
- Front of the thigh
- Back of the neck and muscle that runs down the back of the neck to the middle of the upper back
5. Why improving posture is important
Pay real attention to your posture and correct it!
The added weight from the abdomen and breasts can cause the upper back and shoulders to round forward, your lower back to arch and hips to tilt forward (so the bottom sticks out). Performing standing or seated pelvic tilts will help re-align your pelvis, and correct the arch of your lower back as will stretching out your chest, bottom muscles and hamstrings. To improve your posture keep your toes in line with your heels, move your hips back so they are directly over your knees and ankles. Your toes will feel light and most of the body weight is in your heels. Relax your ribs, shoulders, lift your chin and look straight ahead.
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6. Stay cool
Wear loose fitting clothes that do not soak up sweat or add layers that you remove easily. Exercise in a well ventilated room and not in high heat. Drink water before, during and after exercise be sure to sip rather than gulp!
7. Intensity and How Much
If you are new to exercise start from 10 minutes of exercise a day and gradually progress this to 30 minutes each day with aerobic exercise which is walking, swimming or cycling. Walking is the ‘superfood’ of pregnancy fitness and the most convenient. Incorporate some light to moderate toning exercises using your own bodyweight too.
Shorter, regular workouts are better and will keep you motivated than longer less frequent sessions.
If you have been exercising prior to pregnancy then the guidelines are to avoid exceeding your level of exercising prior to pregnancy.
When exercising we use the ‘talk test’ to monitor whether you are at the right level. Being able to hold a light conversation is a safe level of intensity, like when you are rushing out of the door or up the stairs, but if you are able to sing a song really comfortably it’s too easy or light for you. If you are very out of breath, huffing or puffing as this means you are doing too much so you will need to reduce the level of intensity. Avoid exercising to fatigue when exercising, you don’t need to finish the required number of exercises or finish the workout.
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To help prevent and reduce the risk of hypoglycemia or fainting, it’s important to eat a light snack combining a little protein, healthy fat and some carbohydrates either one hour before or after exercise. Your snack should always include protein because you need significantly more grams of protein per day during pregnancy as protein helps you increase your blood supply and help your baby grow.
The baby takes energy away from you so it’s important to keep energy levels up!
Good snack choices:
1. Sliced apple with some peanut butter or almond butter
2. Olives with an oatcake
3. Pear slices with almond butter
4. Homemade muesli mix using nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and some dark chocolate chips
5. Greek yogurt topped with fresh fruit and a sprinkle of granola
6. Cottage cheese mixed with fresh blueberries, strawberries or raspberries and a sprinkle of seeds
7. A green smoothie
If you have gestational diabetes, take particular precautions with exercise: monitor blood glucose levels, regulate meal times, incorporate rest periods and monitor baby movements and uterine contractions.
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Hormonal changes with the production of ‘relaxin’ lead to increased joint suppleness and hyper-mobility. Stretching too far means you can tear delicate tissue and cause injuries. Stretch only the muscles that feel tight. This is individual and over the cause of life, some of your muscles get tighter than others, depending on which you use or overuse more. If you do not feel the stretch, it feels too easy or if you feel any real pain – the stretch would not be for you. Hold the appropriate, desired stretch for 10-20 seconds and take deep breathes throughout.
10. Keep rehydrated!
Make drinking water a habit and you want it to be a real priority. It’s actually easy to do but many just don’t think about it.
Drinking a large quantity of water in one sitting will not instantly change your water level, instead it may make you feel bloated or be difficult to retain.
We hydrate more efficiently when we eat water too so eat water rich foods like watermelon, cucumber, apple and celery.
Always drink one glass of water in the morning when you wake up (you will have sweated during the night and have lost water), then one 15 minutes before breakfast and every meal, rather than during the meal itself to hydrate your digestive tract and ensure you absorb nutrients from your food. It also means you avoid gulping down drinks while you eat, which means you dilute the digestive juices that are needed to break down your food when you eat. Then drink a glass mid-morning and mid-afternoon, about an hour after each meal and half hour before bed.
To make water more appealing add a slice of lemon or lime or berries or opt for herbal teas or coconut water.
My last point would be to listen to what feels right for you, if you experience any movements from the baby or pain that doesn’t feel right, then visit your doctor immediately to get it checked out.
As with any exercise program be sure to have your doctors, obstetrician or health practitioner’s clearance to exercise. If there are any complications with your pregnancy you must seek advice from your doctor before starting an exercise program.
Author: Vicky Warr, prenatal and postnatal fitness expert, founder of TheBeezKneez and fitness expert to Gurgle Magazine, one of the UK’s leading Mother and Baby Magazine.