13:29 03 June 2009
While you may not feel like it even when you're not expecting, it is safe to exercise in pregnancy. Keeping fit can combat many of the minor aches and discomforts you might experience. This article also appears on www.bbc.co.uk/parenting/having_a_baby
Exercise will boost your immune system and provide the circulation and energy levels needed to help you conceive, enjoy your pregnancy and prepare your body for labour.
You don't have to be an Olympic athlete, but it's important that you are able to climb stairs and lift reasonably heavy weights " like a sleeping child. Pregnant women tend to gain an average of two stone when pregnant, so your muscles and posture are going to be seriously over worked and under strain " and all this before you have to go through the exhausting process of childbirth!
The good news is that the better your cardiovascular system (heart and lungs), the more stamina you'll have for huffing and puffing your way through giving birth. Improved muscular strength will help you maintain positions like squatting during labour. BBCi Health has some guidlines for pregnancy fitness according to trimester. See Related links below.
Contact sports are best avoided after early pregnancy, and you should avoid activities with a high risk of falling from a great height. Usually the fetus is well protected from bumps and falls, but a freak accident could still be dangerous.
Anything that puts a strain on your joints or ligaments " like high-impact aerobics, difficult yoga positions or jogging done on the road " needs to be done more gently.
Exercise helps with constipation, backache, fatigue, varicose veins and circulation problems, and helps you meet other mothers and make friends.
The problem is your joints and ligaments are more likely to strain in pregnancy. Ligaments are bands of strong, stretchy tissue, which connect the bones of your skeleton at the joints.
When you reach the extreme 'end' of any movement you make, the ligament tightens, and prevents further stretching. In pregnancy, this tightening is less likely to happen, as your pelvis needs to be able to open up during birth to allow the baby to be born. Pregnancy hormones circulate to loosen everything up. So you could end up taking the stretching process too far, resulting in a painful strain.
But don't let any of that that put you off activities like brisk walking, swimming, gentle toning and stretching classes.
Cycling is good exercise, too. As you get bigger, you'll find you have to get used to the changes in the distribution of your weight, and you may need to adjust your saddle and handle bars. In late pregnancy, it's safer to use an exercise bike, in case you fall.
If you have an instructor in your exercise classes, tell him or her you are pregnant, and they will warn you if there is something that's not advisable.
Scuba diving is not recommended either, as no one really knows what the effect on the pregnancy or the baby would be. There can be a huge increase in pressure at depth, and also nitrogen sickness could be harmful.
Exercising in water is safe and enjoyable in pregnancy " and it's great for late pregnancy backache. The water supports you all over, and you can be as energetic or relaxed as you feel.
In many public and private pools, you'll find aquanatal classes on offer, run by trained midwives or physiotherapists. These incorporate movements formulated especially for pregnancy. Most classes will begin with a sequence of gentle warm-up exercises, followed by some limb stretches and a swim. Swimming several lengths gives you a good, safe work-out.
Exercising your pelvic floor can help you both before and after the birth.
The pelvic floor is formed of layers of muscle, which support the uterus, bowel and bladder. Pregnancy and childbirth puts pressure on the muscles, and as a result, you may find yourself leaking wee when you sneeze or cough " this is called 'stress incontinence'. Toning the muscles so they maintain or retrieve their strength and supportiveness is done by doing several 'invisible' exercises regularly " several times a day if possible.
Pull in and tense the muscles around your vagina and anus, as if you are stopping the flow of wee. Hold for five seconds, then relax and repeat. A good target is 10 sets of five every day. Don't actually do it when you are having a wee, though.
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