Exercises during & after pregnancy

Reviewed on : 27 April 2016

Gone are the days, when women often used to spend the nine months of pregnancy comfortably at home. Today’s women not only shoulder household responsibilities but also engage professionally. This dual role often leaves her  with little time to take care of her  own health and the challenge just gets notched up further when she is pregnant. While every woman should keep herself physically fit at all times, this becomes very important during pregnancy.

Health experts have contended that it is important for women, with normal pregnancies, to undertake a certain amount of light physical exercise during pregnancy and continue with the same after giving birth. This is irrespective of whether the woman is a stay at home housewife or a busy professional. According to them, the type of exercise should be tailored keeping in mind the needs of each body and the development stage of pregnancy. A workout plan should offer details related to the type, frequency, intensity and duration of proposed physical activity.

Exercising During Pregnancy

A pre-pregnancy exercise regimen, altered to best suit the individual condition of a woman, is a good starting point for the exercises during pregnancy. Pelvic floor exercises are an excellent and essential workout which can be started during pre-pregnancy stage itself.

Staying  physically active during pregnancy is considered extremely beneficial not only for the mother but also for the foetus. But, it is equally important to seek the help of a qualified healthcare professional rather  than simply practicing what may have helped others during their pregnancies. The individual health and fitness levels needs to be carefully monitored before an appropriate exercise regimen is suggested. This specialised work out plan is also applicable to women who have already given birth and want to get back in shape.

The national physical activity recommendations for Australian adults suggest that healthy pregnant women should put in 150  minute of total exercise in one week  without exerting themselves too much. They should work out at a pace that they find comfortable. They should also bear in mind that they do not stress their joints too much. As pregnancy takes its toll on the body, the normal exercise routine can prove to be too difficult. Since the body is expected  to change in shape and structure, the exercise activity should be altered accordingly by adjusting its intensity and duration.

Women who are already used to working out, can continue brisk walking and light jogging, while keeping in mind that too much stress can adversely affect their health. Women who are used to more stressful physical workouts can take up activities like light aerobics. Most pregnant women can also enrol for yoga or Pilates classes.

Though some feel that the women should not perform activities like running for up to three months after delivery, the evidence on its benefits points to the contrary. Only women who have not experienced a normal childbirth and have had to undergo a surgical procedure are advised against it. Also, if a new mother has experienced some kind of injury during childbirth, then she should not exert herself till she has healed completely.

Avoid Over-exercising

Women should understand clearly  that they need to exercise to cope with the pressure of pregnancy and the impending delivery. Hence , exercise is needed in pregnancy not really to stay in shape , but instead to adapt to the changes  & demands of pregnancy. Taking the exercise routine too far can cause vaginal bleeding, amniotic fluid leakage, breathlessness  with  exertion, dizziness, chest pain, regular painful contractions, muscle weakness which affects balance and calf pain or swelling.  One should seek medical advice immediately if any of these complications develop.

Another aspect to exercising during and post pregnancy phase is that only women who do not have problems like heart or lung disease or incompetent cervix should engage in it. Women who are bearing twins or triplets with the risk of premature labour should refrain from  heavy exercising. In addition, the moms-to-be who have been diagnosed with placenta previa (placenta present in the wrong place) after 26 weeks of gestation or pre-eclampsia  should avoid any kind of strenuous physical activity.

Only safe exercises, that can be monitored using the rating of a perceived exertion scale between 6 and 20 should be considered. Level 7 exertion is considered to be very very light; 11 is somewhat light while 13 is somewhat hard. The higher levels like 15 and 19 indicate that the exertion is hard and very very hard, respectively and should be completely avoided during pregnancy.

Some of these safe types of exercises include walking, swimming, stationary cycling, modified yoga, modified strength training, aqua-aerobics, low-impact aerobics, modified pilates, light running and jogging. Any type of exercise should be undertaken only after consultation. Currently, the evidence that relates regular moderate intensity exercise throughout pregnancy, to the baby’s development or birth weight is insufficient. Whether it increases the risk of preterm birth is also not conclusively established.

Exercising during normal pregnancy delivers benefits that supersede any of the risks involved.It improves blood circulation &  makes it easier to adjust to the changing body posture & size during pregnancy. However,for obvious reasons, any and all types of pregnancies should stay away from contact sports. Women face difficulty in exercising during pregnancy because of changing body shape, tiredness and time constraints, along with the feeling that the development of the baby might be harmed. Due to these risks, the women prefer or get used to a more sedentary lifestyle during pregnancy.

Exercising For New Mothers

After giving birth, it is important that the new mother engages in physical activity only gradually. The pace is completely dependent on the mode of delivery and whether or not it was a normal procedure. All women, regardless of the mode of delivery, need some amount of rest before getting into exercising. Women need to be prepared to accommodate the changes that the body goes through after delivery. Starting with walking for three to five minutes a few times a day, the intensity of the activity should be gradually increased to sessions of 20 to 30 minutes.

The fact that getting into a regular exercise mode is taking days or weeks should not bother the new mothers. It is known that moderate regular exercise after giving birth does not affect breast milk composition and volume. The necessary diet for adequate food and liquid consumption should also be kept in mind.

It has been demonstrated that women can avoid weight gain after giving birth, through proper exercise. Along with reducing weight, exercise can reduce postnatal depression by 50 to 60 percent. Working out along with other new mothers is also very beneficial. These exercises should only be started after proper discussion with your obstetrician and gynaecologist and undertaken under the supervision of an accredited exercise physiologist.

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