Dietitian Shares: Fit for Two: Why Staying Active During Pregnancy Matters

Why Staying Active During Pregnancy Matters

Dietitian Shares: Fit for Two: Why Staying Active During Pregnancy Matters

Traditionally, women were expected to have plenty of rest and not be too active during pregnancy for fear of having a miscarriage. However, this is proven to be false. It is essential to understand that the vast majority of miscarriages are due to chromosomal errors and abnormalities that cause the pregnancy to be unsuccessful. It is usually not due to physical activity. Unless advised differently by your healthcare provider due to other complications during pregnancy, we now know that being physically active is hugely beneficial for a healthy pregnancy. In this blog, we will cover a few aspects of being active during pregnancy, such as the benefits of exercising during pregnancy, safe exercises to perform, special considerations, and simple tips for staying active throughout pregnancy.

Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy

Reduce Pregnancy Symptoms and Complications

Research has found that being active during pregnancy helps to promote healthy weight gain, regulate mood, lower the risk of gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, and improve cardiovascular health. It has also shown that exercising helps to reduce other pregnancy symptoms such as reduced lower back pain, backaches, constipation, swelling, and difficulty sleeping. 

Shorter Labour

Another major boost is that being active during pregnancy may help with shorter labour and easier delivery. One study found that women who exercised during pregnancy had approximately 3 hours shorter labour than those who did not. 

Reduce Postpartum Weight Retention

Being physically active during pregnancy helps to manage healthy weight gain during pregnancy. It also seems that the less excessive weight gain during pregnancy, the easier it is to return to pre-pregnancy weight. Besides that, mothers who are used to being active regularly tend to start being active as soon as possible once they recover well during postpartum. Effective postpartum weight loss is best when both factors include regular physical activity and a healthy confinement diet plan

Reduce Postpartum Depression

One study found that women who achieved the recommended physical activity during pregnancy had lower rates of postpartum depressive symptoms compared to women who were sedentary during pregnancy. One of the factors of depression during pregnancy is lack of sleep and chronic fatigue. Thus, exercising and having a walk outdoors during the day may help to regulate energy levels and sleep quality. Other potential benefits of exercising are how mothers can stay connected with other expectant mothers and build a supportive network during this time. 

Safe Exercises for Pregnancy

According to Singapore’s Physical Activity Guidelines for Pregnant and Postpartum Women, these women who do not have any contraindications should keep moving and engage in activities of any intensity. It is best to limit sedentary time, particularly recreational screen time. Besides that, it is also recommended for women to achieve at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, which is an intensity where you are able to talk in phrases or short sentences but cannot sing while doing the activity. Incorporating some muscle-strengthening exercises would be helpful, too. 

Moderate-intensity Aerobic Activity Pilates, Jogging, Swimming
Vigorous Intensity Aerobic Activity Running, Basketball, Tennis, Netball
Muscle Strengthening Activity Yoga, Squats, Resistance Exercises, Pelvic and Core Strengthening Exercises

It is safe to continue performing vigorous intensity exercises during pregnancy if you have already been well performing such exercises before pregnancy. However, it is important to be mindful and re-adjust the intensity of exercises according to your body during pregnancy and postpartum period as your body changes. Here are some body changes that may affect your fitness level or ability to perform certain exercises and intensities:

  • Joints: Pregnancy hormones may make ligaments and joints more loose and relaxed, increasing the risk of injury. Thus, it is important to be cautious when using jerky, bouncy, or high-impact motions. 
  • Balance: As the baby grows bigger, the center of gravity will change, making you less coordinated and more prone to falling. Exercises that you used to perform easily may become more challenging. Without being mindful and executing regular strengthening exercises, muscles around the pelvis, lower back, and knees may overcompensate and feel sore easily.
  • Breathing: As the baby grows, the diaphragm is not able to expand as much, reducing lung capacity and making it more difficult to breathe in deeply. This may affect stamina, especially during the third trimester.

All women should perform adequate “warm-up” and “cool-down” exercises to reduce the risk of muscle injury. It is also important to be mindful of continuous breathing throughout the exercise. It would also be important to rehydrate adequately during your exercises, especially if there is heavy sweating and the exercise is more than 60-90 minutes long per session. 

yoga exercise pregnant lady

Special Considerations and Precautions

This is not an exhaustive list, but here are some of the absolute contraindications to exercise if mummies are experiencing it, such as heart disease, lung disease, intrauterine growth restriction, multiple gestations at risk of preterm labour, unexplained vaginal bleeding, pre-eclampsia, preterm labour and severe anaemia just to name a few. 

Here are a few signs to look out for and stop exercising if you experience it:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Decreased fetal movements,
  • Fluid leaking from the vagina
  • Painful womb contractions
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headache
  • Swelling
  • Excessive fatigue

Tips for Staying Active Throughout Pregnancy

You may feel highly motivated to stay active at the beginning of the pregnancy. However, there may be days when you feel exhausted, as pregnancy itself is a physically demanding process. Many women feel low energy levels during the first and third trimesters. Here are a few tips on how to stay active throughout pregnancy. 

  • Always remember that doing some physical activity is better than none
  • Always start with small amounts of physical activity and gradually increase frequency, intensity or duration over time.
  • Break down your goals into small, easy, achievable and realistic ones. For example, instead of trying to hit your usual 30 minutes of walking, change it to 5 minutes every morning instead. If you feel like after 5 minutes of walking, you feel too tired to continue, stop and rest. If you feel like you’re feeling better after you start, continue until you either achieve your goal or stop when you’re too tired. 
  • Incorporate core strengthening activities and pelvic muscle training regularly to strengthen your core and reduce the risk of urinary incontinence.
  • Find an activity that you enjoy and look forward to doing. The more you enjoy the activity, the more sustainable it will be throughout the pregnancy. 

Conclusion

Overall, exercising during pregnancy is beneficial. It is important to listen to your body, stay hydrated, and choose exercises that are enjoyable and safe. If in doubt, consult a healthcare provider or a qualified fitness professional on appropriate exercises that would suit your needs, fitness levels, and ability to perform them safely.