Regular exercise is as important to a woman’s overall health during pregnancy as it is after pregnancy. A woman who was active before pregnancy can continue to be active during pregnancy, barring certain risks. Women who were previously inactive should speak to their doctor before embarking on any exercise program during pregnancy. A physiotherapist can be valuable to the general health of an expecting mother and her baby.
During pregnancy, added weight gain puts excess stress on the feet and lower back. The centre of gravity shifts forward due to the growing foetus and breasts, as the base of support increases. This gives rise to increased lumbar lordosis (curvature of the spine) so often seen in pregnant women. The lengthened abdominal muscles cause the calf muscles to work overtime in order to maintain balance while fighting the ever-changing centre of gravity.
Exercising during pregnancy can help the woman improve her posture and balance.
Some benefits of exercise during pregnancy are:
- Reduce weight gain during pregnancy and facilitating weight loss after pregnancy
- Decrease pelvic floor weakness which can lead to urinary incontinence
- Promote better sleep patterns
- Relieve or prevent low back pain
- Promote a feeling of well being
- Strengthen muscles in preparation for delivery
- Prevent gestational diabetes
- Increase flexibility
- Improve posture.
Regular physical activity can provide health and social benefits for many pregnant women. Suggestions for exercise during pregnancy include walking, swimming, and supervised classes such as yoga or Tai Chi. Pelvic floor exercises are also important before, during, and after pregnancy. Unless you have complications, it should be possible to enjoy some level of physical activity throughout most of your pregnancy.
The first step is to consult your doctor, physiotherapist, or healthcare professional to make sure your exercise routine won’t harm you and your unborn baby. You may need to modify your existing exercise program or choose a suitable one if you were sedentary before conceiving.
Benefits of Physical Activity During Pregnancy
Exercise during pregnancy offers many physical and emotional benefits. Physical activity may also help manage some symptoms of pregnancy and you’ll feel better knowing you’re doing something good for yourself and your baby.
Some of the benefits of exercising regularly throughout your pregnancy include:
- More energy
- Stronger back muscles which can help manage back pain and strain as your belly grows
- Improved posture
- Weight control
- Stress relief
- Improved sleep and management of insomnia
- Preparation for the physical demands of labour
- Faster recuperation after labour
- Faster return to pre-pregnancy fitness and healthy weight
- Increased ability to cope with the physical demands of motherhood.
If you’re not sure whether a particular activity is safe during pregnancy, check with your physiotherapist.
Pelvic Floor Exercises and Pregnancy
The pelvic floor muscles are weakened during pregnancy and during birth (vaginal delivery), so it is extremely important to begin conditioning the pelvic floor muscles from the start of the pregnancy. Appropriate exercises can be prescribed by a physiotherapist. It is important to continue with these throughout the pregnancy and resume as soon as is comfortable after the birth.