Why all pregnant women should exercise
I was about eight weeks pregnant when I cancelled my gym membership. I knew that exercise wouldn’t do me any harm, but I felt dreadful. Along with the usual pregnancy fatigue I was also suffering from chronic morning sickness. Getting myself to work every day was hard enough – the gym went on the ‘too hard’ pile.
Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I regret that decision. Although sticking to my pre-pregnancy exercise regime would have been unrealistic, I could have tried other types of exercise. It didn’t have to be all or nothing.
Ditching exercise during pregnancy is common. Many women worry about the impact exercise could have on the baby, others, like me, are too worn out with fatigue and nausea.
But a new study published in American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, wants to challenge this. Researchers found that exercise during pregnancy is safe for both mother and baby.
Crucially, they also discovered that continuing exercise during pregnancy actually has some significant benefits for the mother and baby.
Researchers analysed data from 2,059 pregnant women. All of the women were carrying a single baby (not twins) and had a normal body weight before their pregnancy. Around half of the women exercised for 35 to 90 minutes 3 to 4 times per week for 10 weeks or up until their delivery. The other half of the women didn’t exercise at all.
The researchers found that women who exercised were more likely to deliver vaginally (73 per cent of exercising women delivered vaginally whereas 67 per cent of non-exercising women delivered vaginally).
Likewise, there was a lower incidence of C-section in women who exercised during pregnancy (17 per cent of exercising women had a C-section versus 22 per cent in those who did not). There was also lower incidence of gestational diabetes, and lower rates of high blood pressure in the exercising group.
Lead author, Dr Berghella explained that results supported the current guidelines. “This paper reinforces that exercise is good for the mom and the baby and does not hold any increased risk preterm birth,” he said.
Steve Robson is an associate professor at the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
He says that he is not at all surprised by the results of the study.
“It is well-recognised that exercise in pregnancy helps avoid a number of problems that seem to lead to caesarean section – diabetes, gaining too much weight, developing blood pressure problems,” he says.
“We should encourage exercise during pregnancy, as long as the woman is comfortable and there are no pregnancy risks (such as hypertension or threatened premature labour) that could be a problem.”
Taking it a step further, Dr Robson also notes that exercise can help women to maintain a positive outlook during pregnancy.
In terms of specific exercise, Dr Robson recommends brisk walking, water aerobics, other pool-based exercise and yoga. He also notes that women who were keen runners or cyclists can continue these as long as they’re physically comfortable.
But what about women who simply don’t feel well enough to exercise? Dr Robson suggests trying water-based exercise, which can be soothing, or simply getting out in fresh air for a walk. “If it’s a real problem, make sure you see your midwife or doctor to see if anything can be done to help with the sickness,” he says.
Jen Dugard is a pregnancy and post-partum fitness specialist. She says that while exercise during pregnancy is beneficial it is important to remember that it is a time for fitness maintenance rather than gains.
Dugard notes that pregnant women should be mindful that their body is changing. “Be aware of your centre of gravity. As your body changes, some exercises that were good last week might not feel right anymore,” she says.
So what are Dugard’s best tips for exercising though pregnancy? Firstly, she says that pregnant women should learn about their pelvic floor.
“In order to push a baby out you need to be able to relax as well as contract your pelvic floor. Some women have what we call ‘hypertonic’ or an ‘overactive’ pelvic floor and these women may struggle to relax during childbirth,” she says.
Similarly, Dugard suggests that pregnant women learn how to activate their transverse abdominals (TA). “The more you learn about activating from the inside out during pregnancy the better you will be set up for your postnatal or rebuilding period,” she says.
“We also know that we can help to prevent further or even decrease abdominal separation through TA activation in pregnancy.”
Finally, and most importantly, Dugard says that pregnant women should set themselves up with a support team.
“Having your doctor and caregiver is a given for most women but in my opinion there are key people outside of this. Finding and working with a great women’s health physiotherapist should be on the list of every pregnant or postnatal woman,” she explains.
If you choose to work with a PT, Pilates, yoga or any other kind of instructor, Dugard’s advice is to do your research. “Make sure they are qualified and experienced to work with you through pregnancy and beyond,” she says.
Liked this? Read these!
Got something to say? Get it off your chest here
The Juice Daily is a Fairfax Media owned website