Physiotherapy/Exercise During and After Pregnancy

Are you looking for motivation to get moving? From lower odds of complications to better sleep, there are lots of reasons to exercise through all three trimesters of pregnancy — for both you and baby.

When you’re struggling to keep a meal down during the first trimester of pregnancy, dealing with a changing body in the second, or huffing and puffing just to make it to the bathroom as you near your due date, hitting the gym might be the last thing on your mind. But a growing body of research suggests that exercise has significant benefits for both you and your baby. Even a simple walk around the block or a session of stretching can lead to an improved mood, better sleep, more natural labor, and a quicker recovery. So if you need some motivation to lace up those dusty sneakers, here it is.

Benefits of Pregnancy Exercise for Moms

For all of your adult life, you’ve probably been aware that exercising — whether that means a yoga class, bike ride, or run — can help you keep the pounds off and help prevent diseases like Type 2 Diabetes. During pregnancy, there are even more reasons to keep moving — or get moving, even if you haven’t had an exercise routine in the past.

Exercising during pregnancy has been found to:

  • Reduce the risk of pregnancy complications: During a 2012 study, it was noticed that women who participated in fitness programs four times a week were less likely to develop gestational diabetes and less likely to have unplanned cesarean sections than those who didn’t exercise.
  • Lower odds of delivery complications: In another study about women in Spain, women who exercised three times a week gained less weight during pregnancy and were less likely to have macrosomic babies (or babies weighing more than about nine pounds at birth). Having a heavier baby, in turn, can lead to complications for both mother and baby during delivery.
  • Speed post-delivery recovery: The more you increase your pregnancy fitness, the faster you’ll recover physically after childbirth, the more fit you’ll be after delivery. In the same 2012 study, women who exercised recovered faster after labor (even after controlling for delivery method), resuming household chores faster than those who didn’t exercise.
  • Boost your mood: Women are more susceptible than ever to depression during pregnancy, with an estimated one in two of all women reporting increased depression or anxiety while they’re expecting. But research has found that exercise during pregnancy reduces depression, releasing endorphins that help improve mood while diminishing stress and anxiety.
  • Lower blood pressure: Blood pressure occasionally does go up during pregnancy, but too much, and it can be a warning sign of preeclampsia. Staying active — in one study, merely walking regularly — has been found to keep blood pressure from rising.
  • Ease back and pelvic pain: It’s no secret that your growing baby bump puts extra pressure on your lower half, resulting in lower back pain and an achy pelvis. Exercising, however, may result in less lower-back and pelvic pain during late pregnancy.
  • Fight fatigue. Low-level tiredness plagues many women during the first trimester, then again late in the third trimester. While it seems paradoxical, sometimes getting too much rest can make you feel more pooped. So while you should never push yourself to exhaustion, a little nudge — say, an easy walk or try a prenatal yoga class — can make a big difference in your energy level.
  • Improve sleep. While many pregnant women report having a harder time falling asleep, those who exercise consistently (as long as it’s not near bedtime, which can be too energizing) say the quality of their sleep is better and that they wake up feeling more rested.
  • Relieve constipation. An active body encourages active bowels. Some women swear by a brisk 30-minute walk to keep them regular, while others say even a 10-minute stroll helps get things going.

Of course, all of the above studies look at risk — which means exercising throughout pregnancy doesn’t guarantee a quick recovery or a pain-free back. But healthcare providers generally recommend that doing what exercise you can while you’re pregnant is a great way to have the healthiest (and most comfortable) pregnancy possible.

Benefits of Pregnancy Exercise for Babies

The benefits of walking, swimming, or dancing during pregnancy don’t end with keeping your own body healthy. While research is still ongoing, small studies on humans are beginning to confirm what’s seen in the animal studies: Exercise is just as good for your baby as it is for you for years to come. Most of the initial studies on the long-term effects of mom’s workout routine have been done on rats and mice — but the results are promising for humans, too. A few of the potential benefits of exercising during pregnancy for your baby:

Reduced odds of diabetes: One study found that rats born to exercising moms had better insulin sensitivity, even once they were adults themselves.

Boost to brain health: Another study looking at pregnant mice given exercise wheels showed that the offspring of more active mice were less prone to neurodegeneration (the changes in the brain that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease).

Lower BMI: When mice exercised during pregnancy, researchers found that their babies were less prone to obesity and diabetes. What’s more, they saw the same effect even if the mothers ate a high-fat diet — canceling out any adverse effects that an unhealthy diet alone would have caused.

A fitter heart: One group of researchers looking at human babies discovered that a regular workout routine during pregnancy helped lower the heart rate of the fetuses at 36 weeks gestation (a good thing, since a higher heart rate can be a sign of fetal distress). In 2014, they followed up that study of babies until one month old and found the effects of mom’s exercising could still be seen in the babies’ heart rates after birth.

Starting your Pregnancy Exercise Routine

Most studies on the benefits of exercise during pregnancy look at the effects of about 150 minutes of active time per week. Those sessions could be five half-hour sessions or three or four longer classes. And the benefits are incremental, researchers think, which means that some exercise — even if you don’t hit that 150-minute goal — is better than none. Anything that raises your heart rate and gets your muscles engaged counts — including walking, jogging, yoga, Pilates, dance, aerobics classes, and swimming.

If you weren’t a gym rat before now, don’t worry: As long as you start slowly, it’s safe to start now. Begin with five minutes of activity a day— like a brisk walk around the block — and add five minutes each week until you can stay active for 30 minutes. Just be sure to follow the rules of pregnancy exercise safety: Avoid contact sports and activities with a high risk of falling (like downhill skiing, horseback riding, and gymnastics). And stop a workout if you get lightheaded or are unusually short of breath, feel contractions or decreased fetal movement, or have any vaginal bleeding or fluid leaking.

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