Pre & postnatal exercise: what expectant moms need to know

Exercising while pregnant is no longer taboo. In fact, physical activity during pregnancy is not just accepted, it is encouraged. Of course, on the condition that you as an expectant mother are healthy, feel good and have your doctor’s consent.

Research has shown that regular exercise is not only good for the expectant mother, but the child too.(1) Exercising while pregnant has a positive influence on the weight, body composition, heart health and nervous system of your child – and not only as a fetus, but into childhood, too.

8 key benefits of prenatal exercise

  1. eases common pregnancy-related problems like backache, posture issues and constipation
  2. increases the supply of oxygen in you and your child
  3. helps you handle the strain of giving birth and returns you to your pre-pregnancy figure faster and easier
  4. strengthens your cardiovascular system, making you feel fitter and more resilient
  5. can help you prevent stretch marks, blood clots and varicose veins
  6. improves the quality of your sleep
  7. enhances your general sense of well-being and help against mood swings and stress
  8. reduces your risk of gestational diabetes

Exercising while pregnant can also have a positive effect on your weight during pregnancy. It is often said that expectant mothers can eat whatever they want during pregnancy because they are now eating for two. This is only partially true. While it is important to make sure that you and your child receive the necessary nutrients during a pregnancy, being over or underweight can cause damage to you and your child. Pregnant women who are heavily overweight or obese have a higher risk of diabetes and high blood pressure. On the other hand, a starvation diet can lead to an underdeveloped child and increase the risk of premature birth.

Weight gain during pregnancy

The amount of weight you can gain in each trimester differs from woman to woman. Please keep in mind that the information below represents average amounts. If you have questions about this or the health of your child or yourself, you should definitely contact your doctor.

1st Trimester

During this time, most women gain very little, if any, weight. In fact, some women even lose weight because they struggle with morning sickness (nausea and vomiting). Any large weight gains in early pregnancy are probably due to changes in eating habits.

2nd Trimester

IIn this period, the child goes through a major growth spurt and the mother puts on weight accordingly. Women of average weight (according to BMI) usually gain about 250-500 g (½ to 1.1 lb) a week during this stage.

3rd Trimester

In the last stage of pregnancy, mothers gain about 500 g (1.1 lbs) a week. The total weight gain in the last three months is 4-6 kg (9-13 lb) on average.

It is important to note that weight gain during pregnancy can vary greatly from woman to woman, and should always be monitored by your doctor.

Regular exercise and workouts during pregnancy thus offers numerous benefits for you and your child. During a risk-free and healthy pregnancy, you can choose any form of exercise you want, as long as you feel good and do not put you and your child at risk. However, there are a few rules for training during pregnancy the following tips can help you stay fit with safe exercises for pregnant women.

Pregnancy fitness

You should

  • get your gynecologist’s permission before starting any exercise
  • avoid sports with a high risk of falling or injury (i.e. skiing, climbing, horseback riding, martial arts, diving, surfing, etc.)
  • avoid contact sports like soccer, handball and basketball
  • avoid lifting heavy weights
  • not participate in competitive sports and races
  • avoid mountain activities in high altitudes (> 2500 m/8,200 ft)
  • stop training if you experience dizziness, nausea, pain or any other discomfort

How to train properly during pregnancy

In healthy pregnancies, women can continue training as often as before they became pregnant. However, the biggest and most important difference is the training intensity. Doctors and midwives recommend moderate exercise. This means you can push yourself, but you should never reach the point of exhaustion. If you can easily maintain a conversation with someone while exercising, this is a good sign that you are training at moderate intensity.

As a rule of thumb, you should not exceed 70% of the maximum heart rate for your age (220 minus your age).

Example for a 30-year-old woman:

The maximum heart rate for her age (220 minus 30) is 190 beats per minute. 70% of this maximum heart rate gives us a training intensity of 133 beats per minute. Use this formula to find the right heart rate for your training.

Many pregnant women develop a heightened awareness of their body during pregnancy and can tell better what activities they can and cannot do. Use your intuition and do activities that make you feel comfortable and enjoy exercise.

Best sports for exercising while pregnant:

  • Running
    Running at a comfortable and easy pace during pregnancy is a good way to stay in shape. Just make sure you do not exceed moderate intensity and that you feel comfortable at all times. As you gain weight, support your feet and ankles with a well-cushioned running shoe. Here you can find further tips for running and training while pregnant.
  • Hiking or Nordic walking
    Hiking and Nordic walking are great opportunities for women who were not so active before their pregnancy to get some exercise and fresh air. Have a friend or partner join you on your hike to make the activity even more fun.
  • Cycling
    Cycling at a comfortable pace in the fresh air stimulates your circulation, improves the blood flow in your legs and reduces the risk of blood clots. Because of the risk of falling, you should switch to a stationary bicycle starting in the 20th week of pregnancy.
  • Swimming
    Water aerobics and swimming are a varied and fun way to keep fit during pregnancy. Plus, the buoyancy of the water lessens the stress on your joints and muscles, which means you can work on your endurance in a low-impact and gentle manner.
  • Yoga and Pilates
    Because of the loosening of joints and ligaments in the pelvic area, certain yoga and pilates poses are not suitable during pregnancy. However, there are special courses for pregnant women, which offer you a good opportunity to relax and prepare to give birth.

Pregnant woman doing a yoga workout to stay active

Postpartum exercise and running

Pregnancy and childbirth put a lot of strain on your body. That is why it is important that you rest at least 6 – 8 weeks of rest after delivery. Before you start regular training, it is important to regain stability in your pelvic area. You can strengthen your pelvic area with special postnatal exercises.

Runners who start training too soon run the risk of stretching their pelvic floor, which often results in incontinence.

As soon as you have your gynecologist’s permission, you can begin with light endurance training. The intensity should be such that you always feel comfortable and your workout should not put too much strain on your body. Short walks are a perfect way to slowly get your body used to postpartum exercise and training. If you feel ready, you can also do light workouts on a stationary bicycle this great low-impact activity is easy on your pelvic floor. If and when you start running, your first few runs should be very short and low intensity. As soon as you start to feel good, you can increase the intensity of your workouts.

Are you expecting a baby soon? We wish you a happy and healthy pregnancy

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Herwig Natmessnig As a former professional athlete (whitewater slalom), Herwig lives for fitness. Whether in competition or just for fun, he can never turn down a challenge. View all posts by Herwig Natmessnig »