Over the last couple of years, I think we have been seeing more and more anecdotal stories of women really pushing the boundaries in terms of exercise during their pregnancies. You are seeing women continuing to lift weights into their 37 and 38th weeks of pregnancy. Essentially, they are only stopping when they go into labour.
Now many healthcare professionals have chimed in about the potential negative consequences of high-intensity exercise in these individuals… I kind of think that we are missing the boat here. The bigger concern in my mind is that only 23% of women who are pregnant are meeting the exercise guidelines and it is even less in women who are overweight at the start of their pregnancy.
In 2015, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists updated their recommendations for exercise in pregnancy. They said that exercise in pregnancy has minimal risk and has noticeable benefits for most women. Of course, as women progress through their pregnancy, modifications are going to need to be made and exercise programs are going to need to be adjusted. Getting the help of a coach or a physiotherapist with a knowledge of exercise during pregnancy can be really beneficial and give you more confidence about you can and cannots as you progress through your pregnancy.
There are a lot of benefits to mom and baby if you can stay active as your progress through your trimesters. I know that for some women, morning sickness and fatigue can be big barriers to overcome. All you can do is try and take it one day at a time.
What we know is that exercise throughout your pregnancy
• Maintains fitness levels (which you’ll need running after toddlers!)
• Weight management
• Reduces the risk of gestational diabetes
• Enhances psychological well-being (one that I see often in my physiotherapy practice)
As overall health benefits go, those are pretty good. But one of the biggest perks I see is in how exercise can help in delivery.
Women who exercise during their pregnancy are less likely to have a C-section and delivery doesn’t tend to be as long! Women who exercise also tend to rebound faster after delivery. They recover quicker and feel better after delivery.
Perks aren’t just for Mom, they’re for Baby as well
The biggest concern most people had with exercise during pregnancy was fetal effects. It was often thought that exercise increased risk of miscarriage and that women shouldn’t exercise in their first trimester especially if they hadn’t been exercising before. Unless you are in a high-risk pregnancy, this is not the case though I would make sure you are properly hydrated. Morning sickness which tends to peak in the first trimester can often be the biggest deterrent to exercising.
Moms-to-be who exercise more during their exercise tend to have healthier babies. Some of the positive benefits to the newborn are
• Lower incidence of acute neonatal stress
• A higher 1-minute Apgar score which is a measure of the physical condition of the baby once it has been born. Higher = healthier.
• Leaner babies
• Babies are less likely to be overweight even at age 8!
It is like mom is setting the example for the baby even before the baby is born. That is pretty awesome.
But when should I avoid exercising?
If you are concerned about your ability to exercise during your pregnancy, talking to your OBGYN, midwife or physiotherapist is the first route to go.
Exercise, especially cardio, is only frowned upon in a couple of circumstances.
• Significant heart disease
• Restrictive lung disease
• Incompetent cervix
• Be careful if you are having twins or triplets if at risk for premature labour
• Persistent 2nd and 3rd trimester bleeding
• Placenta previa after 26 weeks
• Rupture membranes
• Severe Anemia
If you have been diagnosed with these conditions, talk to a doctor.
Most moms are in the clear when it comes to exercising during their pregnancy! Be cautious. Listen to your body. But get moving!!
Artal, R. (2016). Exercise in pregnancy: Guidelines. Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology, 59(3), 639-644. doi:10.1097/GRF.0000000000000223 [doi]
Tinius, R. A., Cahill, A. G., & Cade, W. T. (2016). Origins in the womb: Potential role of the physical therapist in modulating the deleterious effects of obesity on maternal and offspring health through movement promotion and prescription during pregnancy. Physical Therapy, doi:ptj.20150678 [pii]