Being pregnant is every woman's dream . I've been through four pregnancies and honestly i dont mind going through it again. I love being pregnant but not the aftermath. I didnt know then that exercise does wonders when one is pregnant. I was young and naive and i was made to believed the old wives' tale of exercising during pregnancy. (stay off being too active/sports etc) I bloated after my first born and never seems to rid off the extra pounds. (42 kgs before 1st child and 60kg after giving birth!) I started to exercise (aerobics) when i was expecting my second child. Back then, i was merely doing it for the sake of not getting too fat. My main concern was getting back into shape once the baby's born. Later, i found out that exercise during pregnancy not only helps me during childbirth, it also helps to reduce my backache and constipation. I began to find out more (those days we dont have internet servers) by buying books and reading articles in magazines.
Researchers discovered that besides making you more relaxed and reducing stress (physically and mentally), exercise also prepares your muscles for the hard work of labour and delivery by strenghthening and building endurance. Tummy muscles and pelvic floor muscles tend to weaken during pregnancy.
Staying active during pregnancy doesn't necessarily mean going for the burn. We all know that pregnancy does some strange things as far as the hormones are concerned, but few know that one of the hormonal changes is the cause of back pain during pregnancy. In order to prepare your body for delivery, a hormone called Relaxin is produced. This hormone softens the pelvis and ligaments to make it easier for the baby's way through the pelvis. The thing is, this also ends up causing back pain. This happens because your spine and surrounding muscles take on the extra pressure while compensating for what your ligaments are now too soft to handle, which leads to a sore back. Whats worse is that your spine and back muscles has to work extra hard in order to carry the extra weight of the growing uterus. (refer to my posting dated Sept 15th 2009 on core exercises)
BUT, you need to take care with the choice of exercise and pay attention to technique. It's important to find exercises that won't injure you or your baby.
Lets have a check list of the do's before planning a workout.
1) Check with your doctor first
2) Wear proper clothing (not too tight or too loose, support bra is a must) and none slip supportive cushioned shoes
3) Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water/juices during workouts (1-2 glasses every 15-20 mins) (refer to my posting on hydration: topic H2O dated July 2nd, 2009)
4) Always warm up and cool down before and after workouts
5) Always do a gentle stretch and relaxation breathing techniques after workouts
6) Never do activities that could put you at risk of falls (cycling, jumps, rollerblading etc)
I personally feel that swimming is the best exercise during pregnancy. (but alas...!!! i cant even float!) Swimming not only provides good cardiovascular workout it also benefits by working out the major muscles without having any impacts on the joints. It allows a pregnant woman feel weightless despite the extra weight.
What would a person like me do, i mean i cant swim, so how would i do the exercise? well, another suggestion is to do the Aqua Aerobics.
Stand in the pool with water on belly button level. Do a front raise, lateral raise, knee lifts or merely walk around in the pool. With no impacts at all, it is gentle on your joints and can lessen the swelling in legs. Although it is fun, always remember not to outdo yourself. Avoid exhaustion. (ref : my posting dated Feb 17th, 2009 on Aqua Aerobics)
Wear proper shoes/clothings before starting. Always carry drinking water with you while walking. Listen to your own body, avoid overheating, enjoy the scenery and having someone to walk with you is better than walking alone.
Walking is one of the best cardiovascular exercises and it is safe throughout the nine months pregnancy.
Start slow and built it up gradually eg. by walking up and down a hill after a few weeks of exercising.
LOW IMPACT AEROBICS
Be sure the instructor is qualified. It would be better if you can find a class that is specially designed for pregnant woman so that each movement is safe for you and your baby.
The advantage of an aerobics class is you have friends to do the class with you, which will make you motivated and the classes has a consistent time slot that can fit into your everyday schedule.
Due to your condition, when you exercise you will have less oxygen available for yourself, remember to lower the intensity if you have shortness of breath, dizziness or feeling like fainting. Slow down or stop if you cant hold a conversation. Monitor your heart rate regularly to avoid exertion during exercise.
WEIGHT TRAINING AND FITBALL
If weight training is already a part of your everyday exercise regime, keep on doing it but slowly stop as the pregnancy advances.
Please avoid using heavy weights and always take precautions on techniques.
Use fitball for strengthening exercises only
Remember the hormone Relaxin? It soften your joints and make them prone to injury. Deep knee bend is also not advisable but doing it by sitting on a fitball is ok.
Stretches keeps you flexible and maintain muscles tone. It has no impact at all but becareful not to hold the stretches for too long or try to develop flexibility too much. ref: my posting dated july 23rd 2009 on stretches
Relaxin makes your joints and ligaments prone to injury.
MOst people love to dance. Being pregnant is not an excuse for you not to enjoy dancing. You can enjoy to the tunes and move to the beat even at the privacy of your bedroom. You can get your heart pumping (good cardio workout) BUT always remember not to wiggle your hips (like doing the twist) or do the jumps in rock&roll. Avoid sudden change of direction and do the correct technique for pregnant women. Do not get lost in the music too much. Avoid fatique.
What if you encounter cramps during your exercise or while you are sleeping. Most women complain of leg cramps during pregnancy. Researchers says no one really knows what causes leg cramps during pregnancy. But there are theories saying growing uterus is pressing down on the blood vessels that circulate the blood from your legs to your heart and on the nerves that travel from your abdomen to your legs. OR perhaps its because of the gravity pulling your blood downwards and your legs have to carry the extra weight around all day long. I kindda agree with these two theories although scientifically it has not been proven.
Cramps happens anytime but worsen during the nights especially when the pregnancy progresses and your tummy gets bigger and heavier.
How do relief a cramp? Here a some tips you might want to try even if you are not pregnant. ref : my posting dated june 3rd 2009 on leg cramps
When you feel a cramp coming, stretch your calf muscles. Hold your leg out straight, flex your heels (pushing your heels out) as far as you can, your toes pointing towards your shin. It will be painful at first but it will lessen spasms of the cramp. When pain is lessen massage your calf gently. Apply heat with hot water bottle or walk several minutes.
You can avoid cramps by :
a) Not standing for a long period of time
b) Not crossing your legs for too long period
c) Always stretching your calf muscles throughout the day and before you go to sleep
d) Always wiggle your toes and rotating your ankles
e) Exercise daily (get doctor's approval first)
f) Avoid exertion and exhaustion
g) Stay hydrated, drink plenty of water (ref: my posting dated March 8th, 2009 on Hydration)
h) Take a warm bath or soak your legs with warm water before going to sleep
i) Sleep on your left side to improve circulation
j) Ask your doctor about adding a magnesium/calcium supplement your your prenatal vitamins.
Please first take all these precautions into consideration before you see a doctor. You may want to see a doctor if the pain doesnt go away, or swelling in your legs or there are tender spots or black marks on your legs. These are signs of blood clots and you need medical procedures for this. Do not panic.