By Thania Enous, Physiotherapist
Exercising and keeping mobile during your pregnancy is highly recommended as it has many benefits for you and your baby. Improving your general well-being is vital in preparation for meeting your new little bundle and enhancing your recovery after delivery.
The recommended exercise allowance is 150 minutes a week. Yip, that’s a reasonable amount of moving around to do. Women who have been physically active should continue and adjust their programmes as needed. For those who are waiting to take that initial step, now is a positive and exciting time to start. Bear in mind, it is best to spread your sessions across seven days and allow for rest days in-between if needed. As the weight of your baby and belly size increases through your trimesters, your endurance will change, and your exercise regimes will need to be adapted accordingly. Remember, exercise should not cause any pain or strain. Always consult your obstetrician and gynaecologist or midwife before beginning any exercise, especially if you have experienced any health issues during your pregnancy or have any pre-existing medical conditions. This may not necessarily mean that you are not allowed to exercise but, with the help of a trained, qualified instructor, a tailored programme will be designed for you.
Appropriate exercises during your pregnancy and after delivery •
Light to moderate aerobic activities such as brisk walking, stationary cycling, swimming or aqua aerobics.
• Light resistance exercises using elastic bands, light weights, body weight training (e.g., mini squats, wall push-ups).
• Yoga, pilates and stretching.
• Kegel exercises to help tone your pelvic floor muscles which help to support your baby in your pelvis.
• Postural exercises.
Where to start with so many options. Firstly, don’t rush into attempting all at once. Start off slowly with walking or stationary cycling or swimming, and gradually increase your time or pace. Add stretching and light weight-training as you can manage. Joining an ante-natal yoga or pilates class is always enjoyed and a great way to relate and share with other moms-to-be.
Avoid high impact activities which involve jumping, sudden twisting or place increased pressure on your abdomen or pelvis. Contact sports and activities which may raise your risk of falling are also strongly discouraged.
Avoid lying on your back for prolonged periods especially in your last trimester as the weight of the baby rests on your intestines and your main abdominal vein which brings blood back to your heart. Avoid training in hot humid weather and make sure you are adequately hydrated and carry healthy snacks with you.
Health benefits of exercise
• Burning calories
• Decreased risk of obesity, excessive weight gain, gestational diabetes and hypertension
• Assists in reducing constipation
• Reduces water retention
• Improved heart and lung health
• Decreases post-partum recovery time
• Lessens the incidence and severity of lower back pain
• Improves your posture and balance
• Encourages the release of “happy hormones” resulting in improved mood, therefore assisting with managing postpartum depression .
Always exercise with care, even if you’ve been an active individual. As with any exercise, always start with a warm-up, end off with a cool-down and include gentle comfortable stretches. Pay special attention to your breathing technique, making sure you’re taking in slow, relaxed deep breaths through your nose allowing your stomach and chest to rise as you inhale.
You should always be able to hold a conversation and exercise. If not, slow down, have a rest and continue only if it’s comfortable. You should discontinue your training session immediately and contact your obstetrician and gynaecologist or midwife if you experience any of the following:
• vaginal bleeding
• amniotic fluid leakage
• difficulty breathing
• dizziness or headache
• regular or painful contractions
• sudden onset of pain across your abdomen or pelvis
• calf pain or swelling
• chest pain
Experiencing backache and pelvic pain?
A common challenge faced toward the middle and end of pregnancy is backache, pelvic pain or pressure. As your baby grows and requires more space in your pelvis, your ligaments become stretched. The weight of the baby also shifts your centre of gravity forward and places added strain on your lumbar spine. In some cases, pain may be worse on one side and radiate into the buttock or down the leg, often as a result of how baby is resting.
The use of a good pelvic brace is helpful for moms who are on their feet all day as it supports the belly and stabilises your pelvis. Seeing an experienced physiotherapist may assist in pain relief. You will also be educated and advised on how to manage your symptoms and given an individualised home exercise programme
Practice good posture positions throughout the day at home and your workplace. Good pointers are to sit or stand tall, tucking in your chin, keep your shoulder blades back and relaxed and avoid swaying at your hips. Refrain from sitting for prolonged periods. By ensuring adequate hydration, your bladder will keep you marching to the loo regularly.
How soon to start exercising after delivery?
Women who have had vaginal birth may commence exercising as early as their bodies allow. It is best to wait around three weeks if you’ve had any tearing. With a C-section, one needs to allow the area and incision to heal and wait six to eight weeks before exercising.
One can start almost immediately with relaxation exercises, seated or lying down pelvic floor exercises and practicing good posture and positioning with baby. As soon as you get the green light from your obstetrician and gynaecologist or midwife, you may start light intensity aerobic exercise and weight training.
Exercising during pregnancy and after giving birth offers many physical and emotional benefits. It can be done from the comfort and convenience of your own home. Exercising needn’t be an overpriced expense. A good supportive pair of sneakers and comfortable clothing is all your need to get going.
Walking is free, so grab your neighbour, dog or partner or all three!
Thania Enous is a senior physiotherapist working at West Physiotherapy based in Claremont, Cape Town. She is passionate about restoring health and well-being to patients and has a special interest in assisting new moms during their initial challenges. West Physiotherapy
T +27 (0)21 671 5300 E firstname.lastname@example.org