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Exercising During Pregnancy

Most pregnant women concern about their body changes during pregnancy. Returning to normal body shape after giving birth is a constant worrying thought.

Many studies recommend exercise during pregnancy because of its good physical and psychological effects for on the pregnant women.

The main benefits of exercising during pregnancy are having good posture and strong muscles.

Aboutislam talked to Laura Wegener, master of Science in physical therapy, St. Elizabeth central Medical Center, Physical and Occupational Therapy Departments, USA.

Wegner tells Aboutislam, “As your body changes during pregnancy, it is important to work on your posture.  You need to focus on a good upright position — not letting your shoulders droop forward. As you gain weight, you want to make sure your legs get stronger to support this extra load.”

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Good posture is important to maintain a healthy pregnancy and to decrease back and neck pain. Exercise helps woman’s muscles (e.g., pelvic, vaginal, uterus, abdominal, and back muscles) to be more flexible and strong, reducing joints and muscles’ pain complaints.

Exercising daily also enhances the well-being feeling as it decreases pregnancy problems, such as aches, fatigue, constipation, gestational diabetes, and gaining excess weight. This is confirmed by Wegener, as she says: “It helps women have more energy, less discomfort, and the recovery of post partum is faster,” she adds, “it also makes the weight you gain during pregnancy isn’t usually as much , which is good for most women.”

Wegener also talked about how exercise makes the labor easier and faster: “Some studies suggest that for exercisers, there may be less pain during labor.  While that may not be accurate, the recovery from labor and delivery is faster and easier if you have been exercising.”

Exercise is not only good for the mothers; it is good also for the fetus, as exercises reactivate the blood circulation in the body, which helps regularly the transfer of nutrition for the fetus regularly through the placenta.

General Guidelines

Check with your physician before beginning any prenatal exercise program. Specially, if you have one of the following conditions: Heart problems, asthma, hypertension, excess weight problems, muscle or joint problems, history of premature labors, miscarriages, or incompetent cervix, vaginal bleeding, or placental problems.

“30-60 minutes per day (depends on your fitness level) is what we want everyone to do. During pregnancy, you don’t want to work quite as hard. So, you should be able to continue your regular pre-pregnant activity level. If you are starting, start slowly and progress gradually. You don’t want to get quite as breathless or work to fatigue. You have to drink more water, and make sure you don’t overheat, especially during summer,” said Wegener.

Safe Prenatal Exercises

Exercising During PregnancyYou can almost do any exercise, if you rightly modify it. You should be careful, and not overdo it.

“Walking, swimming, and aerobics are safe exercises for a pregnant woman or anything that is not real high impact.” These are the safest exercises suggested by Weneger for a pregnant woman. If your pregnancy is considered high-risk you may not be able to exercise very much. But with a normal, low-risk pregnancy, you can safely exercise throughout the pregnancy.

– Walking, swimming, aerobics, stationary cycling, and yoga are the most recommended exercises for pregnant women, because they are safe and easy to do throughout all nine months of pregnancy.  Also, yoga, dancing, and stretching exercises are good ones to ease tension and keep you flexible and strong.

Kegel exercises are very important exercises that strengthen your pelvic floor muscles (the muscles of the urethra, bladder, uterus, and rectum) and vaginal muscles. It may help to treat urinary stress incontinence problem, hemorrhoids, and accelerate healing of tearing stitches after childbirth.

To do Kegel exercises, try to hold your pelvic muscles (the exercise simulates trying to stop urinating or stop passing gas) for few seconds (3–10 seconds), and then relax for 3–10 seconds three times a day. Don’t make it a habit to do Kegel exercises while emptying your bladder.

Praying is a perfect way for Muslim pregnant women to exercise. It consists of four positions, which are very helpful to back muscles and help reduce back pain.

Wegener says, “Sujud (prostration) in the Muslim Praying is similar or close to yoga pose or child pose, which we use frequently for people with back pain and during our exercise class for expectant mothers, (Motion for Moms). If you have always done an activity, then doing it during pregnancy is usually fine. If you start having back pain, then of course, you would want to stop the activity.”

“You can lift weights while you are pregnant, but don’t do a lot of deep squat with heavy weights,” Wegener advised. “One of the most important things you have to be careful with is to not to hold your breath while lifting weights. It might be the best time to start, you need to start with low weights, 3 or 5-10 pounds, that would be fine, but don’t do really heavy lifting.”

Activities to Avoid

According to Wegener, you shouldn’t play contact group sports like (e.g., basketball, baseball, football, soccer) or anything that can get you hit or knocked to the ground. Water skiing, snow skiing, high-risk sports, such as scuba diving, horse-riding, running, and riding bikes should be avoided as well.

Jerky, jarring, extreme or rapid leg lifts, twisting movements, or quick directional changes may be dangerous because the hormones released during pregnancy make ligaments and joints lax for facilitating labor, so they are more susceptible to injuries.

Avoid any exercise done while lying flat on your back after the first trimester; “After 20 weeks, you are not supposed to do any exercise flat on your back. That is one of the precautions from American Congress of Obstetric and Gynecologists (ACOG),” Wegener said.

ACOG put a list of signs that exercising pregnant women should pay attention to and check with a physician if any of them has developed:

– Vaginal bleeding
– Dizziness
– Increased shortness of breath
– Chest pain
– Headache
– Muscle weakness
– Calf pain or swelling
– Uterine contractions
– Decreased fetal movement
– Fluid leaking from the vagina

Post-partum Exercise

Exercise after giving birth is very important to return to pre-pregnancy shape quickly.

Wegener says that after giving birth, a woman can start walking and moving again as soon as she feels she can, and by six weeks usually most women can start a regular exercise. In case of having a C-section, resting for 8–12 weeks is recommended to allow the incision to completely heal.

“For postpartum women, especially if you plan to nurse, you have to have lots of extra water,” Wegener said, “holding the baby during exercise can help you get stronger. Again, you have to start gradually and listen to your body to make sure you don’t overdo. If you do squats holding the baby, as the baby getting bigger, your muscles will have to work harder and get stronger.”

Maintaining a regular exercise program throughout your pregnancy and after giving birth can help you stay healthy and feel better. Stay in contact with your physician all through the time and let them know of anything that might worry you.

This article is from Science’s archive, originally published on an earlier date.