The first exercise and pregnancy guidelines issued years ago tended to treat pregnancy as if it were a sickness. There were a lot of absolute "don'ts" and many women found them very restrictive. Since that time, research on exercise and pregnancy has increased significantly and now most organizations agree on the following recommendations:
- Focus on how you feel during your workout. Since your heart rate is affected by many factors during pregnancy, it's not always the best indicator of how hard you're working when exercising. Rate yourself on a scale of one to ten and try and maintain a workout level that keeps you between four and eight. You will probably find it takes a lot less to bring you up to that level than before you were pregnant. Since you're exercising for two, that's to be expected. There are no specific guidelines on how long your workout should be, but it should be based on your pre-pregnancy fitness routine and your doctor's recommendations.
- After the first trimester (three months) don't do any exercises that call for you to lie on your back. You don't want to compromise blood flow to the baby or run the risk of elevating your blood pressure. You'll have to forego exercises like crunches, but you can still do abdominal strengthening exercises from a standing position or with your back pressed against a wall. Just make sure you're not pushing yourself too hard.
- Because you are producing more of the 'relaxin' hormone, your joints are a little bit looser than normal. Pushing stretches too far can lead to injury. Never push a stretch beyond the point of mild discomfort and don't hold stretches longer than 20 seconds. Be especially careful when you stretch the muscles that surround your knees, hips, and lower back. However, you should stretch regularly to help relieve general aches and pains.
- Weight training is a good idea to continue during pregnancy although it isn't the best time to start. Pay special attention to exercises that work your back and shoulders and reduce the amount of weight as your pregnancy continues. Keeping these muscles strong will help avoid back and shoulder pains many women experience during pregnancy and give you the strength to carry your bundle of joy around once he or she is born.
- Obviously, pregnancy is not the time to take up sports like horseback riding, bungee jumping, or wrestling. You don't have to sit in a chair for the entire nine months, but use common sense when choosing fitness activities. Most women find walking and swimming two activities that are comfortable and safe to do throughout all stages of pregnancy. Gentle yoga classes may also be very relaxing and easy on the joints.
- Most importantly, practice pelvic floor exercises. Around 25% of all women suffer from urinary incontinence after having a baby. These exercises not only help prevent this but ensure a good blood supply to your pelvic area which may assist in healing after birth. Here's how to do them: start either sitting, standing, or lying down and focus on the muscles throughout your pelvis. This might be strange at first, but pretend you're going to urinate, then stop, clenching your buttocks and vagina as you do this. If you can actually feel your pelvic area move upwards, you are doing the move correctly. Hold each move for ten seconds, then slowly release. You can do pelvic floor exercises up to 100 times a day, but if you can't do many, don't worry - every little bit helps.
- Drink tons of water before, during, and after your workouts to help keep your and your baby's system cool. Every woman is unique and there is not such thing as a textbook pregnancy. Always talk things through with your doctor and discuss all of your health habits with him or her, including your exercise routine.