Studies have largely proven that adapted physical exercise during pregnancy allows women to deal with the changes their bodies go through while they are pregnant.
The benefits of keeping up physical activity – which include posture rectification, decrease of gestational diabetes and preservation of joint mobility and muscle tone — during pregnancy are numerous. Exercise helps women go through this crucial stage in their lives and encourages a quick recuperation after delivery.
However, many pregnant women feel lost regarding the type of exercise they may practice. In my experience working as a physiotherapist, I find that pregnant women are often concerned about whether certain types of exercise are harmful to them or their baby.
Women are right to be mindful of their exercise routine, however, they should not feel that they have to abandon exercise altogether. As gestation progresses, the specific hormone that pregnancy produces, called relaxin, will increase to its maximum peak right before delivery. This will generate the relaxation of tissues, including the pelvic floor muscles, and induce joint hypermobility which allows the baby to pass through.
In addition to the production of relaxin, a pregnant woman’s body goes through numerous other physical changes, including changing of the back and sacrum curves, weight gain and stretched abdominal muscles. With all of these transformations taking place, it is easy to understand why women are concerned about exercise having negative effects on themselves or their babies.
Based on these changes, there are select forms of exercise that should be encouraged during pregnancy, while others should be avoided or adapted.
To encourage: gym workouts; muscle reinforcement; stretching; yoga; swimming; biking; aqua-biking; brisk walking and transverse abs exercises to improve the posture and uterus support and decrease the risk of diastasis recti, which is the separation of abdominal muscles due to increased pressure from the growing fetus.
To avoid or adapt: fighting sports, contact sports and repetitive ground impact sports, which come with a high risk of urinary leaks; sports with the risk of falling, such as skiing, horseback riding, climbing, surfing; scuba-diving and prolonged apnea; and high-altitude training, which increases the risk of hypoxia, or a deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching the tissues.
Note: It is possible to adapt your favorite activity in some cases like tennis, for example, which can be played but preferably in doubles for less effort.
Recommendations for pregnant women looking to exercise:
- Position the pelvis in retroversion by straightening the lumbar spine in order to reduce the lower back curve.
- Slow down cardiovascular activity if experiencing shortness of breath.
- Maintain good breathing to avoid shortness of breath and regulate the heart rate. Try inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth.
- Try to contract the perineum before executing a movement.
- Work on deep abdominal exercises with long exhalation, no prolonged apnea and without bending at the waist.
- Maintain proper hydration and nutrition.
All exercise and sports routines should be discussed with your doctor. If you feel discomfort at any time, please seek medical help.
Lastly, it should be clarified that premature birth and miscarriage don’t have any connection with playing sports or exercising, as is commonly perceived. During the pregnancy, it is essential to find an adapted physical activity but also an activity that leads to pleasure for physical and mental benefits. With an adapted workout routine, the return to exercise and sport after delivery will be made easier.
Marion Codino is a physiotherapist based out of Paris, France. She specializes in women’s health and also works on the professional tennis circuit as a physio.