The current research on exercise preconception, during pregnancy and post-pregnancy is very positive!
The first six months prior to conception is vital in terms of having the female and male bodies in optimum condition. This can be achieved through good nutrition and exercise.
The most important time in pregnancy is the first four to eight weeks when most of the baby's vital organs are forming. Therefore the importance of stopping smoking and drinking and getting a good exercise and nutrition routine going are so important before the conception.
Exercising within the first six months prior to conception can help relieve the stress for couples who are trying to get pregnant and can help prevent gestational diabetes in women once they become pregnant. Having a well balanced regime consisting of cardiovascular exercise, weight training, eating regularly and healthily and getting adequate sleep will contribute very positively to the conception. It is advisable for athletes and those who exercise at a high intensity to moderate their training in order for their bodies to be optimally balanced in order to conceive. Highly intensive training can disrupt this balance as the body can be depleated in essential minerals and vitamins due to over training.
Exercising during your pregnancy can help build the stamina that is required for labour and delivery. Exercise can also help stabilise your overall weight, as being seriously overweight or underweight can influence birth defects like cleft pallet palate and diabetes. If a woman starts her pregnancy heavier and then gains too much weight, it can negatively impact on her blood glucose levels and blood pressure during this time. However, being underweight while pregnant can prevent the baby from growing properly and can result bed rest for the mother due to a lack of energy.
It is not too late to start an exercise routine whilst you are pregnant. It is exceptionally important to listen to your body throughout and to stop if you experience pain, bleeding or dizziness - although ensuring that you never exert yourself to this level is the key. Exercise should feel of a moderate intensity. You should feel that you can talk comfortably whilst exercising, yet also feel like you have a slightly elevated heart rate. You can tell your heart rate is elevated when you have a light sweat on and are slightly puffed. You should never feel red in the face, very sweaty and as if you can't talk. If so, you need to lower the intensity. Walking regularly, swimming, pre-natal aqua, yoga and Pilates classes are all good exercise options, as well as light weight training (ensure weights do not exceed 4kg). Contact and extreme sports must be avoided for obvious reasons! Women who have been very fit prior to pregnancy are able to continue their training as usual in the first trimester, but should tailor it to be more moderate for their 2nd and 3rd trimesters.
Ensuring that you are well hydrated, so that your core temperature stays comfortable, is extremely important and it is advisable not to exercise in hot environments. Making sure that you have eaten prior to exercising is also paramount, so that your blood sugar stays balanced and you have adequate energy for the chosen exercise. If not, nutrients will be taken away from your baby in order to maintain your working body.
Do not exercise if you feel you are unwell or even if you feel you are coming down with something. A pregnant woman's immune system is slightly lower than a non-pregnant woman's and so she is much more susceptible to illness. Exercise will only continue to lower the immune system, resulting in illness and a longer recovery period.
Pregnancy is all about change and the importance of an exercise routine plays a crucial role in the health of the mother and the beginning of a new life. There are many advantages from staying fit throughout pregnancy.
Firstly, the mother to be feels better about herself psychologically, due to the positive endorphins that are produced during exercise. A good exercise regime promotes better sleep at night and more energy during the day. The mother to be experiences a large amount of change due to her expanding and adapting body, exercise helps her to feel a greater sense of control over these changes. Mothers to be will also become well prepared for the physical demands of labour, due to increased stamina and cardiovascular endurance as well as the strength that is required from the pelvic floor muscles and quadriceps. Labour can be like an endurance event, so it makes sense to train for it!
Following the birth, exercise helps the mother to regain her pre-pregnancy figure a lot more quickly. Studies shave shown that mothers who exercise throughout pregnancy gain less body fat, which ensures that at birth the baby is at the smaller end of the healthy range, which makes for a quicker recovery. Post partum exercise is equally important, as the mother not only gets her body back into shape but her emotional wellbeing benefits as well.
It's important to give yourself 4-6 weeks rest following the birth in order to recover fully from the labour and birth and to start to adapt to the new and very busy routine of having a newborn in the house. Before setting out to loose that baby weight, make sure you have been given the "ok" by your LMC. Women who have had caesareans or complicated births especially, need to have been given the all clear.
Starting gradually and progressing sensibly is very important at this time. It is all too easy to launch yourself into a frantic routine of abdominal crunches and fast paced walking in order to tone up that soft, saggy tummy - but believe me, this is the last thing you want to do. A balanced routine of brisk walking and pelvic floor exercises 3 days a week and good, regular nutrition will start to shift some of that unwanted baby weight. Walking is not only fantastic aerobic exercise, but it also gets you and bubs out of the house for some fresh air and some sanity! Breastfeeding is natures way to assist weight loss, so if possible, persevering for the first 6 weeks of your baby's life will not only help your body mobilise those fat stores, it will give your baby the best start you could possibly offer him.
Once you have built up a good base fitness, I then recommend participating in some well constructed group exercise classes. Bear in mind that even if you were a regular and devoted exercise class participant before you were pregnant, you are unlikely to be of the same level now, so aim to go to classes for beginners at least for a couple of weeks. For women who do not enjoy classes, regular swimming, aqua jogging, gym training or running may be preferable, just go easy on yourself the first couple of weeks and build the progression gradually.
These days many fitness centres offer child care options, so bear this in mind when joining a facility, as you are more likely to go if you know your baby or children are in good hands. Otherwise, aiming to co-ordinate babysitting times with your partner, family, friends or whanau may be a possibility. I advise you make regular times each week, and stick to them so that both yourself and your babysitter/s can work easily around those times. Another benefit of this is that you are more likely to commit to your exercise knowing that you are relying on the time of someone else. It's important not to feel guilty about this, as you deserve time to yourself and it will prolong your health, making you a better and more reliable parent.
For times when you really want to get some exercise but have no babysitting options, investing in a good 3 wheeler buggy will mean that you can pop babay in the buggy and get out for a run or a brisk walk. Front packs and back packs are also great alternatives for a young child and they will love being out in the fresh air with you. Including other children in your exercise regime can be fun too. If your baby is in the buggy, you can throw a ball around with your older children, or walk or run up and down steps, counting together as you go. The only limit is your imagination!