Including a properly designed program can be enormously beneficial during pregnancy. Research shows that active women are healthier during and after pregnancy and they deliver healthier babies with fewer complications.
Of course, pregnancy does bring about a variety of changes that will require modification and adjustment to training. Because pregnancy places increased stress on various parts of the body, training programs should be targeted at optimizing function in these areas, while encouraging maternal health and fitness.
A combination of aerobic exercise and resistance training is recommended. Workouts that emphasize deep core strengthening, use appropriate modifications, and avoid certain movements will better prepare you for pregnancy, delivery, and the demands of motherhood.
Before engaging in any exercise program, a woman who is pregnant should consult with and get clearance from her doctor. Additionally, clearance should be gotten at the start of each trimester or if any complications or concerns come up during pregnancy.
Whereas women who are not pregnant can train for various performance, health, and aesthetic goals, pregnancy shifts the training focus to optimizing health and function of both the mother and the fetus. Fortunately, research shows that appropriately designed training programs are safe and convey tremendous benefits. What follows is a quick summary of the unique benefits of exercise during pregnancy:
1. Reduce maternal fat gain. Although an increase in body weight is normal during pregnancy, minimizing the accumulation of body fat is beneficial during and in the post-partum period.
2. Lower risk of gestational diabetes. A condition in which a woman who doesn’t have diabetes develops high blood sugar during pregnancy, gestational diabetes increases risk of pre-eclampsia, depression, and cesarean for the mother, as well as health complications for the fetus. Compared to inactive women, those who exercise during pregnancy reduce their odds of acquiring gestational diabetes by 59 percent.
3. Decrease risk of pre-eclampsia. A pregnancy related disorder defined by high blood pressure and swelling in the limbs that can bring about seizure and or cerebral hemorrhage and is the second leading cause of maternal death in the U.S., pre-eclampsia is significantly reduced in women who exercise regularly. One study found that women who were involved in regular exercise had a lower risk of preeclampsia, with the risk decreasing as the volume increased. Another study found that light prenatal exercise reduces pre-eclampsia by 24 percent with vigorous exercise lowering it by 54 percent.
4. Enhance body image. Women who exercise during pregnancy report feeling better about their bodies, particularly in the latter stages of pregnancy. Additionally, research suggests that women who participate in neonatal fitness programs respond more favorably to pregnancy-related changes in their bodies compared with women who remain sedentary.
5. Improve psychological well being. Due to hormonal shifts, inactivity, and body changes, depression rates more than double during pregnancy with as many as 25 percent of women reporting depression by the third trimester. Studies show exercise has various mood boosting benefits with it being particularly effective at minimizing body changes, keeping women active and empowered, and reducing pain caused by poor mobility.
6. Lower risk of low back pain. Low back pain rates are high in pregnant women with 76 percent reporting pain at some point during pregnancy. Multiple studies show that exercise helps to counteract the stress placed on the lower back by the growing fetus, alleviating maternal pain and dysfunction.
7. Improve fetal health. Women who exercise during pregnancy have babies that are healthier (longer and leaner and with less fat mass). Maternal exercise may also convey cognitive benefits on the fetus with evidence of improved attentiveness and discipline in offspring.
8. Easier labor. Women who exercise have decreased risk of premature labor, lower incidence of cesarean delivery, and shorter hospitalization. They also have shorter, healthier labors: One study found that in athletic women, labor was 1.5 times shorter than non-athletes and risk of metabolic acidosis was lower as well.
9. Minimize incontinence. By strengthening the deep core muscles, it’s possible to strengthen the pelvic floor and lower the risk of incontinence during and after pregnancy.
10. Improve posture. A growing baby puts extra stress on the body and can lead to pain in various locations. By promoting balance throughout the body, training may improve a mother’s posture and help avoid pain and other physiological complications, such as diastasis recti (separation of the abdominal muscles) and pelvic organ prolapse (weakness of the muscles supporting the pelvis).
11. Improve energy levels. Instead of viewing exercise as a chore, it can be used to alleviate stress and help a pregnant woman feel more energized and empowered. Some women prefer more intense workouts, whereas others, will benefit from less challenging exercises performed in a slow, breath-focused manner, especially as pregnancy progress.