What We Learned About Exercise During Pregnancy
Swaddle Salons connect readers to experts for up-close-and-personal conversations. Think TED Talk meets tea party.
Yeah. It’s everything you’re imagining and more.
For our last Swaddle Salon, a bunch of you joined us to learn the latest on pre- and post-natal fitness. It was a great group of women, some only a few weeks along, others who were 9 months pregnant, and even some post-partum moms with toddlers in tow. Even pre-natal experts from around Mumbai came to learn more about the best fitness routines for pregnancy and beyond.
Fitness expert Neville Wadia covered common pregnancy myths related to fitness and then took the group through a complete workout that can be modified from your first trimester to your post-partum months. The myths were a reality check for all of us — check them out below. And because so many of you are outside of Mumbai, in the coming weeks Neville will be writing a recap of each exercise we did. So stay tuned for your very own pregnancy workout. In the meantime …
Myth #1: Exercise and overexertion is dangerous during pregnancy.
REALITY: There is absolutely no reason to be inactive simply because you are pregnant. Even in complicated cases where bed rest is required, pelvic floor exercises, short walks in the house, pool activities or, in extreme cases, bed exercises can be done to keep your body conditioned during pregnancy. In most cases, however, the best predictor for how active you can be during pregnancy is how active you were before pregnancy. If you have been minimally active before pregnancy, it is still a good idea to increase your activity, but it becomes more important to consult a trainer about safety.
This was a reality check for all of us: Last year, a woman who was 34-weeks pregnant ran and finished the Boston Marathon. She was able to do this, Neville explained, because she was a dedicated runner who regularly trained for and ran that distance before her pregnancy. In other words, her body’s normal state was super-fit, and pregnancy didn’t change that. Continue to maintain your usual exercise routine, Neville recommended, with a few additions to help you manage the aches and pains that come with body changes.
Myth #2: Abdominal exercises during pregnancy can harm the baby.
REALITY: While some abdominal exercises do restrict the amount of space for the baby, they aren’t harmful to either you or your baby. However, because the abdominal wall is already strained as your belly expands, it’s best not to strain it further. But this only precludes upper ab exercises; lower ab exercises — like leg lifts — are completely safe, Neville said, even if you feel a slight strain in your abdomen while doing them.
Myth #3: Aches and pains are inevitable during pregnancy and rest is the way to manage them.
REALITY: Your centre of gravity changes during pregnancy, which puts a lot of pressure on your back, especially the lower back, Neville explained. Strengthening those muscles with exercises like the forward and backward bend will help prevent and manage discomfort from the extra pressure. Calf raises are also very important, since calf muscles bear a lot of your pregnancy weight too, as well as play a crucial role in blood circulation.
Myth #4: Nothing can be done to prepare the body for childbirth.
REALITY: Exercises that strengthen the muscles you will use during your delivery can help condition your body for the marathon of birth. The two most important areas to focus on are the pelvic muscles and the thigh muscles. Kegels, which involve clenching and relaxing the muscles of the pelvic floor, are key exercises, as are deep squats and lunges, which strengthen your thigh muscles. (Think about it: childbirth is a full-body workout – you need to be prepared.)
Myth #5: Swimming is dangerous during pregnancy and should be avoided.
REALITY: The reason doctors advise against swimming isn’t because swimming is dangerous — it’s because of the risk of infection from public pools. If you have your own pool or access to one you know to be clean and hygienic, then there’s no reason not to swim during your pregnancy. Actually, swimming can be a great, low-impact form of full-body exercise during pregnancy, Neville suggested, especially if you find that regular exercise feels very taxing on your body.
Myth #6: Walking is the only kind of cardio that should be attempted during pregnancy.
REALITY: Prior to the 6-month mark, it’s fine to continue doing the types of cardio you were used to before you became pregnant (unless you develop a specific health constraint). After 6 months, a good rule of thumb is to do cardio only to the point where you are still able to still hold a full conversation while exercising, Neville advised.
Myth #7: The only way to get your body back to its original shape after childbirth is by working out after delivery.
REALITY: How soon your body returns to its original shape and fitness level post-delivery is much more dependent on your fitness routine during pregnancy, not after. Your body returns to its original shape based on muscle memory, Neville explained; keeping this muscle memory fresh by exercising during pregnancy makes it easier on your body after.