BY REBECCA DICKSON
With more readily available information regarding the safety and health benefits of exercise for pregnant women, more and more women are eager to continue their exercise regimes during pregnancy.
The physical and mental benefits to women who maintain their exercise levels throughout pregnancy are numerous, and include:
- More healthy weight gain
- Less incidence of pre-natal discomforts such as nausea, leg cramps, insomnia, back pain, gestational diabetes, diastasis recti etc.
- Lower resting heart rate, stroke volume and VO2 max throughout pregnancy and post-partum, with higher energy levels than non-exercising counterparts
- Fewer episodes of stress, anxiety, depression and mood swings
- Lower probability of medical intervention during delivery (including cesarean section, use of oxytocin, forceps, etc.) and a higher chance of uncomplicated deliveries and shorter active labor of up to 30%
- Faster post-partum recovery, with women who exercised during pregnancy returning to daily activities 40% faster than those who didn’t (Clapp, 1998)
- Lower incidence of post-partum depression
EFFECTS OF EXERCISE ON THE MOTHER
For a long time, the recommended guidelines, as issued by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in 1985, was that a pregnant woman’s heartbeat should not exceed 140 beats per minute when exercising. Anyone that has worn a heart rate monitor knows that for most people this hardly qualifies as a workout. These guidelines were revised in 1994 and the general rule of thumb is that if you are exercising, it should not be to the point of exhaustion. As coaches, a simple test that we use with pregnant clients is the “talk test”. If a pregnant client is unable to hold a conversation with us comfortably and is out of breath whilst exercising, then we know the intensity level is too high and we need to modify the workout for them. Listen to your body, if it feels good, it probably is good. If it feels bad then it’s probably not good for you and you should stop.
One of the main concerns facing expectant mothers in Singapore, particularly when training outdoors, is dehydration and overheating. Temperature regulation during exercise is an important issue and has been associated with birth defects in the first trimester. It is during this stage of pregnancy that the fetus can’t regulate its own body temperature and is most susceptible to the mother’s. Pregnant women should ensure that they are drinking enough water during the day, with an extra 6 to 8 oz of water for every 15 minutes of exercise undertaken. Wearing loose, light coloured, breathable clothing is also highly recommended to help regulate body temperature.
It’s of importance to note, that if you are fit and have been exercising regularly pre-pregnancy then the likelihood of you being able to regulate your core body temperature is higher than someone that has not exercised pre-pregnancy. To this end, if you are new to bootcamps and pregnant then a better starting point in your pre-natal exercise journey would be one-on-one sessions inside the gym with a qualified pre-natal coach.
Hypoglycaemia is also another common concern with blood sugar levels dropping rapidly in prenatal training sessions. Pregnant women utilise carbohydrates at a greater rate and the caloric demand of muscles during exercise can limit fetal fuel supply and potentially compromise fetal growth and development. Exercise during pregnancy is not about weigh loss and pregnant women should be looking to increase their calorie intake by an additional 300 kcal/day, with an additional 150-250 kcal/day if exercising. If you are planning on training, then a pre-exercise snack with a mix of protein and carbohydrates is highly recommended.
Lying in a supine (on your back) position after the 1st trimester should also be avoided. The enlarged weight of the uterus when pregnant can put too much pressure on the inferior vena cava (the vein that returns blood in the heart from the lungs and legs) and can lead to a condition called supine hypertensive syndrome. This decrease in venous return can in turn lead to a decrease in cardiac output, blood pressure and fetal blood supply. Pregnant women that feel dizzy, nauseous or who have difficulty breathing whilst in this position should immediately move onto their side to release the pressure. There is debate as to how many women actually suffer from this syndrome, with some experts estimating the number to be as low as 8%. A more moderate recommendation would therefore be, for those women that do not present any symptoms, to limit the amount of time spent on their back to only a few minutes per workout. It should be noted that supine abdominal crunches should also be avoided after the first trimester due to the possible incidence of diastasis, a condition whereby the rectus abdominis muscle separates at the linea alba
There are some instances highlighted below, whereby exercise during pregnancy is contraindicated. If you suffer from any of these symptoms you stop exercising immediately, or until you have medical clearance from your doctor to resume.
- Preterm rupture of placenta membranes
- Incompetent cervix
- Persistent bleeding through the 2nd and 3rd trimester
- Pregnancy-induced hypertension
- Pre-term labor, either in current or previous pregnancies
- Intrauterine growth retardation
It’s crucial to listen to your body and heed any warning signs or irregular symptoms that don’t feel right to you. These can include, but are not limited to, calf pain/swelling, muscular weakness, chest pain, dizziness, headaches, decreased fetal movement, contractions, bleeding, and amniotic fluid leakage. If in doubt, consult your doctor before continuing exercise.
If you are pregnant, and attending any of our bootcamps or personal training sessions, it is essential that you inform your coach as soon as possible. This way, we can modify exercises and keep an eye on you in class to ensure you are exercising within safe guidelines. Many of our coaches are pre- and post-natal qualified and have children themselves and would be more than happy to spend time with you discussing any queries you may have, so please feel free to ask us!