Pregnancy is, quite literally, a bodily function. And the body works best when it’s given what it needs. And it turns out that our bodies need a little working out. Research clearly shows that you–and your baby–can benefit enormously now, and possibly for years to come, by keeping active and working out during pregnancy. This can feel very daunting in the first trimester when all you want to do is sleep and eat plain bagels. (Don’t worry! There has to be an evolutionary reason for this, it’ll pass soon enough).
And it can feel daunting in general: Pregnancy is already a work-out. You have 50% more blood volume moving through sluggish veins; your metabolism changes; you need sleep (like a growing kid); and you’ve got more weight and pressure that can really slow you down.
But there are so many ways to work up a sweat during pregnancy that can be actually fun or at least help reduce your aches, pains and third trimester insomnia. It may just be that you go for lots and lots of walks, always take the stairs and generally stay mobile and active. You could also try to swim a few times a week, or take prenatal yoga classes when you have time. Downloadable prenatal workouts make keeping fit easier than ever.
Our culture has thrown up some obstacles to pregnancy fitness–we drive, we sit in front of computers, we sit in front of the TV. But our bodies were built for walking, carrying things, bending, leaning, squatting. In our modern world we may not be out in the fields pulling up root vegetables but we can do a low-impact cardio workout in the den!
According to the American College of Obstetrician and Gynecologists, “In the absence of either medical or obstetric complications, 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise a day on most, if not all, days of the week is recommended for pregnant women.”
So on that note, here are eight really great motivators for getting some kind of regular exercise during pregnancy
1. Fewer pregnancy complications 1 of 8Prenatal exercise can lessen the likelihood of high blood pressure, swelling, diabetes, and preeclampsia. Reducing pregnancy complications can help outcomes for mother and baby in the immediate sense, but also possibly — if premature birth is averted, for example — for years to come. Working out can also reduce the odds of gestational diabetes by as much as 27%, which in turn reduces your risk for developing Type II diabetes later in life.
2. Healthy pregnancy weight gain 2 of 8Studies show that, prenatal exercise can help keep pregnancy weight gain within a healthy range which, in turn, increases the likelihood of an uncomplicated pregnancy, birth, postpartum recovery and post-pregnancy weight loss. Staying a healthy weight is a huge step towards staying healthy in general. The Institute of Medicine's recommendation for pregnancy weight gain — if you start within a normal weight range — is 25-35 pounds. Underweight women should gain 28-40 pounds; overweight women, 15-25 pounds; and obese women, 11-20 pounds. Obviously, pregnancy weight gain is influenced by many factors, including how your pregnancy is going (morning sickness, etc.) and genetics, but working out can make a positive impact.
Photo: Creative Image/istockphoto
3. Healthy Newborn Weight 3 of 8Moms who keep their weight gain within the normal range are less likely to have an unnaturally large baby. This is important, as studies show that babies born over 9 pounds are at increased risk for obesity, diabetes, and other health problems later in life. An emerging field of research, called epigenetics, is revealing how the conditions in the womb can actually alter genetic expression. Researchers are exploring the possibility that we can help reduce obesity rates by focusing more on a woman's diet and exercise during pregnancy. Interestingly, women who have severe calorie restriction and very low weight gain during pregnancy have babies who are at much higher risk of obesity and heart problems later in life. It seems, as always, that extremes in both directions can be harmful, whereas a reasonably healthy, active pregnancy can be hugely beneficial for years to come.
4. Improved mental health for mom and … baby 4 of 8Mountains of research have shown the positive psychological effects of exercise at all stages of life, from childhood to old age. Pregnancy is no exception; studies show that prenatal exercise improves your mood, helps with sleep, reduces prenatal depression and boosts self-esteem. Working out can also reduce stress. Extreme stress in pregnancy has been linked to postpartum depression in mothers and health problems for kids of those moms. Moms who experience normal levels of stress during pregnancy, however, can pass along lasting physical and emotional benefits to their kids. There are many triggers for stress — some can't be resolved just by working out — but a prenatal fitness regimen does appear to have some lasting mental health benefits for all involved.
5. A healthy heart for baby 5 of 8One study found that babies born to women who exercised while pregnant were found, at a full month after delivery, to have healthier hearts than other babies. Babies of moms who eat well and stay fit have a reduced risk of cardiovascular problems as adults.
6. Fewer aches and pains, troubles and twists 6 of 8It's logical: stay strong and flexible, and you'll be better able to handle the increased weight and pressure of pregnancy. Researchers have found that exercise can ease back pain and other musculoskeletal pain . This certainly helps during pregnancy but very likely helps with postpartum healing and recovery, too.
7. Reduced complications in childbirth 7 of 8Staying active — even just by regular, daily walks — can help open the pelvis and get the baby in an optimal positioning for birth. Workouts increase circulation and help with flexibility, cardiovascular health, and muscle tone, all of which come in handy during labor. Also, keeping weight down in pregnancy can mean your baby is a normal birth weight, which can reduce complications in birth, such as the need for assisted delivery or C-section. According to research, regular exercisers are 75% less likely to require a forceps delivery, 55% less likely to have an episiotomy, and up to four times less likely to have a Cesarean than non-exercisers.
8. Stronger pelvic floor 8 of 8Studies also show that working out during pregnancy can reduce the odds of assisted delivery—with forceps or vacuum and episiotomy (an incision in the skin and muscle of the perineum). This then reduces the odds of pelvic floor trauma, which, in turn, reduces the odds of incontinence and other problems related to weak pelvic floor muscles.
Ceridwen Morris, CCE, is a writer, childbirth educator and the co-author of From The Hips: A Comprehensive, Open-Minded, Uncensored, Totally Honest Guide to Pregnancy, Birth and Becoming a Parent. Follow her on Facebook.