Historically, pregnant women often avoided exercise as a result of unfounded fears that the increased exertion might result in harm to the fetus or mother. It was not until the early 1980s that research around pregnancy and exercise really picked up. The need for guidelines for exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period were being demanded from a generation of women wanting to stay more physically active both before becoming pregnant and after child birth. Presently, exercise is encouraged to all women with uncomplicated pregnancies, and is considered to be a safe and healthy practice for both the mother and her unborn child.
Pre- and postnatal fitness classes seem to be gaining in popularity. Here are 5 convincing reasons why:
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week for healthy pregnant and postpartum women. We all know that regular cardiovascular exercise is beneficial for its overall health benefits, and “conversely sedentary habits and low levels of cardiorespiratory fitness are leading risk factors for subsequent development of cardiovascular disease” (British Journal of Sports Medicine, Volume 37, Issue 1).
Stave off maternal obesity and pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes. Regular exercise during pregnancy helps with weight management and may prevent and/or help manage gestational diabetes, a condition that may increase the risk of depression and a Caesarean section delivery.
Over 60% of women report low back pain (LBP) during pregnancy, which can lead to sleep disturbances and an inability to carry through with other daily tasks (e.g. carrying groceries, picking up a toddler). Increased weight gain and a shift in the centre of gravity leads to more stress on the lumbar spine. Strengthening the core (i.e. abdominals, glutes, latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, etc.) before pregnancy and in the first trimester may minimize the risk for LBP. In addition, maintaining strength in the back musculature during the second and third trimesters and post-natal period (especially while still breast feeding) should also help maintain good posture, hence reducing the risk for back pain.
Improve your mental health and enhance your energy levels. Whether using energy to grow the fetus or produce milk, or not getting enough sleep due to a compressed bladder or crying baby, most pre- and postnatal women will admit to feeling tired and not being able to get a good night’s sleep. Physical activity is a highly effective method
to boost energy levels and enhance one’s psychological well-being. Depression during and after pregnancy can be a serious mental health issue. It is estimated that 1 in 10 women will be affected by depression within the first year of their child’s life (A. Daley et al., (2008)). A study published in the British Journal of General Practice concluded that exercise may help prevent depression among postpartum women. Furthermore, it is well documented that regular physical activity can help boost mood and improve one’s overall mental well-being.
Initiating or returning to exercise in the postpartum period is important in creating healthy, life-long habits for being physically active. Having a newborn is intensely time consuming and exhausting; however, this is also an opportune time to create new life-long habits such as daily physical exercise. Exercising will not only help manage the mother’s health but also act as positive role modelling for the child.
For women with healthy and uncomplicated pregnancies and for those who have been cleared for physical activity postnatally, physical activity (aerobic and strength-based) is highly beneficial. Joining a pre- and postnatal class, meeting up with a friend at the local park or gym, or hiring a certified personal trainer are all great ways to help you get (or stay) on the right path.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2015). Physical Activity and Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period. Number 650. December 2015.
Wang SM., et al., (2004). Low back pain during pregnancy: prevalence, risk factors, and outcomes. PubMed.gov. July 2004; 104(1): 65-70.
Amanda J Daley, Heather Winter, Chloe Grimmett, Mary McGuinness, Richard McManus and Christine MacArthur (2008). Feasibility of an exercise intervention for women with postnatal depression: a pilot randomised controlled trial. Br J Gen Pract 2008; 58 (548): 178-183. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3399/bjgp08X277195