Pregnancy and Health: Let's Focus on Exercise!

First published in Beyond India, July 2016 edition.

Dr Arunaz Kumar

Dr Varun Sharma

I have just found out that I am pregnant! Does it mean I am not allowed to exercise anymore?

For most women, an active lifestyle is encouraged during pregnancy. The benefits of an active lifestyle include facilitation of adequate weight management, less risk of backache and pelvic instability, and shorter duration of labour. Avoiding excessive weight gain in pregnancy also helps to prevent complications like diabetes in pregnancy.

Are my daily chores enough exercise during my pregnancy?

Daily activities like walking, climbing stairs and routine chores are all forms of exercise and should be continued as normal unless specifically advised by the health care provider. These daily chores contribute significantly to the activity of a young healthy adult. However, most of us need a little more exercise than what these activities provide and that is no different for a pregnant woman.

Can I continue my regular exercise routine?

If you are used to a routine of recreational exercise prior to being pregnant, you can continue it during pregnancy with certain precautions. Any contact sport, such as kickboxing or punching are not recommended during pregnancy. You also need to be cautious with high intensity exercise by keeping yourself well hydrated before and during the workout. This is because your core temperature should not increase significantly to minimise risk of birth defects. Another precaution is to avoid lying on your back for too long, specially after 16 weeks of your pregnancy. This is to avoid compromise to the blood supply of the unborn baby. Avoid lifting very heavy weights to avoid backache and attempt to maintain a good posture.

What happens to my body when I exercise during pregnancy?

When you are pregnant, there are certain changes that occur in your blood circulation. Your blood pressure may drop somewhere midway in your pregnancy and this may cause you to occasionally feel faint! If this occurs, my suggestion is you stop all activity and lie down for a few minutes preferably on one side rather than your back. Your heart rate also increases as a result of an increase in blood volume, so your heart is working a little harder than usual. During exercise your heart rate will go up and this is alright, but only for a short time and to a certain extent based on your age.

What kind of exercise is good for pregnancy?

Exercise like swimming, pregnancy yoga and pilates are good in pregnancy as they help to loosen the joints and make birth and recovery easier. They also assist in strengthening abdominal muscles which is important to prevent the abdominal muscles separation that can occur after pregnancy. Brisk walking everyday for at least 30 minutes is helpful and can be continued even in late pregnancy. If you feel the need to slow down when you are near term, do so, as required. Another form of exercise called pelvic floor exercises (known as Kegel’s exercise) are specially recommended not only during pregnancy but also after birth to prevent risk of urinary leakage in the postnatal period. These can be learnt from a physiotherapist and most hospitals in Australia provide an exercise lesson to women prior to being discharged after birth.

I also recommend that whatever exercise you pursue, please ensure its within your level of comfort. Please also ensure that you have discussed your activity plans with your health care provider.

Remember, a healthy mum means a healthy baby!! If you care for your own self it is highly likely that it is helping both you and your unborn child not just during pregnancy but even later in life!

Further information on this topic can be found here.