Are you keeping up with your exercise?
For healthy pregnant women, staying active and exercising at the appropriate intensity is generally a recommendation, however not in all cases.
Unfortunately, if any of the below are relevant to you then it is advised to avoid heavy exercise until after your pregnancy.
- A sedentary lifestyle
- Severe anaemia
- Persistent second or third trimester bleeding
- Pre-eclampsia/pregnancy-induced hypertension
The effects of pregnancy
Hormonal and postural changes make pregnant women far more susceptible to injuries and problems such as joint misalignment, muscle imbalance and motor skill decline.
These changes may start very early and gradually become more significant throughout the pregnancy.
Some things you may notice include:
- Weight gain
- Morning sickness
- Bigger breasts and uterus
- Increased heart rate
- Postural changes
- Hormonal changes
- Changes in centre of gravity
- Reduced pelvic girdle stability
- Weaker pelvic floor
Relaxin (No, unfortunately i’m not talking about putting your feet up)
During pregnancy, relaxin (a hormone released from the first trimester) softens ligaments, cartilage and the cervix, allowing these tissues to lengthen when it comes to the delivery.
The effects of relaxin mean that joints throughout the body are potentially more vulnerable so should not be overly stressed, for example through vigorous stretching.
Exactly how long relaxin stays in the body post-birth varies between mothers. Five months is the length of time often mentioned, although estimates vary from three months right up to 1 year. In reality, the hormone can be present for as long as the mother is breast-feeding, which may be up to two years.
As a mother you are the best judge and will know when your joints no longer feel loose.
Abdominal muscles and posture
The abdominal muscles start to lengthen and stretch as the baby grows. This changes the body’s centre of gravity, which may affect balance.
It may also lead to changes in posture which may contribute to lower back, neck and shoulder pain.
As you’ve probably been told a million and one times already, whether that be by myself, your doctor, midwife etc., you should avoid all physical stress for two weeks after birth (i.e. ‘don’t carry anything heavier than the baby’) and you should wait for a minimum of six weeks after delivery to resume your full daily activities .
It is also advised that women who had their baby by C-Section shouldn’t exercise for 12 weeks after delivery to allow proper healing time.
In both pre and post-natal periods, exercises should be provided with the aim of strengthening the pelvic floor muscles. As the uterus grows, these muscles become overly stressed and start to sag.
This can unfortunately cause a few potential problems, some of which aren’t the most pleasant like urinary incontinence (yes, thats pretty much the medical term for when we wet ourselves)
If you’re pregnant then you should always exercise according to how you are feeling. If you’re anything like I was then you will likely be more vulnerable to nausea, dizziness and maybe even fainting.
Pregnant women should avoid:
- Exercise lying on your back after 16 weeks
- Exercising to the point of exhaustion (the goal is to maintain activity, rather than improve fitness)
- Heavy, uncontrolled, isometric or prolonged resistance work above the head
- Leg adduction and abduction against a resistance
- Loaded forward flexion
- Rapid changes in direction or position
- Exercise with a risk of falling or abdominal trauma
- Abdominal exercises (focus instead on posture, mobility and pelvic floor)
Post-natal adaptations and considerations
The focus should be to re-educate posture and joint alignment, address muscle imbalances, improve stability and motor skills, and pelvic floor function.