A guide to exercising during and after pregnancy

April 21, 2016

Topic: A guide to exercise during and after pregnancy

As a rule of thumb, exercise during and after pregnancy is not only safe, but beneficial for both mother and baby. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule.

With a pregnancy comes a host of questions and concerns regarding health and wellbeing, both for mother and baby. Given the pressure and strain that a baby can place on a mother's musculoskeletal system while she is carrying, many expectant moms express concern regarding the safety of exercise, both during and immediately after pregnancy. Questions such as "is it safe?" or "how much is too much?" are common, and the answers aren't necessarily straightforward.

As a rule of thumb, however, the American Pregnancy Association explained that exercise during and after pregnancy is not only safe, but beneficial for both mother and baby. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. Excessive exercise during pregnancy could be potentially detrimental to the health of mother and baby under certain circumstances. It's important, therefore, for moms-to-be to consult their physician before moving forward with an exercise plan.

The guide below, however, offers a cursory overview of exercise throughout pregnancy, offering some helpful tips and important dos and don'ts:

During the pregnancy
The American Pregnancy Association elaborated that exercise during pregnancy is generally safe for mother and baby, especially if the mother in question was active before she became pregnant. Furthermore, in addition to the usual health benefits associated with exercise, an array of studies have indicated that light to moderate movement can help a mother experiencing symptoms of pregnancy-related discomfort. The APA detailed some of the most notable positive effects of pregnancy exercise: It improves posture, strengthens the muscles, reduces the chance of back aches and can help fight depression, to name just a few. Additionally, and perhaps most significantly, exercise during pregnancy can actually help prepare the mother for giving birth - a stronger body will more effectively be able to cope with the strain that labor can place on the musculoskeletal system. 

Exercise during pregnancy is particularly significant when one considers that women are also at a higher risk of leading a more sedentary lifestyle while pregnant, Rappler detailed. Without at least some light to moderate movement, pregnant women will see an increased chance of conditions such gestational diabetes and hypertensive disorders, both of which can lead to complicated births that might necessitate medical intervention.

Light exercise during pregnancy can be highly beneficial. Light exercise during pregnancy can be highly beneficial for both mother and baby. It can even prepare the mother for a smoother delivery.

Effective and safe pregnancy exercises
For healthy mothers, light to moderate exercise, depending on personal preference or ability, is recommended for up to half an hour a day, the APA outlined, but less exercise than that can still be beneficial. 

In terms of the types of exercise that are appropriate, the APA advised that low-impact, cardio-based activities are effective. Exercises such as light jogging, prenatal yoga, swimming, strength-training, modified Pilates and even stationary cycling are all relatively safe and effective, Rappler elaborated. The only obvious activities that should be avoided are high contact sports, such as football, or risky adventure sports such as rock climbing. Both kinds of activity present an increased risk of severe injury from falls or collisions - injuries such as musculoskeletal sprains and breaks and concussion. Any kind of chronic injury during a pregnancy can, quite conspicuously, place the baby in danger.

Falls are common during pregnancy
It should also be noted that a study from Medscape indicated that women are at a greater risk for experiencing a fall during pregnancy. Researchers surveyed 3,997 women and found that roughly 27 percent had experienced at least one fall while being pregnant. Furthermore, out of the 27 percent of women that had fallen, some 35 percent fell more than once. Perhaps most worrying, however, was the discovery that pregnant women between the ages of 20-24 were up to two times more likely to experience a fall than women in older age groups. Researchers on the survey conceded that it is unclear why women are at a greater risk for falls. Therefore, it's imperative that expectant mothers take extreme care while walking or engaging in even low impact sports, due to the increased risk of falling. 

Caution required in certain circumstances
As detailed above, light to moderate exercise is encouraged for most pregnant women. There are certain circumstances, however, under which exercise should be avoided, unless a physician says otherwise. According to Rappler, women expecting twins or triplets with a greater risk of premature labor should avoid exercise, as should women with chronic health complaints such as lung or heart disease, placenta previa and any pregnancy-related bleeding, especially in the third trimester. When in doubt, the most effective course of action it to consult a doctor or midwife. 

"Exercise can reduce postnatal depression by as much as 60%"

Exercise after giving birth
Rappler detailed that exercise can begin not long after giving birth, depending on the type of labor experienced. Women that have experienced a complicated birth will likely need longer to recover. For all women, a return to exercise must be gradual and it should be supervised by a physician. Overall, in most cases, there are no adverse complications associated with returning to exercise after pregnancy. Rather, as with light exercise during pregnancy, there are a number of benefits to be gained by returning to physical activity post-delivery. Benefits include a substantial reduction in postnatal depression - by as much as 60 percent - as well as weight loss. 

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