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Exercising During Pregnancy: Our Top Do’s and Don’ts

A hot topic of discussion for many moms to be is whether they should be doing any physical exercise during their pregnancy.

The general scientific consensus is that moderate physical activity throughout your pregnancy can be beneficial for both your body and mind, and can also reduce pregnancy complications. Pregnancy brings a range of weird and wonderful physical, physiological, and psychological changes to your body, and doing some physical activity can put you back in touch with your body during this beautiful time.

However, not all exercises are created equal when it comes to exercising during a low risk pregnancy. There are some that can help you improve your fitness, like squats and pelvic floor exercises, and some that can potentially be harmful.

So which should you do and which shouldn’t you do when pregnant?

We’ve put together a list of some of the most recommended physical activities while pregnant, along with some you should definitely avoid doing. Read on to find out more!

Woman doing kegel exercises during pregnancy

The Current Pregnancy Exercise Guidelines

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada’s (SOGC) Maternal Fetal Medicine and Guideline Management and Oversight Committees, along with the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP) recently released their revised recommendations for exercise during pregnancy. The new recommendations include:

  1. All women without contraindications should be physically active throughout pregnancy.
  2. Pregnant women should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week.
  3. Physical activity should be accumulated over a minimum of three days per week
  4. Pregnant women should incorporate a variety of aerobic exercise and resistance training activities to achieve greater benefits.
  5. Pelvic floor muscle training (e.g. Kegel exercises) may be performed on a daily basis to reduce the risk of urinary incontinence.
  6. Pregnant women who experience light-headedness, experience nausea, or feel unwell when they exercise flat on their back should modify their exercise position to avoid the supine position.

This is a significant update from previous recommendations that suggested pregnant women should aim more for light exercise than moderate, and the step up to at least 150 minutes reflects the importance of remaining active during pregnancy.

Exercises To Do When Pregnant

Firstly, let’s focus on the kinds of exercises that can be great options for an expectant mom.

Exercises during pregnancy focus on movements that activate muscles and get the heart rate elevated without putting too much strain on joints and ligaments. It is important to note that even though these exercises are considered relatively safe for any soon to be mom in a low risk pregnancy, you should still consult with your health care provider before engaging in any new exercise regime. They may have some feedback regarding intensity, duration, and frequency based off your own personal circumstances and health.

Walking

The easiest and lowest impact exercise for pregnant women is walking.

Walking combines light aerobic exercise with some lower body muscle activation which can help improve fitness and strength in the legs. Walking is also an ideal way to catch up with friends or to get some outdoor time during the warmer months. Feel free to take it as slow or as brisk as you feel comfortable with, just make sure you are wearing good walking shoes and are taking regular rest and rehydration breaks!

Swimming & Water Aerobics

Swimming and any kind of aquatic exercises is another ideal form of physical activity for pregnant women.

When pregnant, especially during the later trimesters, your balance and centre of gravity can change as your body shifts and grows to accommodate the little life growing inside you. This can make some activities harder or difficult to feel coordinated, which can be dangerous during pregnancy. Getting into the water can literally take a weight off your shoulders (or your belly, as it were!), allowing you to move more freely than you can on dry land.

Light to moderate swimming is a great way to get in some excellent aerobic exercise without impacting your joints. Aqua aerobics are another popular option for pregnant women looking to get in a workout, as they allow for greater balance and range of motion without worrying about too much strain. Care should be taken with any exercise that requires holding your breath for any length of time, as this could potentially affect blood flow to the fetus.

Stationary Biking

Hopping on the stationary bike can be a great way to get in a low impact workout when carrying your baby.

Due to the physical changes that occur during pregnancy, especially in the third trimester, many expectant moms find riding a normal bike challenging due to their bellies throwing off their balance. A stationary bike is a great alternative if you love putting the pedal to the metal. Ensure you are using a bike with a seat designed for women, as the narrower seats designed for men can discomfort and potential issues if sat on for too long.

Squats

Squats are one of the best exercises you can do for your lower body, and can be a good addition to your pregnancy workout.

Doing squats while pregnant is generally considered to be safe as long as you perform the right technique, do not exert yourself too hard, and take a rest when needed. In fact, doing squats while pregnant can be a great way to prepare for labour, as the downward motion can help open your pelvis, much like what will happen when giving birth. In addition, maintaining and even developing your glute muscles during pregnancy can really help to alleviate pregnancy-related low back and pelvic girdle pain.

Exercises To Avoid When Pregnant

Now that we know about what kinds of exercises are great for pregnant women, we need to discuss the ones that definitely aren’t.

While it may seem obvious, there are many kinds of exercises that are not suited to pregnancy and that can potentially cause significant harm if attempted. Again, these will depend on your personal circumstances and physical fitness level, but are generally recommended against when pregnant.

Hot Yoga

Any form of yoga that involves practicing in higher than average temperatures or humidity is typically recommended against during pregnancy.

Hot yoga is a highly popular variation of yoga that takes place in rooms that are heated to temperatures in the mid-30s and with high humidity. This supposedly allows for greater flexibility and detoxification through sweating, and is a favoured exercise among many. However, during pregnancy, performing any kind of exercise in an excessively hot or humid environment could be dangerous for both you and your baby. It is best to avoid these kinds of activities until after you have given birth to be safe.

Downhill Skiing

Downhill skiing, or any kind of activity that could pose a risk of traumatic falling, is also off the menu for moms to be.

A favourite pastime in colder climates like Canada, downhill skiing can be an exhilarating and enjoyable physical activity. However, the risk of falling or crashing is ever present when racing down ski slopes, and this can be too great a risk to take when pregnant. If you really want to get out in the snow, we would recommend snowshoeing or flat cross country skiing, as these have a lower chance of falling.

Horizontal exercises

Most exercises that require you to be horizontal may not be ideal for some women when pregnant.

After your first trimester, any exercises that require you to lie on your back, such as some abdominal exercises, yoga poses, or calisthenics, may increase the risk of hypotension from vena cava compression by the uterus. This does not affect all women, and if you do not experience any lightheadedness, nausea, or tingling in your legs, then feel free to continue performing exercises in the supine position.

Additionally, and perhaps somewhat obviously, any exercise that requires you to lie on your stomach is not recommended. This can add pressure to your uterus and increase the risk of trauma or complications.

That concludes our list of exercises do’s and don’ts for expectant moms! Are you looking for some professional help in deciding what exercises and nutrition you should be following during your pregnancy? West End Mamas is one of the leading prenatal support services in Toronto, offering a range of services including pelvic floor physiotherapy, nutritional support, doula services, and more. Contact us today and let us help you on your journey to motherhood!

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