GUIDELINES FOR PRE & POST NATAL MOTHERS
It has now been proven beyond doubt that safe and well-managed exercise in the pre and post natal period is highly beneficial to both mother and baby, providing your pregnancy is a normal one you are able to train throughout the whole 9 months.
In this ‘blog’ I am going to cover the benefits of exercising throughout your pregnancy, any contradications and some guidelines to follow throughout each stage.
This phase will be different for every woman and below are guidelines on what to do and expect providing you are experiencing a normal pregnancy and your doctors has given consent in taking part in exercise.
If you have always been active including lifting weights and cardio, then your goals throughout your pregnancy should be to maintain strength and endurance and focus on your posture technique.
If you are just starting out on your exercise journey, it is recommended that during this time your focus is to learn correct technique and awareness when it comes to lifting weights and focus on improving your posture.
Some of the benefits of Pre-Natal Exercise:
- Staying active during pregnancy will help keep your body stronger and more supple. You will have fewer problems with your joints, tendons, intestines, stomach and circulation.
- Exercise will help prevent constipation, which is commonly experienced during pregnancy.
- Exercise will make it easier for you to avoid gaining more weight than the average 10-12kg (22-26lb).
- Childbirth is often physically demanding, requiring a lot of energy to push out a baby – particularly if this is your first child or there have been several years between births. This is why it’s a good idea to keep in shape during pregnancy.
Basic Points prior to taking on exercise:
- Always exercise in well ventilated air conditioned
- Avoid getting up too quick and learn ways to get up safely before getting heavily pregnant.
- Work from a stable base
- Ensure you have a water bottle and a snack to eat after you finish.
- Wear a bra with extra support
- Loose comfortable clothing and good footwear.
- Use the heart rate guidelines but only if you’re comfortable – “Mother knows best”
- Avoid over heating.
- Avoid high impact or contact sports
Now lets take a look at some of the main points to consider throughout each trimester.
First Trimester (0-12 weeks)
In the early stages of pregnancy there is a release of hormones that induce a relaxation of blood vessels. As a result, these vessels become more elastic and expand; however, the blood volume lags behind this increase in vascular volume. The inevitability results in a fall in blood pressure and a decrease in the amount of blood moving in and out of the heart. This shortfall in blood volume creates symptoms such as – waves of sudden fatigue, racing pulse, nausea, sweating and dizziness. This is why many women suffer from ‘morning sickness’
Throughout your pregnancy, It is very common to suffer from lower back pain. This can be due to several reasons – Your centre of gravity shifts as your uterus expands which then stretches out and weakens your abdominal muscles. This changes your posture putting strain on your back.
The hormone relaxin is released into the body, this loosens your joints and ligaments and bones that attach your pelvic to your spine resulting in a feeling of being unstable and causing pain when you walk, stand or sit for too long or roll over in bed. This helps prepare your body for childbirth.
As your pregnancy develops, the extra weight also contributes to more stress on your joints which can explain why after a long day your back may feel worse.
- Cardio – 15-30mins cardio, higher end of heart range, as long as comfortable. (see table below)
- Due to changes in blood pressure ensure you are careful getting up and down.
- Train to offset future postural adaptations by strengthening core, obliques, posterior chain muscles
- Static stretching should be applied to areas such as hip flexors, upper traps, lats and lower back.
- Focus on breathing – avoid holding the breath
- Abdominal exercises are ok to do during the first trimester.
- When lifting weights, avoid working till failure and depending how you are feeling 12-15 reps or 15-20 reps.
Second Trimester: (13-26 weeks)
During your second trimester you should start to feel more energetic as nauseasness eases as the body triggers the release of more hormones resulting in increased water volume which increases your blood volume.
As the pregnancy develops and the child grows, hormonal and biomechanical factors contribute to decreased muscle tone and stretching of the abdominals, which can often cause a splitting of the fascia between the rectus abdominal muscles. This is known as Diastasis Recti. This is also another factor that can cause lower back pain. Diastasis Recti is however very common and the abdominals may regain tone and position depending on your previous condition post childbirth.
- As your body changes shape, this could dictate what equipment can be used.
- Ensure you are using a stable base as balance may deteriorate.
- Ensure no Prone or Supine work is carried out. Lying still on your back after the first trimester is to be avoided as the weight of the enlarged womb compresses the inferior vena cava. This can result in dizziness are reduced oxygen delivery to the foetus.
- Again heart rate should be around the upper ranges providing you are comfortable. (see table below)
- Stretching should be moderate and dynamic. Apply static stretches to areas mentioned above.
- Aim for muscular endurance 15-20 reps and not working till failure
Third Trimester: (27 – 40 weeks)
During the third trimester another symptom felt as the baby grows is a shortness of breath. This is due to your expanding uterus expanding up against your diaphragm. In fact your diaphragm is moved up about 4cm from its normal pre- pregnancy position. Although each breath may bring in less air, the respiratory centre in the brain is stimulated by progesterone at this time in your pregnancy to allow the air sitting in the lungs to remain there longer so that you are able to better extract oxygen from each breath.
Also common in pregnancy is suffering from Edema or swelling of the ankles and feet. As your body fluids increase, some of the fluid pools in the parts of the body most affected by gravity. Movement can help relieve some of this pooling effect as skeletal movement pumps the lymphatic system helping to drain this fluid. Also wearing compression tights and reducing salt intake can help. Please do speak to your doctor tho if you have high blood pressure as this can be a sign of pre eclampsia.
Frequent toilet stops are also noticeable in your third trimester as your body produces more urine. This is due to your kidneys having to deal with the extra waste from both increased circulation and also the waste being removed from the womb.
- Ensure you are participating in low impact exercise at the lower end of your heart rate zones.
- Ideally 15-20mins 3 x week.
- Again avoid lying on your back.
- Avoid lifting weights over the head exercises as this can strain your back.
- More rest between sets
- Adapt the exercises to suit you.
- Aim for muscular endurance 15-20 reps and not working till failure.
- It is very beneficial to the mother and baby to focus even more on breathing exercises due to the feeling of shortness of breath.
Heart Rate Chart Guidelines:
These guidelines are not to be exceeded.
If you are feeling very hot or dizzy, please stop and in future reduce the intensity. “Mother knows best”.
Heart Beats per Minute
Under 20 years old
20-29 years old
135 – 150bpm
30-39 years old
130 – 145bpm
125 – 140bpm
It is recommended that you do not return to full daily activities until 6 weeks after birth (12 weeks after a caesarean section). Your doctor will usually tell you when it is safe for you to train, if not, its best to check.
The Benefits of Post-Natal exercise are numerous and providing you are allowed to by your GP it is highly recommended you try and find the time even just 30 mins 3-4x week to help you:
- Improve posture
- Increase muscular endurance
- Increase stamina
- Increase energy
- Increase metabolic rate
- Increase weight loss – help return to pre-pregnancy state
- Increase self confidence
- Reduced anxiety
- It is vital that if you are breast-feeding and exercising you pay more attention to your hydration levels, as both are big fluid drains, therefore it must be a priority.
- The hormone relaxin can be present for as long as you are breast-feeding therefore maintenance stretching is recommended and stretching to increase flexibility should be avoided for 16-20 weeks.
- Avoid resistance training to failure; carry on with muscular endurance work (15-20 reps)
- Avoid any high impact activities for the first few months.
There are more guidelines and conditions that occur during pregnancy. If you have any queries, are pregnant or returning to exercise (CONGRATULATIONS!) please get in touch with us to see how our expertise and knowledge in this department will help.