Breaking Myths – How Exercise can Benefit You during Pregnancy
The Call for Motherhood
I imagine it is different for every woman, but I wonder who has clear expectations from motherhood. Having your dreams and goals in life. Living abroad far away from inlaws in a country where you don’t quite master the language yet. But having someone by your side that rocks your world. Would now be a good time to have kids?
If you would have asked me when I turned 25 what I enjoyed most in life, I would have said freedom. Because, let’s face it, when you are living by yourself in our Western society, the only person that you have to take care of, is yourself. You might be in the middle of your work career and feel that starting your own family is not necessarily the next thing on your to-do list. However, having lived in China for 8 year, I witnessed very different values and expectations.
Why do we enjoy having our own income and the possibility to make plans as we want them to be? Think: weekend trips with friends, late night dinner and drinks, traveling to the other side of the world, or paying for an expensive triathlon coach. No need to hold back if you want to spontaneously go for a bike ride around Como Lake; just pack the car and off you go!
Giving up a Piece of Yourself
For many women that are becoming a mom, having kids means they are giving up a little piece of themselves. This may sound a bit strange, but I think in most cases it is probably true. Of course, your partner can be of great support here, even though you will be the one that has to carry and deliver the baby. What if you are an active woman that enjoys staying fit? How are you going to deal with this new adventure mentally and physically?
So, here’s the bottom line of what I am trying to say: maybe it becomes a little more difficult to organize your life, but there are lots of ways to stay happy and healthy. In the rest of this post, I am going to explain a couple of points that are frequently causing confusion with regards to exercise and pregnancy. Cause when you’re pregnant, I think I can say that the health of your little one becomes more important than your own.
Physical and Mental Changes during Pregnancy
Your body will change during pregnancy, your hormone levels will rise and do all kinds of funky things to both your physical and mental health. You might feel so happy one moment and completely opposite the minute later. And maybe you’ll feel fit, energetic, full of motivation to start preparing the baby room. However, probably you also have times when you don’t have that energy and you just need to figure out this new reality.
Your life as you knew it is making room for uncertainty and unfortunately, some sleepless nights, most likely. Let me tell you this: it’s so normal! Some changes that you may experience:
- Higher heart rate and blood volume: your heart will be working 30 to 50 times harder
- Higher blood oxygen levels: some women feel out of breath more easily and will need to top-up their energy levels faster due to an increase metabolic rate than before their pregnancy
- Higher body temperature and the risk of dehydration: your body is working harder to cool itself
- Sensory changes: food may taste and smell different
- Changes to your eyes, hair, breasts, nails and skin
- Hormonal changes: increased estrogen (can cause nausea in the first trimester) and progesterone (loosening up joints and ligaments to prepare your body for giving birth)
That’s a lot going on in your body and mind…
How Fitness and Yoga can help you Enjoy Pregnancy
As they say; every pregnancy is different! So I cannot speak for anyone else except myself. For me it was relaxing and meditative to go for a run, a bike ride or a swim. Those were moments that I could feel strong, beautiful, and fearless. Besides this, I started doing pre-natal (online) yoga classes with Kalila Community in Milan. You can find more of what a class looks like on their YouTube channel.
I found it to be very relaxing and giving me some much-needed time for myself and the person growing inside of me. Those moments were there to create some head space and increase my (already) not so flexible limbs. I also did a preparatory birth course with Kalila that I found very useful.
Keeping up Healthy Active Habits
In general, staying active during pregnancy is a healthy habit. The meaning of “active” means something different for every woman. It could be going for a walk, running some laps in your local park, swimming, cycling or even doing some strength training. It really depends on your fitness level before pregnancy.
When you are used to train about 15 hours a week for triathlons like myself, then it’s also not a good idea to suddenly stop all sports activities suddenly. Better to gradually take a step back and ease down your workout routines. Always be gracious and soft to yourself during this special time in your life. Insider tip: cut down on your intensity and length but keep moving. Swimming is a great option!
Prenatal Exercise Do’s and Don’ts
Below I have listed some questions I had myself when I was pregnant with regards to exercise. I hope it can be useful for other new moms as well in their own journey towards motherhood.
Is it safe to exercise during pregnancy?
If you are healthy and your pregnancy is normal, it is safe to continue or start regular physical activity. However, it is important to discuss this with your obstetrician or doctor as well.
How can regular exercise benefit you and your baby?
- If you are suffering from back pain, this is a great way to find some relief
- Less constipation
- Less risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and caesarean delivery
- More healthy weight gain during pregnancy
- Better overall fitness and stronger heart and blood vessels
- Easier to lose baby weight after birth
How much should I exercise during pregnancy?
Ideally, when you are pregnant, you should try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week. Aerobic means “with air” and is referring to the increased amount of oxygen coming into your blood cells when raising your heart rate. During moderate-intensity, you still can talk normally but will start sweating.
Examples of moderate-intensity aerobic activity include brisk walking and gardening (!). You can divide these 150 minutes into 30-minute workouts over the week or into smaller 10-minute workouts throughout each day. If you are new to exercise, begin with as little as 5 minutes a day. Add 5 minutes each week until you can stay active for 30 minutes a day.
Which sports are safe during pregnancy?
- Brisk) Walking— works as a total body workout, easy on the joints and muscles.
- Swimming and water workouts— use many muscles and the water supports your weight so you avoid injury and muscle strains.
- Stationary bicycling—keeps you fit and balanced (even with a big belly) without the risk of falling.
- Modified yoga, stretching and fitness —reduce stress, improve flexibility, and encourage stretching and breathing. Prenatal yoga, fitness and stretching classes designed for pregnant women teach modified poses that accommodate your shifting balance and avoid inclined poses for long periods. Here’s a little teaser of what to expect if you do a prenatal fitness, stretching and yoga class online with me.
If you are an experienced runner, you may be able to keep doing these activities during pregnancy. Best to discuss this first with your doctor.
Stay tuned to read more in the next post about giving birth in unexpected circumstances, dealing with post-natal mental meltdowns and staying fit!