Congratulations if you are pregnant, currently parenting or planning to become pregnant! If it is your first time around you will discover that there is nothing to truly prepare you emotionally and physically for the changes you will be experiencing. Staying physically active and fit is the very best way to give yourself a sense of control, increased energy and the ability to cope with hormonal and physical changes. Are you ready for your body’s biggest roller coaster ride?
The main elements of pre and postnatal exercise are cardio conditioning, strength, flexibility and relaxation. It is optimal to incorporate all four components in your exercise routine at least three times a week and in this given order. Cardio and strength training brings blood to your muscles, increases your core temperature and makes stretching safer and more effective. If you are new to cardiovascular conditioning be sure to start slowly. Non-weight bearing activities such as cycling or swimming are good places to start. Be sure to slow down or stop if you are feeling exhausted. During pregnancy there is less oxygen available for muscles – especially if you are low on iron (anemic). Non-weight bearing activities will also feel good, no matter what your fitness level, when you reach your third trimester. After delivery gradually resume your cardio workouts. It won’t be long before you will be running after your little one.
Strength and endurance exercises should focus on core musculature first and then work out. Strong core muscles will help to stabilize your spine as your baby belly pulls your body out of balance. Beware that your center of gravity will be changing and you might truly lose your balance. Strong core muscles will also help your body deal with the challenge of labor and delivery and will help to get you back into your skinny jeans faster after delivery. Strengthening legs will help your body’s circulation and keep swelling to a minimum. Shoulder girdle and arm exercises will prepare you for carrying diaper bags and car seats.
Flexibility is always a challenge if you are starting as an adult. Don’t worry if you weren’t a gymnast or dancer in your youth. Pregnancy is a great time to start SLOWLY to “get a leg up” on flexibility. During pregnancy hormones help to relax ligaments. The primary reason is so your pelvis can widen in preparation for delivery. The secondary benefit is that all of your body can become more supple. Beware of over doing it though. Joints won’t have the stability that they have been used to.
Relaxation is as important as any of the other major components of fitness. Learning to calm your body and mind will be an essential technique for dealing with the stress and anxiety of pregnancy and parenting. Yoga and Pilates are both excellent mind/body connecting techniques. In these classes you will be strengthening, stretching and focusing on you. Meditation can also help to relax, rejuvenate and prepare you for delivery. Breathing techniques will increase oxygen levels, relax muscles and help with sleeplessness. Listening to calming music in a quiet, comfortable place is also beneficial.
Remember that exercising, stretching or relaxing in a supine position (on your back) will decrease cardiac output. Check with your doctor about any other contraindications and concerns.
Commit to taking care of yourself and your baby during pregnancy and beyond. There are many specialized pre and postnatal exercise programs available in communities of any size that range from groups to one-on-one training. If you find that you don’t have the time, money or inclination to go this route, there are excellent fitness DVDs worth checking out. You can literally check them out through online lending libraries. You won’t be pregnant forever so why buy the DVDs and have them forever. And with large selections to choose from you will never get bored. Fitness DVD rentals are also life savers when children are young. You can sneak your cardio/strength/stretch/relaxing regime in during nap time. There are also titles that are specifically for “mommy and me” exercise. It is never too early to take care of yourself and set a good example for your children. Staying physically fit helps all of your body’s systems work optimally keeping you healthy and happy.
Best wishes on your healthy body and baby.