Both before and during pregnancy, exercise is essential. Before pregnancy, it ensures that your body is fit enough to carry a healthy baby. Once pregnant, it strengthens muscles to protect your joints and spine, which tend to slacken prior to labor and hurt when over-used. Specific exercises, when combined with breathing and relaxation techniques, help conserve energy in labor, while others prepare you for delivery.
Walking is an ideal exercise which can be practiced throughout your pregnancy term. It helps you to keep fit by keeping you supple and even giving your heart a proper workout without jarring your knees and ankles or causing any physical stress to you or your baby. It even assists you to release tranquilizing chemicals, thereby helping you to relax and soothe away tensions and anxiety by oxygenating your body well and even toning your muscles in preparation for labor and child birth. A brisk walk is considered safe throughout pregnancy and can be built into your everyday routine. But remember to walk on a smooth surface, and not on an uneven pathway where there might be risks of tipping over or falling down.
Jogging and running
One of the most effective and quickest methods of working out is by jogging and running slowly everyday. You do not necessarily have to indulge in vigorous running which might lead to breathlessness, but a slow comfortable jog is advisable to avoid aches and pains which invariably come with your changing posture. You can adjust your jogging and running routine as per your timetable and routine without making it too taxing for you. However, if you have never indulged in a run or jog before, do not begin now. Pregnancy is not the time to start off and experiment with new adventures. It’s best to stick to gentle exercises if you haven’t been an active person in the past. Also, try to build up your resistance slowly day by day. Do not overdo it in a single day which may put unnecessary pressure on you and your little one.
Doctors recommend swimming as the best and safest form of exercise during pregnancy as it helps to tone both large muscle groups like arms and legs and even works on other specific organs like your heart and lungs. With your increasing weight and bump, you will enjoy feeling weightless like a feather in water. You can even opt to enroll yourself in an aqua-natal class where you can indulge in group activities with others. Exercising while standing erect in water can prove to be quite gentle on your joints and will support your bump more comfortably, with ease. Moreover, swimming can prove to be a boon in easing off swelling in legs which are a common feature during the later stages of pregnancy.
With its emphasis on muscular control of the body, breathing, relaxation and tranquility of mind, yoga is an excellent method to use as a preparation for pregnancy. However, yoga is a philosophy which pervades the whole of life and, though special exercises for pregnancy exist, they are only a small part of the system. If you are already a staunch follower or have made the effort to get familiar with yoga-based exercises prior to your pregnancy, yoga can be quite beneficial in increasing your sense of well-being. Yoga exercises are comparable with some of those taught in antenatal classes but the types of breathing used are different. It is believed that these breathing techniques help to raise the pain threshold.
Pilates are a series of exercises which strengthen your tummy and the pelvic floor muscles, a hammock of muscles that support the bowel, bladder and womb. During pregnancy, the muscles go soft and stretchy, and this, together with the weight of the baby pushing down, weakens them, making you feel heavy and uncomfortable. It is very essential to strengthen the pelvic floor to avoid problems in the later stages of your pregnancy. You should practice this exercise at least three to four times a day, anytime, anywhere, lying down, sitting or standing. It will prove very helpful to you especially in the second stage of labor, when knowing how to relax the muscles can reduce the risk of a tear, by easing the passage of the baby through the pelvis. It is best to take advice from your Pilates teacher who can guide you on your posture and teach you the technique of holding your body in position.
Tailor sitting strengthens the back and makes your thighs and pelvis more flexible. It will also improve the blood flow in the lower part of the body, and will encourage your legs to flop apart during labor and delivery. The main position is to sit with your back straight with the soles of your feet together and your heels close to your body. Grasp your ankles, and press your thighs down with your elbows. Hold them there for about 20 seconds. Try doing this several times. If you find tailor sitting difficult, you can even put cushions under each thigh or sit against a wall for support. Remember to keep your back straight. However, do not push yourself beyond your own limits or exhaust yourself. If you feel any pain any time, just stop.
Squatting makes your pelvic joints more flexible, and strengthens the back and thigh muscles. It can also protect your back if you squat down instead of bending over, and is comfortable if you experience backache. Squatting is also a good position to take up during labor. If you find it difficult to do a full squat at first, try holding on to a firm support such as a chair or window ledge, and place a rolled-up rug or blanket under your heels. When getting up, do it slowly and cautiously as you may feel a bit dizzy. It is advisable to practice squatting while picking up an object, taking something from a low drawer or if there is no chair around to sit.
Twisting and bending
Pregnancy hormones have a tendency of softening your ligaments in preparation for the birth, which unfortunately end up in increasing your susceptibility to strains and backache. Twisting and bending exercises prove to be very helpful in strengthening key muscles, as well as in loosening up the pelvis in preparation for the birth. Getting down on all fours is an excellent way to ease backache, especially if you combine it with a few pelvic tilts like spinal twists, forward bends and pelvic tucks as well. However, while doing these exercise, always remember to stretch and bend as much as you can comfortably, without straining yourself.
Weight training should be included in your daily exercise regime as you will now need to ease off on the heavier weights due to pregnancy. If done carefully, light weight training is a great method to tone and strengthen your body muscles. Remember not to work too hard which might result in overheating yourself. Instead, gradually slow down your routine towards the end of your pregnancy term.
Relaxation and breathing
Relaxation and breathing exercises are among the most beneficial that you can learn and practice during pregnancy. They are invaluable during labor, when having a knowledge of how to breathe properly and relax the muscles of your body can help you in coping and coming to terms with painful contractions and also in conserving vital energy. You must practice these exercises on a regular basis so that they become a natural response during labor. Relaxation will also help you unwind any time you feel tense or anxious.
To start off, at first it’s best to carry out these relaxation and breathing exercises in a warm room where you are not disturbed. Later you would find it easy to relax anywhere. Learn to relax your body in different postures by tilting your head from side to side, screwing up eyes by opening and closing them, pulling in and relaxing your stomach muscles, tightening your thigh muscles and then releasing the tension and so on. Similarly, practice the different levels of breathing as controlled breathing will help you to remain relaxed and calm during labor and can even control your body during contractions.
Cycling and dancing
Cycling is a good exercise, but it cannot be continued till the end of your pregnancy. You will have to stop it once your abdomen gets so large that it starts to affect your center of gravity, as you might lose your balance. As for dancing, as long as you’re not too energetic, you can dance throughout pregnancy. It is a good way to practice pelvic tilts. Dancing can get your heart pumping as you opt to shake a leg to your favorite tunes in the comfort and privacy of your own home. Remember not to get carried away though! Avoid leaping, jumping, twirling or changing direction suddenly at any cost. Signing up for a class for pregnant women can prove to be beneficial in letting yourself becoming immersed in music, staying fit and even making friends with others.