Pregnancy puts a great deal of stress on the body, but there are ways to prepare for the best possible pregnancy in advance. Exercise is one of those pre-conception preparations that should be strongly considered.
Experts advise women considering pregnancy to get a complete physical and check with their doctor(s) regarding their planned fitness regime. The suggested timeframe is within two to six months before conception, though, the earlier the better. Why?
- Exercise releases endorphins which seriously uplifts ones mood.
- Exercise strengthens the body which will help decrease back pain as the pregnancy weight creeps onto the body frame.
- It improves cardiovascular health which is very important, especially in the latter stages of pregnancy when it is easy to get winded simply from walking.
- Exercise before and during pregnancy helps decrease postpartum tummy at a quicker rate.
- Some studies have shown that exercise during pregnancy promotes growth of the placenta which increases the amount of nutrients and oxygen delivered to the baby.
- Exercise improves the quality of sleep - which is very important during pregnancy when sleep is typically illusive.
- Regular exercise helps decrease stress levels and tension, for a much happier mom and more relaxed baby.
- Exercise increases energy levels at a time when fatigue seems to be commonplace.
According the expert Billy Johnson, MD author of Prescription for Healthy Weight Loss and Optimum Health, the goal for preconception pregnancy readiness is to find the appropriate body fat percentage for your age and achieve it. Preconception, exercise routines of approximately 60 minutes are recommended. A routine that incorporates movement/strength training (like cycling, weights, or walking), with flexibility (stretching, yoga or a little belly-dancing) will provide a nice balance. If new to exercise, start slowly, say at 10 or 20 minutes and work up to 60 minutes of activity. It need not take place during one session. 10 minutes six times a day still equals 60 minutes of activity.
During pregnancy the expanding uterus does affect the way a body reacts while exercising. In addition to the sense of balance (or lack thereof) issue, pregnant women also experience a shortness of breath because the uterus expands upward and compresses the diaphragm. Thus, exercises that require strenuous activity and large amounts of oxygen will become difficult. During the second and in particular the third trimester when lying flat on the back, the weight of the uterus can restrict the blood flow to the heart from the legs, which can cause dizziness. Therefore, any exercise which increases the risk of these types of situations should be avoided.
Remember, there are many exercises that can be performed before, during and after pregnancy. This can occur as they are, or may require a bit of tweaking to make them comfortable for mom and her changing body. Some great exercises are those that are not jarring, do not require sudden movements, and will not make a woman short of breath. Some great exercises are swimming (which is fantastic while pregnant due too buoyancy), cycling (though a stationary bike would probably be safer than a bicycle), weight lifting (with lighter weights - taking care not to lie on back) and brisk walking (as fast as can be tolerated without getting overly winded.)
Note: Although an okay is given for pre-conception exercise, not all pregnant women should exercise. Check with your doctor during each visit to make sure your exercise routine is within the acceptable range for your stage and state of pregnancy. Women with the following conditions should only exercise with permission from a health care provider:
- Heart disease
- Preeclampsia (high blood pressure due to pregnancy)
- High blood pressure, thyroid problems,
- A history of seizures
- Obstetrical complications
- Carrying multiple fetuses
- Vaginal bleeding
- Incompetent cervix or diabetes
After pregnancy, moms may be chomping at the bit to get back to their routine, but no exercise should be performed prior to their health care provider's stamp of approval. Six weeks after delivery is when moms are typically allowed to resume exercise, but each situation is unique. Postpartum, moms should begin slowly, avoid any exercises that cause pain, and should do fewer repetitions. Pregnancy throws the entire body into chaos and it takes time for its affects to wear off. In a 1999 study published in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic and Neonatal Nursing, it was found that moms who began exercising six weeks after delivery adjusted to motherhood much quicker.
The benefits of exercise pre, during and post pregnancy are numerous. Not only can introducing physical fitness aid in conception, but it can make for a healthier happier pregnancy, and provide a wonderful beginning to the role of motherhood.
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