Advantages of Antenatal Exercise:
- Reduce back pain
- Prevent excessive weight gain
- Make labour easier and help you recover faster after childbirth.
- Reduces morning sickness.
- Reduces insomnia, anxiety and stress.
- Reduces other pregnancy-related complaints, eg: fatigue, leg cramps, oedema of extremities, etc.
- Improves muscle strength.
- Improves core stability.
- Maintains muscle length and flexibility.
- Improves glycemic control
- Improves posture.
- Enhances relaxation.
- Prepares for physical demands of labour
But how much exercise is enough? And how do you exercise when you’re pregnant?
There’s no perfect answer for how much a pregnant woman should exercise. Antenatal exercises depend on an individual’s pre-pregnancy level of fitness. But on an average, women should walk for 30-45 minutes every day and do 20-30 minutes of specifically designed antenatal exercises.”
Antenatal Exercises – How to Get Started
If exercising has always been a part of your life, then you should be able to continue working out with some modifications so long as you have a healthy and normal pregnancy.
If you’re just beginning your physical activity, start slowly. Depending on how you feel, you can begin with a 15-minute walk and gradually work your way up to 45
minutes every day.
Pregnancy Exercises for Normal Delivery
- Walking for 30-45 minutes is one of the safest exercises for pregnant women because of it is low impact.
- An exercise slot does not need to be lengthy. Women can, for example, exercise five times a week for 30 minutes or 10 times a week for 15 minutes.
- Make sure you wear comfortable shoes and loose-fitting clothes for easy movement.
- Walk at a conversational pace –aim to walk briskly but at a level that you can still comfortably talk to someone next to you.
- Try swimming or water aerobics if you have access to a pool; water exercises will help relieve the pressure on your back.
- You can also sign up for an antenatal class that will help you stay flexible and reduce stress through various poses and breathing exercises.
- Each of these antenatal exercises is safe to do in every trimester. You should confirm with your doctor beforehand if you have any medical condition such as a chronic backache, hemodynamically significant heart disease, restrictive lung disease, incompetent cervix/cerclage, multiple gestation at risk for premature labor, persistent second or third-trimester bleeding, placenta previa after 26 weeks of gestation etc.
Exercises should be performed under supervision
- The body needs more oxygen and energy during pregnancy.
- The hormone relaxin, which the body produces more of during pregnancy, causes the ligaments that support the joints to stretch, increasing the risk of injury.
- Weight changes affect the center of gravity, putting extra strain on the joints and muscles in the lower back and pelvis and increasing the chance of losing balance.
How to do this exercise:
- Stand straight and move your feet so they are shoulder-width apart.
- Hold your arms straight out in front of your body to steady yourself if you don’t have weights.
- Lower yourself into a squat position. Move down only as much as you can while maintaining a straight back and putting the weight in your heels.
- Make sure your knees aren’t bending too much. They should be behind or in line with your toes.
- Go back to the starting position, squeezing your glutes on the way up.
- You may also do this exercise by holding onto a chair or your husband/ birth partner.
Squats help in many ways:
- Increasing strength of pelvic floor muscles.
- Preventing back and pelvic pain.
- Helping the baby to descend down into the pelvis during labour
It is always better to learn exercises with the guidance of a physiotherapist who specialize in pregnancy exercises.
2: Butterfly Exercise or Purna Titli Asana
How to do the exercise:
- Sit on the floor with your back straight. Stretch out your legs in front of you and then straighten them.
- Slowly bend your knees and bring your feet towards your pelvis.
- Bring the soles of your feet together and move them as close to your groin as you can.
- Make sure your knees point in opposite directions while your feet are held together.
- Move your knees up and then slowly press your knees towards the floor. Press slowly. Take your knees as low as they can go. Don’t pressure yourself if they’re not going all the way down.
- Move your knees up and then press them gently down again. Repeat as many times as is comfortable for you.
This is one of the simplest antenatal exercises and helps by:
- Strengthening pelvic muscles
- Stretching areas in inner thigh and opening up the hip during pregnancy, which aids in delivery
- Helping regulate bowel movements
3: Cat and Camel Exercise
How to do the exercise:
- Bend down until you are on your hands and knees on the floor. Let your head relax and allow it to droop.
- Move your back upwards and toward the ceiling. Doing this should stretch your upper, middle, and lower back.
- When you feel the stretch, hold it for as long as you can. Otherwise, 15 to 30 seconds should be enough.
- Go back to the starting position and flatten your back while you are on all fours.
- Lower your stomach toward the floor. Allow your back to swing slightly.
- Raise your buttocks toward the ceiling.
This exercise during pregnancy helps:
- Improve posture and balance
- Stretch hip, abdomen and back
- Tone up abdominal muscles in a safe manner
4: Bridging Exercise
How to do this exercise:
- Lie down on your back
- Bend your knees and position them a few inches away from your buttocks
- Push into your feet and squeeze your glutes (buttock muscles) until your buttock is raised off the ground
- Try to hold this position for as long as you can, without tiring yourself, and then go back to the original position
Bridging exercise helps:
- Tone quadriceps, hamstrings, abdominals and buttocks
- Strengthen hips and pelvis which helps with a normal delivery
Finally, you should also practice breathing exercises. Doing these in labour will help you keep calm by taking your mind off the pain of labour.
5: Breathing Exercise
How to do the exercise:
- Sit down with your back straight.
- Place your left hand on the belly and right hand on your chest or vice versa.
- Breath in through your nose. As you breath in, the abdomen will push your hand up.
- Your chest should be still during this process.
- Now slowly breath out through your mouth.
- Your belly should deflate while you exhale.
Breathing exercises in the antenatal period and during active labour help you to:
- Stay calm and de-stress
- Better manage your contractions and labour pain
- Fulfill the additional need of oxygen during pregnancy. Deep breathing exercises provide you more oxygen which provide relief from joint and muscle pain.
Precautions During Exercise
- Keep yourself hydrated throughout the day. If the taste of water makes you feel nauseous, try lemonade or coconut water instead.
- If you feel exhausted, dizzy or experience pain, bleeding or cramps at any time during your workouts, you should stop immediately and call your doctor.
- Exercises should be performed under supervision
- Avoid supine lying more than 5 minutes after 3 months of gestation.
- Do not hold your breath (Valsalva’s maneuver)
- Do not change positions quickly.
- Stay hydrated at all times (before, during and after workouts).
- Follow proper warm-up and cool-down process.
- Ensure bladder emptying before workouts.
- Avoid exercises which demands higher balancing and different groups of muscles.
Exercise helps you cope better with the aches and pains of pregnancy and builds the stamina you will need during labour – make sure you don’t neglect it!