Thought your pregnancy was the perfect excuse for becoming a couch potato? Think again (sorry ladies!): the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recommends that expectant mothers exercise from conception through to delivery so long as there is no obstetric contraindication. So why is exercise so good for you when you’re expecting?
Well for starters, exercise causes the release of endorphins, which puts you in a good mood, an important benefit given that expecting mothers are at higher risk of depression and anxiety. Besides improving your mood, exercise also helps to manage that pesky maternity weight gain. It can also help to reduce the likelihood of complications during delivery. Expectant mothers who exercise regularly are more likely to have vaginal deliveries, to recover faster afterwards, and less likely to deliver overweight babies (over nine pounds at birth). And, regular exercise has also been shown to help improve sleep quality (as long as you don’t exercise too late in the day). Lastly, appropriate exercise along with adequate rest and hydration can also reduce constipation, leg swelling and backaches, all possible not-so-great side effects that come with being pregnant.
Despite all this good stuff re: exercise, you might still wonder what specifically you should or shouldn’t be doing, or how your changing body might react in unexpected ways. We asked obstetrician Dr. Zara Chan 陳駱靈岫, who recently had a baby of her own, to debunk some myths about exercising while expecting:
# 1 – It’s not safe to do abdominal exercises during pregnancy.
Myth. Expectant mothers can and should do appropriate abdominal strengthening exercises, which can help to reduce backaches. Abdominal exercises don’t pose a risk to the unborn baby, but excessive weight lifting and exercises like crunches can increase your risk of diastasis recti (when the ligament between the ab muscles stretches almost irreversibly). This is a big reason some mothers can’t regain their flat tummies after pregnancy despite toning the rest of their body.
#2 – Shortness of breath means that I am exercising too hard.
Fact. As a general rule, you should be able to hold a conversation whilst exercising during pregnancy. Women who had a regular, high impact exercise routine prior to conception may be able to keep up their usual exercise level, but it is advised to check with your doctor first. Women who don’t exercise regularly should start a gentle routine during pregnancy.
#3 – Pregnancy can make you more prone to certain sports injuries.
Fact. Your ligaments are softer and more relaxed during pregnancy due to a hormone called relaxin. Your bigger belly is more prone to direct contact injury and makes balance tricky. Exercises such as ballistic stretching and aerobic step classes should be avoided. Contact sports and sports with high risk of falls should also be avoided.
#4 – I have never exercised before so now is NOT the time to start
Myth. Pregnancy is a great time to develop an exercise routine! Start gently with 15 minutes a day and work your way up from there. Walking, swimming, and pregnancy appropriate Yoga or Pilates are great ways to start.
The bottom line is this: prenatal exercise is (still) a good thing, so get out there and have fun! Do talk to your doctors about any specific sports or movements you might be concerned about. And remember: while many women will find they are easily fatigued in the first trimester, energy levels usually pick up by the second trimester, so go dancing with the girls (maybe in flats), join a prenatal class at your favorite gym, or simply go for a long walk and discover some of the hidden gems Hong Kong has to offer.
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