Is prenatal activity OK? Yes; in fact, it’s recommended. Barring complications, you can and should exercise during pregnancy, experts say. Doing so helps prevent too much weight gain, lowers your risk of gestational diabetes, makes you stronger for childbirth – and those are just some of the benefits.
However, with so many changes to your body, it’s only natural to take precautions. To get started, read these trimester-by-trimester tips for fitting fitness into the next nine months (and check with your doctor or midwife before beginning an activity program).
What to Expect: Trimester 1
You’re probably tired and queasy, making the very thought of exercise a challenge. The best activity you can do now (and through all stages of pregnancy) is walking. Even most sedentary moms-to-be can take gentle walks during these early months.
If you’ve got the energy to do more than walk, you might think your first trimester is the perfect occasion to get cracking on a fitness plan before your expanding belly makes moving more difficult. In reality, many experts feel this is not the time to launch a brand–new fitness regimen or give your current one a boost. Instead, they say, wait until the next trimester.
What to Expect: Trimester 2
This is a good time to proceed with fitness because risks to the baby and any pregnancy discomforts are at their lowest. Plus, the second trimester is when your energy is usually at its highest. If you were sedentary pre-pregnancy, gradually increase aerobic exercise. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC) advises doing 15 minutes, 3 times per week, working up to 30 minutes, 4 times a week. A word about intensity: If you can’t carry on a conversation while working out, ease up.
Do muscle conditioning, too, but know that many experts advise against exercising on your back for now. After the first three to four months, lying flat on your back can cause your enlarged uterus and growing baby to compress a major vein that returns blood to your heart, which may lead to lightheadedness and/or nausea. Swap on-your-back exercises for side-lying, sitting or standing ones, or seek out a certified trainer who’s well educated about prenatal exercise.
What to Expect: Trimester 3
As with the previous two trimesters, joints and ligaments are more prone to injury because of rising hormone levels. Your growing belly also changes your centre of gravity, increasing the chances of losing your balance. Avoid overstretching and stick to joint-friendly activities without rapid directional changes. Best picks: walking, stationary cycling, muscle conditioning with light weights, prenatal yoga/Pilates and in-the-pool exercise.
Crunching out abs of steel is hardly your goal now, but keeping your ab muscles well conditioned is still important for promoting good posture and preparing you for delivery and beyond. Try this popular prenatal move: Sitting tall, inhale. As you exhale, draw your abs toward your spine (as if hugging your baby with your belly). Repeat 10 times.
As your belly swells, you might notice a condition called diastasis recti, which is a gap between the two halves of the muscle along the middle of your abdomen. It’s painless, but it requires exercise modifications. To test for it, briefly lie face up – legs bent, feet on floor – and lift your head. If you have diastasis recti, you’ll feel a ridge or separation 1 to 2 inches above or below your bellybutton. Still not sure? Consult a qualified fitness trainer for help and exercise alternatives if necessary.