This is a guest post by Brittany Citron, a PROnatal™ Fitness instructor. She will be leading workshops on how to maximize the benefits of exercise during and after pregnancy at our Upper East Side campus.
There is a reason the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that pregnant women get at least 30 minutes per day of moderate intensity exercise on most, if not all, days of the week. Because the benefits – both for you and your baby – are HUGE! Besides the obvious benefit of reducing your risk of excess weight gain, here are 10 more reasons that should make you want to get moving!
1. You’ll feel less nauseous and more energized during the day…and sleep better at night: Women who exercise during pregnancy report fewer symptoms of nausea. In addition, exercise has been shown to stimulate energy levels, elevate mood, and counteract feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression during pregnancy. It has also been shown to promote better sleep at night.
2. You’ll significantly reduce your chances of getting gestational diabetes: Pregnant women who have never had diabetes before, but who develop high blood sugar levels during pregnancy are said to have Gestational Diabetes. This occurs in nearly 10% of pregnancies. In addition to putting the mother at a greater risk of developing diabetes later in life, it can also cause the baby to put on extra weight, particularly in the upper body (a condition known as macrosomia). This may increase the need for a C-section, and puts the baby at increased risk for low blood sugar and breathing problems after birth. In addition, the baby is more likely to be overweight or obese as a child and is at a higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes during his or her adult years. Research has shown that women who participated in recreational activity within their first 20 weeks of pregnancy decreased their risk of gestational diabetes by almost half.
3. You’re less likely to experience low back and other orthopedic pain: The weight of your growing belly puts a lot of increased pressure on your low back and pelvic area. Strengthening exercises for your inner abdominal and pelvic floor muscles (like walking, swimming, Kegels, and abdominal exercises involving drawing your navel into your spine) provide stability and support for your spine to reduce low back pain. They also help to support your growing uterus and pelvic organs to prevent them from painfully weighing down on your hip and sacroiliac joints.
4. You’re less likely to have issues “down there”: The weight of your growing uterus and pelvic organs puts increased pressure on the muscles of your pelvic floor, and can lead to things like incontinence (involuntary loss of urine) and even prolapse of the bladder, rectum, or uterus (meaning they sink down into the vaginal or anal area, essentially turning “inside out”). In addition, high levels of progesterone loosen the walls of your intestinal tract, which can lead to increased constipation. Exercises to strengthen your inner abdominal and pelvic floor muscles (like walking, swimming, Kegels, and abdominal exercises involving drawing the navel into the spine) improve the functioning of the inner core muscles to better support your pelvic organs and therefore help in preventing these issues and in keeping things (appropriately) “running smoothly.”
5. Your legs will look and feel better: During pregnancy, your blood volume increases (up to 40% by your 3rd trimester), but often circulation becomes poorer due to increased weight gain and elevated levels of progesterone (which loosen the walls of your veins). This can result in leg cramps, varicose veins, and even deep vein thrombosis (blood clots in deep veins). Exercise improves circulation to help prevent these conditions.
6. It can make labor easier: Weight-bearing and appropriate core strengthening exercises have been associated with a significant decrease in the duration of second-stage labor, a 75% decrease in maternal exhaustion, a 50% decrease in the need for forceps or C-section, a 50% decrease in the need for oxytocin, and a 50% decrease in the need for medical intervention due to fetal heart-rate abnormalities.
7. You’ll bounce back faster after delivery: Women who exercise regularly during their pregnancy return to activities of daily life 40% faster than those who do not. This means you’ll be better able to carry out the many physical demands of early motherhood (squatting, bending, lifting, carrying, pushing, etc…) with less chance of injury or pulled muscles. It also means you will be able to get back to your pre-pregnancy shape faster. Studies have shown that postpartum weight retention for women who did not exercise during pregnancy is 3 times higher than women who exercised throughout their pregnancy.
8. It could help you give birth to a healthier baby: Women who exercise regularly experience a more rapid growth of the placenta and improved placental function, thereby improving oxygen and nutrient delivery to the baby. Exercise has also been associated with babies born at healthier birth weights who are less stressed by labor and have slightly higher Apgar scores (a measure of baby’s physical condition), and who recover from the stresses of labor faster.
9. It could lower your baby’s risk of heart defects at birth: Congenital heart defects are one of the most common birth defects, affecting as many as 1 in 100 babies. A large, recently-published research study indicates that mothers who exercise regularly during pregnancy substantially lower their risk of giving birth to offspring with heart defects.
10. It could improve your baby’s brain functioning: Longer-term studies have shown that babies born to mothers who exercised during pregnancy scored higher on general intelligence, memory tests, and oral language tests than children of non-exercising mothers (even when factoring out parental weight, height, education, socioeconomic status and several other factors that could influence a child’s development). In addition, a very recent study that measured newborns' brainwave activity showed that babies born to exercising moms had more “mature” brains than those whose mothers were sedentary.