Although every pregnancy is different, most mums to be will benefit from exercising during this challenging time. It's not rocket science, the same ways that exercise benefits all of us – stress relief, better sleep, improving bowel function, increasing cardiovascular fitness, increasing muscle strength to help prevent back and pelvic pain - this could all be extra handy during pregnancy, right? Of course! But before you sprint out the door to the next trampolining class, there are some important factors to consider.
Firstly – the biggest, most important, somehow not spoken enough about consideration– pelvic floor muscles (PFM). For those that don't know, the PFM are a sling muscles forming the base of the pelvis and basically work to hold everything in. Good function of these muscles allows us to go to the toilet normally (ie. Not too frequently, no straining, no leaking), contributes to supporting the pelvic girdle and lower back, and also allows us to enjoy our sex lives. As you can imagine (thanks to gravity) the load it's under is significantly higher during pregnancy and its pretty important that we look after it as best we can.
The first step to making sure your exercise regime is not harming your PFM is - make sure your pelvic floor is working properly!! Best way to do this is to visit a physio for an assessment to make sure you know what it feels like when it's activating correctly. Once you know everything is in order and you have commenced your PFM strengthening exercises the physio gave you, you can think about what you should include in your exercise regime. Basically, anything that significantly increases intra-abdominal pressure and therefore pressure on the pelvic floor, should be avoided. So this means, high impact (jumping, sprinting, skipping, bouncing), and abdominal workouts involving sit-ups and crunches. Excellent options include: walking, swimming, Pilates (best if run by a physio or a specific pregnancy class), strengthening exercises (best if supervised by a trainer educated in pelvic floor health).
Hormone induced ligament laxity also occurs during and after pregnancy, which leads to higher risk of joint injury during high impact exercise. It also means the pelvis is more vulnerable to strain during twisting / unilateral loading movements, and this needs to be considered when setting up an exercise program. If you do have any pelvic pain, get it seen to early and be educated in exactly how to manage it so that you can keep moving throughout your baby-carrying days.
So, don't stop moving, don't stop exercising, and if you're not already - then start. Just be educated about it and look after your body - you have a whole life to live in it!