The Challenges of Prenatal Fitness
The physical and hormonal changes during pregnancy present additional challenges for women who desire to increase or maintain fitness. These challenges can be overcome with regular exercise.
Changing Body Mechanics for Pregnancy
During pregnancy, your body must adjust to the many physical changes to carry the load of your body and your baby. As your uterus grows, your center of gravity is changed. In addition, your pelvic floor is under increased stress to support the growing weight of the uterus. As your pregnancy progresses, you will find your joints loosen in response to hormones. These changes make good posture key to comfort and fitness.
In response to the changing center of gravity, many women hyper-contract the back muscles by pulling the shoulders back. This posture shortens and weakens the back muscles while stretching and weakening the muscles of the stomach. Strong abdominal muscles are needed to support the torso and maintain digestion. Weakened muscles in the torso cause back pain and increase overall discomfort in pregnancy because the bones and joints are under increased strain without the strong muscles supporting the torso. Further discomfort can arise if the pelvic floor is allowed to lose its tone, misaligning the pelvic structures.
Your pregnancy fitness routine should address the issue of posture and support for the changing abdomen. Include exercises which strengthen the abdominal muscles without adding excessive pressure (which can cause diastasis recti). In addition, include pelvic floor exercises to keep the pelvic floor strong and tone.
Good Body Mechanics for Labor
In addition to keeping the body comfortable and properly aligned during pregnancy, your fitness program should increase the strength and flexibility the muscles you will need for labor. Abdominal breathing exercises will help you strengthen your diaphragm, a muscle used for breathing during first stage and involved in pushing during second stage. Squatting moves will improve the flexibility and strength of your legs and hips, preparing them for good 2nd stage pushing positions.
Along with strengthening your muscles for labor, your fitness routine should include stretching and relaxation exercises so you are more likely to be successful at relaxation techniques during labor. Relaxation techniques help prevent unnecessary pain caused by tensing muscles and the Fear Tension Pain Cycle.
Stamina and Energy
The physical demands on your body during pregnancy increase fatigue. Cardiovascular exercise is an essential element in maintaining or improving your stamina during pregnancy. Not only will it give you more energy while pregnant, the extra endurance may help you manage pain during labor.
Overall Health Maintenance
Pregnant or not, regular exercise is essential for maintaining health. Regular exercise helps you maintain a healthy weight, promotes strong muscles and bones and helps prevent injury and illness in everyday life. Staying healthy during pregnancy decreases your risk of complications during childbirth and may decrease your recovery time after giving birth.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and get active!