8 Pre-Pregnancy Exercise Tips

Getting fit and toned and reaching your normal weight are factors that will improve your chances of conceiving. Follow these tips from "Healthy Parents, Healthy Baby" from Australia’s parenting and health guru, Jan Roberts.

1. Get your gear on

Regular exercise plays an important role in losing weight and controlling your weight, but it will continue to deliver benefits all the way down the reproductive line. A study published in the Human Reproduction Journal (2007) concluded that a woman’s likelihood of becoming pregnant declines in direct proportion to the degree to which she is overweight. For every BMI point above 29, women were 4 per cent less likely to conceive. The impact is even more marked for very obese women. Women with a BMI of 35 to 40 are 26 per cent to 43 per cent less likely to conceive than those with a BMI of 21 to 29. Obesity is also known to contribute to an absence of ovulation. Overweight women who do conceive face greater risk of complications during pregnancy.

Research shows that if you exercise before and during pregnancy, you’ll experience a healthier pregnancy and birth and a faster recovery, and be less likely to suffer postnatal depression. Regular exercise while you’re pregnant improves your mobility as well (in other words, you are less likely to feel like a beached whale) and you will have fewer aches and less back pain. Exercise will also help if you suffer from gestational diabetes or high blood pressure. Of course, your chances of suffering from either are reduced with good preconception care and ongoing nutritional support.

Your ideal exercise program should combine elements of cardio¬vascular exercise to keep your heart and lungs healthy (that’s huffing and puffing activities) as well as resistance and core exercises for strength (that’s muscle-building, which means working out with weights, or against your body weight). Combine these with tone and good posture for balance, stability and relaxation (think yoga, Pilates, tai chi and stretching for flexibility).

2. Start your exercise program

If you’re new to exercise, take things easy at first. Whether you are planning to get pregnant or are already pregnant, and also after you’ve given birth, there are some important things that you need to be aware of.

First of all, if you’re new to exercise, introduce any new routine gradually.

If you’re a regular exerciser, avoid any activity, especially during the first trimester, that could lead to overheating or that puts serious stress on your body (e.g., marathons, triathlons or sustained aerobic sessions. Of course, medium-intensity cardio is okay). If you’re trying to conceive, remember that there may be a few weeks before you realise that you’re pregnant.
Also, if you’re trying to get pregnant, your partner should avoid exercise sessions in tight or hot pants and also avoid compressing his testicles – all factors that can compromise the health of his sperm.

Always remember to accommodate your changing size and shape

– it’s not a sign of weakness to slow down or moderate your activity or alter it altogether.

Even if your pregnancy is months or years away, it’s never too early to include specific exercises for an active birth and Kegel exercises in your routines. More on page 120.
Get advice

If you’ve never undertaken regular exercise, ask your doctor or midwife to complete a basic medical exam before you get moving.

Enjoy it

Choose an activity that you enjoy. This may sound obvious, but exercise that you dislike, that makes you uncomfortable or that you find boring is unlikely to become a regular part of your life. Of course, as your fitness level improves, your appreciation of particular activities could well change – be prepared to change your mind as well as your exercise routine.
Set aside a regular time

If you don’t make time for your exercise, it’s unlikely to happen. If you’re an early-morning person, do it then and it’s out of the way for the day. You might make it a lunchtime thing, or after work might suit you better. Regular, however, is the word – not just any old time when you can manage an hour. On the subject of ‘best time’, the experts seem to agree – it’s first thing in the morning before you’ve eaten.

Exercise with a friend

Your partner might seem a logical choice, particularly if this is part of your preconception preparation, but if you’re both new to exercise it can be easy to find reasons to stay at home. A reliable friend or workmate, perhaps one who already has the exercise habit, might be a better choice.

Hire a personal trainer

Consider the option of hiring a personal trainer. You’ll be less likely to find an excuse not to exercise when someone, for whose services you’ve paid, is waiting for you.

Take it easy at first

If you’re a newbie, start slowly. If you attempt too much too soon, all those muscles that are completely unaccustomed to activity are going to complain, and you’ll probably give the whole thing away as a bad job.

Warm up, cool down, stretch out

Always warm up gently before any type of exercise, then cool down and stretch out afterwards. Any well-structured exercise class will include these three elements.

Don’t ignore pain

If you belong to the ‘no pain, no gain’ club, you’re probably headed for trouble. When your body says ‘that hurts’, the message is clear: stop!

Try walking or cycling to work

You can achieve a reasonable level of aerobic fitness by simply leaving the car at home and walking or cycling to work or to the shops. Try carrying the shopping home from the supermarket instead of having it delivered. Take the stairs instead of the lift – regularly!

A structured program

You may like the idea of a fitness centre. Professionals there can design a personal program that combines the three elements of exercise in one workout. Many gyms also offer special classes for pregnant and new mums – check them out. This is also a great way to recruit members to your new mums’ club!
Don’t overdo it

Too much exercise, involving significant loss of body fat, can affect a woman’s fertility.

Stay well hydrated

All your body’s processes depend on water – but you lose it when you breathe and when you sweat. Drink before you become thirsty. If you have a purifier at home, and I strongly recommend you do, carry your water in a stainless-steel bottle. Avoid buying bottled water – it’s expensive and the plastic can leach chemicals.

Remember to build muscle too

Muscle is a powerful organ – it’s actually as important as your heart, your kidneys and your liver. The amount of muscle in your body is the number-one biomarker for vitality and longevity. By contrast, your aerobic capacity is only number six on that list. But use it or lose it – modern lifestyles mean that you lose muscle at the rate of 3 kg per decade (and gain fat) from the time you’re in your early twenties. Exercise that builds muscle is particularly important for prospective parents. When you’re constantly lifting and carrying babies and toddlers and all the ‘stuff’ that goes with them, you’ll be so glad you did!

3. Remember your supplements for energy and muscle-building

To reap the full benefits of exercise, you need optimal amounts of all-important nutrients from a combination of your diet and supplements.

Success in the exercise department is about more than commit¬ment to a regular routine. You require optimal levels of all vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids if you’re going to gain all the benefits and if your exercise program is to become a regular part of your life.

Do you remember what you’ve already learned about zinc? Zinc is involved in more than 300 enzyme systems in your body, including those related to muscle-building and immune function. If you’re zinc-deficient, muscle-boosting exercise means less zinc is available for your immune response – with the possibility of more coughs, colds and flu, not to mention something more serious. Muscle-building could also potentially compromise all those activities that zinc fulfils in the reproductive arena – everything from healthy sperm to preventing stretch marks and cracked nipples.

Solution? Test your zinc status regularly and take your pre¬conception, pregnancy or breastfeeding supplements as outlined in Chapter 3: Eat.
Another reason your exercising body needs robust nutritional support is to help it deal with any toxic burden. Whether that burden is simply your own body’s metabolic waste or a legacy of your lifestyle and environment, an accumulation of toxins triggers biochemical processes that keep you from burning fat. If one of the reasons you are exercising is to lose weight, you can help this along by getting the nutrients you need for detoxification and drinking plenty of purified water (2 litres daily plus 1 litre for every hour of exercise).

4. Try yoga

Yoga may be more suited to your temperament than running, jumping and lifting weights. It is also particularly helpful for toning the reproductive organs.

Yoga can induce a profound sense of calm and wellbeing, which can be very helpful when you’re trying to conceive, as well as bestowing a number of other readily measurable benefits. Work positions, general postural habits and emotional stress can cause constriction in your pelvic cavity and lower back. Specific yoga postures can open up this whole area, greatly enhancing circula¬tion. Improved circulation means better delivery of oxygen and other nutrients to all organ systems, including your reproductive organs.

Many yoga poses are relatively simple, and there are lots of good books, DVDs and apps for the beginner. But if you want to get the maximum benefits, join a class where a qualified teacher can guide you individually. This is particularly important if you are pregnant, as some poses should not be attempted by pregnant women. A little practice every day will be more effective than a longer session once a week.

Yoga can also deliver benefits to your partner, and more and more men are embracing this type of exercise (perfect for the super-stressed). Yoga is wonderful exercise for kids, too – calming as well (more in Healthy Parents, Healthy Baby: A Guide to Birth, Breastfeeding and the Toddler Years).

You will find specific yoga poses for preconception, pregnancy and the postnatal period in each of my previous books, written with Francesca Naish.

5. Pilates is great

Pilates is a great form of exercise for pregnancy as it focuses on core stability.

Pilates helps to develop your core by strengthening your deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles. These particular exercises can be performed on your hands and knees (a position that many women instinctively assume during an ‘active birth’) and can be useful in helping to get your baby into the right position for delivery. Pilates also enjoys a well-deserved reputation for helping mums regain their shape quickly after they’ve given birth.

Pilates exercises are very adaptable, so as your size and shape change, you can easily modify your routine. However, there are some exercises that are best avoided during the latter stages of pregnancy. Pilates isn’t recommended as a do-it-yourself exercise routine, so sign up for classes. Tell the instructor where you’re at in your baby-making plans.

6. Practise positions for active birth

There are real advantages if you move around during labour and give birth in an upright position.

There is little doubt, even among conservative obstetricians, that moving around during labour and giving birth in an upright rather than a supine position has enormous advantages for both the labouring mum and her baby. Practising in advance for your active birth might seem an odd idea if you’re not pregnant yet, but it will pay dividends.

Squatting is an excellent position for second stage of labour, because it allows the birth canal to open to its fullest extent. Not surprisingly, this isn’t a comfortable position for Western women, as their ankle joints and Achilles tendons are usually quite stiff. While women in the developing world may still spend a good part of each day squatting, you will need to practise squatting for several months before you expect to go into labour. Start with a very short session and build up the time you can spend in a squat. Even then, you may feel more comfortable in a ‘supported squat’. Assuming that your partner is the one who will be supporting you, he, too, will realise the importance of being fit.

7. Remember your pelvic floor exercises

Do these anywhere, any time.

The pelvic floor muscles form a sling-like band that surrounds and forms the base of your vagina, anus and urethra. These muscles also support all your abdominal contents, and your baby will pass through them as he is born. Strengthening these muscles is an extremely worthwhile activity. Strong pelvic floor muscles mean that after the birth you won’t wet your pants every time you laugh, sneeze, cough, jump or run!

To identify your pelvic floor muscles, try this exercise. Next time you urinate, try to stop the flow in mid-stream and then relax the muscles. You have just exercised your pelvic floor muscles. Now that you know what to do, you can repeat this exercise any time you like.

Try to increase the number of times you contract and release these muscles, and also increase the time for which you hold the contraction. How long can you hold it? Can you do up to five minutes of Kegels every day? It’s never too early to start. You’ll be so glad you did, and your partner will notice the difference during lovemaking, too.

8. Align your spine

The nerve pathways to your brain must be free of interference for optimal health and fertility. Align your pelvis for an easier labour and birth.

Osteopathy and chiropractic treatment overlap to some extent, since both focus on the proper alignment of your spine. Osteopathy, however, is also concerned with the soft tissues, the nervous system and a healthy blood supply. These treatments have a role to play at each stage of your journey to becoming a parent – and that means for both of you. Ensuring that you are free of any blockages (sublux¬ations) that might compromise the function of your organ systems will benefit your general and reproductive health.

Once you are pregnant, significant physical, postural, emotional and hormonal changes occur. Keeping your spine supple and aligned (along with following all the dietary and lifestyle recommendations in this book) can keep you free of many troublesome ‘symptoms’ of pregnancy. For example, hormones help to relax your pelvis and cervix, preparing you to give birth. But that relaxation also makes you more susceptible to vertebral misalignment, strains, aches and pains.

Osteopathy and chiropractic care can reduce that likelihood. At the same time, they can ensure that your baby is optimally positioned in the uterus for an easier labour. Findings at the World Chiropractic Congress 1991 revealed that women who had chiropractic care through pregnancy had considerably shorter labours. Labour was reduced by 24 per cent for first pregnancies and 39 per cent for subsequent pregnancies.

A treatment specifically designed for pregnant women and known as the Webster in-utero analysis and adjustment technique can help the baby to adopt the optimum position for labour and birth. Developed in 1978 by Dr Larry Webster, founder of the International Chiropractic Paediatric Association, this technique safely restores pelvic alignment to pregnant women and is especially beneficial if you are carrying your baby in the breech position. Avoiding the possibility of a breech delivery means you’ll also avoid one of the reasons for a Caesarean section. Find an osteopath/chiropractor who specialises in the Webster technique.

This is an extract from "Healthy Parents, Healthy Baby" from Australia’s parenting and health guru, Jan Roberts.

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