My first pregnancy, I barely made it two miles twice before quitting and resolving to walk (which, luckily, I did do throughout my first pregnancy). This pregnancy I've run 10 miles-- twice, logged in over a hundred miles of running, and far more strength and stretching than I ever did with my first. Much of it is a testament to my increased fitness before becoming pregnant; however knowing what I know now, going through the training to become an ACSM certified personal trainer and teaching Stroller Strides for two years, I learned a lot about the benefits of staying active- and fit- throughout the stages of our lives, pregnancy included. Though I'm not a prenatal exercise specialist, the benefits of having a fit pregnancy are no secret. Here are a few of the reasons why regular exercise is important to a healthy pregnancy:
1. Exercise boosts your energy! With an increase in blood volume, the body needs to get used to moving regularly to strengthen the cardiovascular system with the increased stress. Doctor James Clapp, author of Exercising Through your Pregnancy remarks, "…women who exercise regularly during pregnancy have more circulatory reserve, which improves their ability to deal with both anticipated (exercise, work) and unanticipated circulatory stress (hemorrhage, trauma, anesthesia, and so forth)." Hence why my random runs didn't do anything to make me feel better, the first time around-- I didn't allow my body the time to adapt, by exercising regularly.
2. The stronger you are, the easier everyday activities are. Lifting kiddos, hauling grocery bags, and, inevitably, lifting a carseat in and out of the car, all require general fitness!
3. Exercise naturally controls blood sugar, reducing chances of gestational diabetes and/or helping manage sugars while pregnant and diabetic. One major study found that when women with gestational diabetes exercised moderately three times a week, their risk of having a macrosomic newborn was reduced by 58 percent, which led to a 34 percent lower risk of a cesarean delivery.
4. Women who stay fit are (physically) better prepared for labor and delivery. Open hips, strong core, increased endurance-- they all contribute to a smoother birth! Fit women are actually reported to have shorter labors(!).
5. Exercise helps you sleep! Just like the little one who needs to run their energy off, pregnant women with insomnia (or any sleep troubles) can also benefit from the healthy tiredness an active life results in.
6. Women who exercise regularly are less likely to gain excess weight during pregnancy. Now, I am all for allowing your body to gain the weight it needs to when pregnant, however much that is, as the body and baby requires the extra weight (read this to learn more). However, excess weight gain can cause issues such as back pain and swelling and labor and delivery complications. It's all about balance!
7. Exercise helps with common pregnancy symptoms such as swelling due to water retention or poor circulation, back pain due to the increased weight (stretching, core work and maintaining good posture help with this).
8. Exercise is better for baby! A 2003 medical review commented, "Controlled prospective studies have demonstrated that moderate prenatal exercise during the second and third trimesters is useful to improve aerobic fitness and maternal-fetal physiological reserve without affecting fetal growth.". That is, it helps the BABY'S physiology, right in time to prepare for birth (you know it's work for them, too!).
9. Exercise helps prevent birth complications. Regular exercisers are 75 percent less likely to need a forceps delivery, 55 percent less likely to have an episiotomy and up to four times less likely to have a Cesarean section, research has found.
10. Regular exercise helps keep the core strong, aiding in post-birth recovery. Of course, an easier delivery generally means an easier recovery; a shorter labor, less chance of a C-Section, tearing and the like from maintaining fitness during pregnancy all contribute; but having a strong core and pelvic floor also help with postpartum recovery.
Many women don't even realize what a benefit incorporating regular activity can have during pregnancy. As with anything, consult with your healthcare practitioner before starting a new exercise routine- or changing anything up while pregnant (a general recommendation is it's safe to do pretty much anything you did before, save for risky ab exercises past the first trimester)-- though even if you weren't active before you may benefit from adding light exercise to your routine. Talk to your OB or midwife and get moving, mama!