Benefits of exercise during pregnancy – my story
I kept as active as I could during pregnancy, trying for 2.5 hrs a week of aerobic exercise – up til the last few heavy weeks anyway! I ran, swam, and walked a lot. Here’s how exercise helped, or didn’t help, during my pregnancy, the labour and birth and the postpartum period.
Gentle swimming helped boost my energy levels during the first trimester, but vigorous exercise tended to make me exhausted and hungry. I sometimes woke up from a nap to go for a walk, only to return to bed afterwards!
During the second trimester, I felt fabulous while exercising and managed to run until 6 months. It also gave me a sense of strength and achievement to feel so fit and active.
In the third trimester, I just tried to maintain a modicum of fitness – and waddling around the block in the last few weeks during maternity leave gave me something to do at least.
I gained exactly the weight that I should have, no more and no less. I felt good about myself and the way I looked. It didn’t help morning sickness and I still got pelvic and back pain and some insomnia, but overall I had a fairly uneventful pregnancy. I didn’t have any medical complications such as preeclampsia or gestational diabetes.
Labour and birth
I’d read about how babies born to very active mothers tended to be born earlier (around 1 week before the due date) although the evidence for this is a bit weak. My baby came exactly on her due date! I also kept up the walking in the last few weeks of the third trimester to try and “bring on the labour” but I’m not sure if this helped. I think babies just come when they’re ready!
I was hoping for an uncomplicated labour and birth (though I think from memory the evidence for a lower rate of assisted birth or Caesarian sections in active women is not convincing). As it turned out, labour did start spontaneously but became obstructed because my baby was in the posterior position (which also made for a very painful labour!)
There have been reports that keeping active during pregnancy reduces the need for painkillers during labour. Not for me! I asked for an epidural early on as the contractions were so intense.
The postpartum period
I returned to my prepregnancy weight very quickly, although I don’t know if this was all to do with being active during pregnancy. I found the early weeks quite stressful and I think the kilos fell off because of this. Later on, as it became clear that my baby was a particularly poor sleeper, I found myself walking for hours and hours every day just to get her to sleep – and I dropped below my prepregnancy weight when she was 2 ½ months old. Not how I would recommend other mothers to lose weight, but the walking was a necessity for me, and I guess at least it gave me back my fitness and my prepregnancy body!
I was assessed by a physiotherapist a few days after the birth and didn’t suffer from any DRAM (Diastasis Rectus Abdominus muscle) which is the separation of the muscles of the abdomen. I was also able to return to walking within a couple of weeks, and by about 3 or 4 weeks I was back to walking 40 minutes daily. 10 weeks later I went for my first run.
It’s difficult to tell if being fit during pregnancy helped energy levels in the postpartum period as this depends so much on how sleep deprived you are!