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Sweating for Two! Exercise Recommendations for Pregnant and Breastfeeding Mothers.

Trying to conceive? Have that positive pregnancy test in your hand? Or maybe you’ve already introduced your little bundle to the world (congrats!). No matter what stage of life you’re in, exercise plays a significant role in your overall health and wellbeing.

As we see obesity numbers continue to climb globally, the same is true of obesity during pregnancy, which carries considerable risk for both the mother and the baby. Having a high BMI prior to pregnancy or gaining too much gestational weight can lead to an increased risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, stillbirth, congenital anomalies, fetal macrosomia with increased risk of shoulder dystocia and birth injury, and childhood obesity.

While women are certainly encouraged to gain weight during pregnancy to support the growing baby, too much weight gain can have a lasting impact. Retaining that extra weight post-pregnancy can lead to more significant health issues like diabetes or cardiovascular problems and affect future pregnancies.

Staying active helps pregnant and nursing mothers maintain a healthy lifestyle, reduce the risk of these health issues, and, in turn, allows them to focus on giving their best to their growing baby.

So, whether that sweet baby is still growing inside your belly or attached to the breast 24/7, exercise offers a lot of health benefits for both mum and baby.

An exercising pregnant mother
Exercising can be a pleasure even when you are pregnant!

Exercising During Pregnancy

While exercise during pregnancy was once thought to be a no-no, research has emerged showing that exercise is actually a GOOD thing to do while you’re expecting. Currently, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate activity nearly every day.

The biggest benefit of exercise during pregnancy is that it helps decrease the risk of excessive maternal weight gain (and the related health risks), and it also offers so many other benefits, including:

· Improved mood and posture

· Increased muscle tone and endurance

· Improved sleep (which is hard to get during pregnancy)

· A better ability to cope with labour (your body and baby will thank you later)

Warding off those extra pounds during pregnancy can help you during the postpartum period. In the fourth trimester (the three months after you give birth), your body will be worn out from the demands of labour, delivery, and breastfeeding. Paired with the exhaustion and lack of sleep that comes with being a new mum, starting an exercise regimen early in your pregnancy will give your body the energy and endurance to tackle all the demands of motherhood that are coming your way.

If you’re experiencing any pregnancy complications or have underlying health issues, you’ll want to consult your healthcare provider before starting any exercise regimen.

Now that you’re pregnant, it’s probably not a good idea to take up something new like joining a soccer league or signing up for classes at the local kickboxing studio, but there are so many beneficial exercises that you can participate in to help both you and your baby. Read on to find out what activities you can and should do during your pregnancy.

What Kinds of Exercises Are Acceptable for a Pregnant Mother?

In healthy women with uncomplicated pregnancies, various forms of physical exercise are encouraged and safe for both mother and fetus. The type of exercise you do depends on your level of physical activity prior to conception. If you were a marathon runner, you could certainly continue running, but it's not advised to start running several miles per day if you didn’t run pre-baby.

Aerobic exercise is preferred to aid in cardiovascular fitness, along with strength training two times per week. Aerobic exercise can include activities like walking, jogging, biking, dance, and swimming. It's very important to remember to warm up and cool down before and after any aerobic exercise during pregnancy.

Yoga, weight training, or Pilates are great for strength training. Participating in strength training exercises improves posture and core strength (yes, you still have core muscles even when they’re stretched during pregnancy). Embracing a strength training regimen can also relieve the musculoskeletal discomfort that often comes with pregnancy and improve stamina during labour.

Avoid playing contact sports or exercises that could result in falls like horseback riding or abdominal trauma like soccer. It would also be best to avoid scuba diving and exercising at an altitude above 6,000 feet to reduce any risk to the fetus. After the first trimester, you should modify any exercises that take place in the supine position over concerns of fainting or restricting blood flow to the heart.

Wondering how intense your workouts should be? Just think about it this way…if you were exercising alongside your best friend, would you be able to carry on a conversation? If yes, you’re in the clear. If you’re feeling breathless, take it down a notch.

What about wearing a fitness watch? It should be much easier to monitor, right? You’ll want to strive for 60% - 80% of aerobic capacity, which means a target heart rate of 135-150 in normal-weight women or 110 – 131 in overweight women. Even though this is normally the best way to measure the intensity of your exercising, the modifications the pregnancy brings to the heart make this method not reliable. So better off listening to your feelings and slow down if you are out of breath.

Your exercise journey doesn’t end when you give birth. Keep reading to find out how it evolves after you leave the delivery room.

Exercising While Breastfeeding

After getting the all-clear from a healthcare provider, usually, at around six weeks postpartum (maybe a few weeks later following a cesarean section), exercising is a great way to improve your mood, boost your energy, aid in weight loss, and, best of all, you can do it while breastfeeding.

During the first few weeks after giving birth, it’s so important to get plenty of rest and hydration to establish your breastmilk supply. Remember, your body just went through an amazing yet stressful experience, so when you first start exercising, you’ll want to begin slowly and gradually increase the duration and intensity of your workouts.

Aside from the energy and strength, you’ll get from exercise, it’s also a great way to relieve some of the stress that comes with being a new parent.

The biggest concern about exercising while breastfeeding is whether it will affect milk supply and if the baby will still be getting adequate nutrition from the breastmilk. Studies have shown that women who exercise regularly do not experience a drop in milk supply, but it is important to remember to stay hydrated. Many women will need to drink more water throughout the day to make up for a sweat session.

Similarly, a small study revealed that maternal exercise does not affect infant weight gain. The only thing you might notice is that your little eater might get turned off by the saltiness of your skin if you nurse immediately after breaking a sweat. Take a shower post-exercise, if you can, to rid your body of that salty flavour.

Best Exercises for Breastfeeding Mothers

If you made exercise a habit during your pregnancy, it’s safe to continue those same exercises postpartum. Some great ones include yoga, Pilates, barre, walking, swimming, biking, running, and weight training, but at this point, you can do whatever your body will allow you to do. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends that mums get 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week along with two strength training activities.

Timing is everything when you’re nursing and exercising. Nurse your baby just before working out and wear a supportive sports bra to avoid feeling uncomfortably full or engorged. You can also wear a nursing pad to absorb any leakage you might experience during your exercise session.

Stop exercising and talk to your doctor if you experience any of the following:

· Bleeding or fluid leakage

· Abdominal pain

· Bulging in the centre of your abs

· Heaviness in your pelvis

While exercise comes with so many benefits for mothers, the baby will also reap some of those benefits. If you’re feeling less stressed with more energy, you can focus on your relationship with your little one and build an even stronger bond.

A woman's body can do amazing things, and exercise is a great way to improve your overall health and wellbeing before, during, and after pregnancy. So strap on those walking shoes or grab a yoga mat and fuel your body while nurturing your growing baby.

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