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Exercise during pregnancy and breastfeeding

The most important thing is to listen to your body.

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What benefits does exercise have for pregnant women?

Regular exercise helps you cope with the physical strain that pregnancy puts on your body. Exercise prevents back pain, swelling of the feet, varicose veins and overweight. It also improves glucose metabolism, prevents large foetal size and reduces the occurrence of gestational diabetes.

An active lifestyle lifts the mood during pregnancy.

Improved muscle strength can make the labour easier. Regular exercise also speeds up physical recovery after giving birth.

Regular exercise has positive effects on:

  • Blood pressure
  • Cholesterol values
  • Muscle strength
  • Bone health
  • Respiratory and cardiovascular system
  • Weight control
  • Back health and posture
  • Prevention of constipation
  • Quality of sleep
  • Mood and well-being.

“Has exercise had an impact on your well-being during pregnancy?”

“Definitely! Walks give me energy on days when I feel tired, and going to the gym balances student life. Long days at college cause shoulder stiffness and back pain. Exercise promotes both physical and mental well-being.” – Sini, 23, pregnancy week 24

What should you remember when exercising during pregnancy?

A pregnant woman’s body knows what form of physical activity feels good and right. As the pregnancy months go by, the growing belly can make exercise harder, but everyday exercise usually works fine until the end of pregnancy. Pregnant women don’t have to worry about exercise causing miscarriages or premature births. Exercise doesn’t delay the child’s growth either.

However, avoid sports where you can hurt your lower belly or which make your belly “bounce”, or which involve a risk of falling or sudden changes of direction. Such sports include combat sports, apparatus gymnastics, riding a horse, downhill skiing and ball games.

Avoid lying face down as this compresses your belly.

Avoid exercise that causes excessive sweating and exercise sessions of over 45 minutes on hot days. Drink plenty of water during exercise.

I haven’t really exercised before. How can I start exercising safely during pregnancy?

Try to find a sport that you like, because exercise is a great way to balance out mood swings during pregnancy. Take it easy at first and increase exercise duration gradually. A 15-minute walk three times a day is a good start. If you have the energy, increase exercise sessions to 30 minutes a day. The next level might be to try activities like Nordic walking. Exercise should make you slightly out of breath but you should be able to talk without panting – this is a sign that exercise is about right and not too strenuous. So exercise can be pleasant too, as you can chat with a friend at the same time.

How much time should I spend on endurance training during pregnancy?

Your daily exercise can be broken down to smaller units. Exercise doesn’t have to mean pre-planned sweaty sessions – everyday exercise is important too. An easy way to get more exercise is to take the stairs instead of the lift, to walk or cycle, and to do housework. You should exercise on several days during the week and get at least 2.5 hours of brisk exercise or 1.25 hours of heavy exercise in total. The goal is to exercise at least 30 minutes a day. Combine different kinds of exercise you like – both brisk and strenuous.

What kind of strength exercises are recommended during pregnancy?

Pregnant women should do muscle exercises at least twice a week. Strong muscles help to keep good posture even when the lower back starts to curve. When pregnant women take care of their muscles, back pain can be avoided altogether, or at least until the end of pregnancy. Good muscle strength may also alleviate the symptoms of back pain.

You should also take care of your pelvic floor muscles, as they stretch and loosen during pregnancy. Here’s a link to a website with exercises for pelvic floor muscles.

Sports that improve muscle strength include gym exercises, circuit training and group training.

Muscle relaxation and stretching is also an important part of pregnant women’s muscle exercise. It keeps the muscles flexible and helps you know your body better. Muscle relaxation feels good over your whole body and relieves stress.

Here are exercise tips for pregnant women. (The Finnish Student Health Service 2010). Read also the UKK Institute’s recommendations for exercise during and after pregnancy available in many different languages.

I don’t know if I should keep exercising during pregnancy. How much can I exercise without harming the baby?

When a pregnant woman is feeling good, so is her baby. Regular, balanced exercise that feels good has a positive impact on both the mother and the baby.

Those who’ve been active movers can keep up exercising the same way during pregnancy unless told otherwise by their doctor. A healthy pregnant woman doesn’t have to worry about exercise causing a miscarriage, premature birth or foetal growth delay. Pregnancy is no obstacle to improving your physical health.

Keep exercising by listening to your health and body. Avoid excessive sweating though, and drink water at regular intervals during the exercise session. If you don’t have contractions, pain, bleeding or other complaints, you can keep exercising safely until the end of your pregnancy.

Stop the exercise session and contact your doctor if exercise causes:

  • Dizziness or headache
  • Trouble breathing, excessive shortness of breath, or chest pain
  • Weakness or extreme tiredness
  • Calf pain or swelling (potential thrombosis)
  • Intense and painful contractions
  • Suspicion of your water breaking
  • Vaginal bleeding.

Exercise during breastfeeding

Women must decide for themselves when they feel ready to engage in exercise after giving birth, so the key is to listen to what your body is telling you. However, you should continue exercising during breastfeeding. Start with light and gentle exercise and listen to your mind and body.

Exercise has no impact on the composition or amount of breast milk, so you can exercise safely during breastfeeding. It’s advisable to breastfeed before exercising, so that your breasts feel lighter. This makes exercising easier and more comfortable.

It’s important to take care of yourself after giving birth. Exercise gives you energy, helps you lose weight and has a positive impact on your mood.

You can start with gentle exercise, but leave more strenuous exercise until after the follow-up visit. It’s important to listen to your body and recovery and take it easy at first.

Importance of pelvic floor muscle exercise

You should exercise your pelvic floor muscles regularly during pregnancy and continue doing it soon after giving birth. It’s extremely important to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, as pregnancy is hard on the muscles. The weakness of pelvic floor muscles may result in urinary incontinence when you sneeze or cough. Avoid sports that involve jumping and bouncing until the pelvic floor muscles have strengthened and recovered after you’ve given birth. This is to avoid the prolapse of the uterine and vaginal walls. Strengthening the pelvic floor muscles is important for sexual pleasure too.


Taking up muscle strength exercises after giving birth

Hormonal changes cause loosening of ligaments in breastfeeding women, and this impact may last for several months. This is why it’s important to pay attention to body control and start muscle strength exercises cautiously.

Bodyweight exercises are useful, and you can do them at home while the baby is sleeping. You don’t necessarily need to use weights, but you can try full water bottles as light weights if you like. A kettlebell too is a good piece of work-out equipment for muscle exercise at home.

It may be a good idea to start muscle exercise at the gym under professional guidance. Even those who are active gym-goers should begin strength exercises cautiously and by listening to their body. As your body adjusts to the exercises, you can make them more strenuous and last longer.

Don’t start exercising your abdominal muscles until they’ve fully recovered after the birth. If the exercises are started too early, it may delay the recovery of the abdominal muscles. Recovery time varies from one person to another and may take up to 6–10 weeks. If you are worried about your recovery after abdominal separation, consult your public health nurse.


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