Women should be encouraged to maintain an exercise program in the early stages of pregnancy and it’s even ok to start exercising for the first time in your life while pregnant too (starting at a very light intensity and building up from there).
Some women have no problems maintaining their usual exercise routine through the first trimester (up to 12 weeks), but others find this time the biggest struggle of all due to pregnancy symptoms such as fatigue and nausea.
Try to find a routine that suits you by experimenting with exercise at different times of the day and in different environments. Remember that 30 minutes a day of moderate activity (on most days of the week) is sufficient to make significant impacts on general health and well being, whether you’re pregnant or not.
Tips for exercising in the early stages of pregnancy
Managing the dreaded morning sickness
- Nausea is common, with up to 80% of pregnant women experiencing nausea at least once during their pregnancy
- It mainly occurs between weeks 6 – 12 but in 20% of pregnancies it can occur up to 20 weeks and beyond
- Even though we call it morning sickness it can occur at any time of day
- Mild cases are usually made better by consuming small amounts of food on a regular basis, even if you think you don’t feel like eating
- Avoid intake of fatty foods – high protein diets can help combat nausea and vomiting compared to high carbohydrate meals
- The most important thing is to ensure adequate fluid intake, especially around exercise
- Time your exercise to coincide with the part of the day you feel the best
Fatigue levels in early pregnancy
- Fatigue affects 90% of pregnancies, especially in the early stages
- It’s defined by an overwhelming sense of exhaustion and decreased capacity for physical or mental work
- Most fatigue in pregnancy is not due to anything other than being pregnant, but if you think your fatigue is severe or unremitting it may be worthwhile seeing your doctor to exclude medical causes
- Anaemia or hypothyroidism can cause fatigue and can be treated to make you feel much better
- Despite seeming illogical, exercise can actually help counter the affects of pregnancy fatigue and give you more energy
- Start with 10 minutes of exercise at a time, at 3 different times of the day and you’ll start to notice positive effects
- Remember to replace fluids and fuel your body adequately for exercise during pregnancy to avoid making your fatigue worse
- Exercise in the morning often helps promote better sleep at night and both can help alleviate the affects of pregnancy fatigue
- Remember it should get better when you get to the second trimester
Don’t get too hot
- The most important thing to be careful about when exercising in the early stages of pregnancy is getting too hot.
- Most people worry about their heart rate getting too high or their workout being too intense but in actual fact, neither of those things are a problem as long as you don’t get too hot while exercising
- The baby’s spinal cord (neural tube) is being formed around 6-7 weeks of pregnancy and overheating at this time can cause neural tube defects (spina bifida)
- Overheating to risky levels requires your core body temperature to be 39 degrees which is unlikely to occur during exercise unless you’re unwell with a fever or the weather is extreme
- Studies have shown that exercising in a controlled (air-conditioned) environment for an hour at a moderate to vigorous pace doesn’t increase core body temperature above 38 degrees
- Core body temperature could rise higher if exercising strenuously, outside, at the hottest part of the day
- Tips to avoid overheating include exercising in the morning or evening, training in air conditioning or in front of a fan, wearing cool, light clothing and taking regular breaks to hydrate and put water on your face
- Sweating is the way we regulate our body temperature and we cool our bodies down by evaporating our sweat. You will be more efficient at sweating when pregnant, so don’t be alarmed if you start to sweat earlier or heavier than normal – sweat is a good thing!
- Women are often concerned about their heart rate getting too high during exercise but there is no specific number it should stay below. A pregnant woman’s resting heart rate rises 15-20 beats in early pregnancy so it will already be higher and will get quite high during exercise – this is perfectly normal and safe as long as it lowers again soon after exercise
- If you’re concerned about intensity, a good guide is to still be able to talk in sentences during your workout when pregnant. If you’re accustomed to training at higher intensities, this is not likely to be harmful to the foetus unless you are getting too hot in the process
If you are a woman wishing to start or continue exercise during your pregnancy, Shire Sports Medicine has specific pregnancy consultations for individualised advice and assessment regarding physical activity during your pregnancy.