You’re pregnant... You may not feel it yet, your belly hasn’t started to show, you haven’t gained weight, but your body has already started to adapt to host this new life growing inside you!
The first trimester is a period of profound physical and emotional changes. All your systems and functions are adjusting and you may already feel different. Your body sends you “pregnancy messages”: fatigue and nausea are often part of the joys of first trimester package. On top of that, it’s also very common to feel fragile, hypersensitive and irritable – but who could blame you? Your hormones are all over the place!
Don’t feel guilty about your emotional state at this time. As thrilled as you may be to be pregnant, the hormone roller coaster and fear of the unknown unsettle most of us, especially during a first pregnancy. Many active Mothers like you suddenly realize that they have a little passenger to care for... You know you aren’t sick, you are “just” pregnant, but quality reliable information about this special time can be so difficult to find.
I’m here to break down a few exercising tips that will put you on the road to a happy, fit, and healthy pregnancy
Is it ok to exercise during first trimester?
A quick answer is “Yes”, BUT... I’ll cover some modifications to exercise that are necessary to suit your anatomic and physiologic changes, as well as the baby’s requirements.
Exercising during pregnancy is proven to have multiple benefits. However, it’s now more important than ever to think quality over quantity, and exercise wisely. Pregnancy is not the time to push yourself for a new personal best, or prove your warrior status. The goal is to create the healthiest environment possible for your growing little one, and put yourself in the best position to enjoy this pregnancy and recover gently post baby.
Let’s dig into first trimester exercises!
What are the things to avoid in early pregnancy?
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+ Make sure you don’t get too hot
Remember that this is the most fragile stage of pregnancy. All major organs and systems are formed during this time, so it’s very important that you don’t overheat during a first trimester workout. Drink regular sips of water and always exercise in a well-ventilated room. The concern with heat is that having a high body temperature can be harmful to your developing baby and has been linked with fetal neural abnormalities and miscarriage. Note that if your body temperature exceeds 102°F for more than 10 minutes, it is considered overheating.
+ Be sure to not change positions too quickly or stay head down for too long.
Your body has started to adapt to pregnancy. Vessel dilation combined with an increase in blood volume can make you feel lightheaded or dizzy more easily than usual.
+ Avoid traditional ab exercises
Your abs are about to stretch tremendously to adapt to your growing baby and uterus. Crunching would just strengthen and shorten muscles that will soon need to stretch and lengthen (not to mention the negative impact on your pelvic floor too!). As your baby grows, your abs will stretch length wise as well as width wise. Note that a certain degree of diastasis recti (abdominal separation) is normal during the last trimester, but you don’t want to put any unnecessary or additional stress on the gap. The best course of action is to avoid traditional ab exercises such as crunches, front planks, and stay away from twisting motions of the torso or extreme back bends.
+ Be aware of bouncing/High impact activities
Knowing about the hormone Relaxin, and its effects, may make you want to switch to a lower-impact activity such as power-walking, swimming or stationary biking. Relaxin is a hormone that helps your pelvis adjust and widen for your baby to descend the birth canal. It also has the impact of relaxing all your joints, muscles, tendons and tissues in your pregnant body. This is great for making the delivery easier, but Relaxin combined with high impact activities can lead to loose joints and misalignments post-pregnancy which can have long term effects. The pelvic floor is also a muscle. If you want to decrease the chances of urine incontinence or pelvic floor dysfunctions, it’s a good idea to avoid high impact exercises, even during first trimester exercises. This being said, you’ll need to make the decision for yourself.
+ Stay away from high Risks activities
It’s no big news, for obvious reasons, you’ll need to stay away from contact sports, scuba diving, or any activities with a high risk of falling. Also, make sure you are able to recognize signs or symptoms putting you and your baby at risk, and stop exercising and call your doctor if you ever experience:
- Bleeding from the vagina
- Feeling dizzy or faint
- Shortness of breath before starting exercise
- Chest pain
- Muscle weakness
- Calf pain or swelling
- Regular, painful contractions of the uterus
- Fluid leaking from the vagina
So, now that we have listed all the things to avoid in early pregnancy... where should you start?
How to plan a first trimester exercise plan
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+ Get the green light to exercise from your physician
The first thing you need to do is talk with your physician and make sure you receive approval to exercise prior to beginning a pregnancy exercise program. The benefits generally outweigh the risks, but it’s important make sure everything is fine. Note that most Doctors will give you a general answer if you ask “What should I do about exercise?”, that’s why I recommend you bring a workout plan to the appointment and show him/her what you plan to do. You want to have a real conversation about an early pregnancy workout, fitness and preventive measures you can take for yourself and your baby’s health. The goal is to have a healthy baby and experience.
+ Honor your body
If you are totally exhausted, it’s important to honor your body and rest. The discomforts caused by your hormones during these first few weeks can put a damper on your best intentions to exercise. Now isn’t the right time to push yourself. I remember some days when I stayed in bed most of the day and only did a few minutes of walking and abdominal breathing exercises. However, if you aren’t too sick and if you find some energy, you may discover that moderate exercise actually gives you more energy in the long run. A gentle workout can be a good “pick-me up” and reduce unpleasant pregnancy symptoms. Most women find that they begin to feel much better with more energy right around the end of the first trimester.
+ Focus on building a healthy and strong foundation
The goal isn’t to train for a personal best. First trimester exercises should help provide the best start for both you and your baby. You want a body that can stand up to the demands of pregnancy, labor and motherhood! Moderate cardio, abdominal breathing exercises and gentle strength exercises will help you reach this goal.
+ 150 minutes of moderate and low-impact exercise per week.
That’s how much most health authorities suggest that pregnant women get per week. These 150 minutes are best done as five 30-minute workouts, however, an early pregnancy workout can be tough, and you might prefer to exercise for 10– 20 minutes a few times throughout the day, when symptoms such as nausea and fatigue allow. It’s totally up to you, so listen to your body!
+ Start each session by asking yourself how you are feeling, and adjust your workout accordingly
Adapt the intensity, exercising time/rest, type of exercise... to your energy level. The goal is to feel better after, than before your pregnancy workout. Check in with yourself during the workout too. If your body tells you to slow down or stop exercising, don’t ignore it. If for some reason an exercise feels wrong, just skip it!
+ Focus on abdominal breathing exercises
If you haven’t discover the amazing benefits and efficiency of abdominal breathing exercises, now is the time! Focusing on intentionally connecting your deep core to every movement and exercise is so beneficial, especially during these special 9 months! Your pelvic floor, transverse muscles and diaphragm, work together to prevent pelvic floor dysfunction, back pain, severe diastasis recti and other aches and pains. Practicing abdominal breathing daily is one of the best things you can do as first trimester exercises. These exercises are the best way to (re)discover your pelvic floor, strengthen your core and get ready for a 9 month journey, labor and a delivery!
+ Running can be an option
First trimester exercises can include running as long as you were a runner before the pregnancy. You'll naturally find that you start to slow down. Don’t push harder and learn to listen to your body. It’s important to run at a pace that feels manageable and comfortable. Then, as your due date approaches, lower-impact activities may be more comfortable and safer for your dear pelvic floor.
+ A few precious tips to optimize your early pregnancy workout:
- Prioritize moderate low-impact exercise that lead to light sweating and slight increases in heart rate,
- Focus on abdominal breathing exercises and anti diastasis exercises,
- Mind your posture,
- Remember to breathe,
- Stay hydrated and bring your water bottle everywhere you go,
- Stay cool and wear comfortable loose-fitting clothing,
- Wear well-fitting, supportive, non-slip shoes,
- Listen to yourself and recognize when to slow down or reduce the intensity of exercises,
- Set realistic goals and try to stick with them to create healthy fitness habits,
- You may need to put aside your favorite activities such as Hot Yoga, Crossfit,skiing, surfing, or horseback riding, but remember that it’s just temporary. You’re pregnant for just a few months and you’ll be able to resume your favorite activities after recovering from childbirth.
Following the first trimester workout restrictions and exercising regularly and accordingly are key to enjoy a comfortable and healthy pregnancy. Even if you haven’t followed an exercise routine in the past, you can enjoy an active pregnancy.
Hang in there! As the body adjusts to the hormones of pregnancy, there is a good chance that your appetite and energy will come back in the second trimester!
Congratulations on your pregnancy. Enjoy the ride!