Dr Brandi: Exercise in the early stages of Pregnancy
Dr Brandi Cole, our resident pregnancy and exercise expert, gives us a run down of things to think about when exercising during the early stages of pregnancy.
The good news is that you CAN exercise, even if you haven't exercised before. As I always say, any movement is good!
Take a look at the article below for all the tips and things to consider before you hit the gym.
Exercise in Early Pregnancy
Women should be encouraged to maintain an exercise program in the early stages of pregnancy and, contrary to popular belief, it’s actually ok to start exercising for the first time in your life while pregnant too (obviously 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 and remember that you only need 30 minutes a day of moderate activity on most days of the week to be making big impacts to your general health and well being, whether you’re pregnant or not.
Here are some tips for exercising in the early stages of pregnancy.
Managing the dreaded morning sickness
Nausea is common in early pregnancy with up to 80% of pregnant women experience nausea at least once during their pregnancy. It mainly occurs between weeks 6 – 12 but can occur up to 20 weeks and beyond in 20% of pregnancies.
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 - for me, this was the first hour of my day after getting out of bed as my nausea worsened throughout the day.
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 things like anaemia or hypothyroidism as a cause that can be treated.
Despite seeming illogical, exercise can actually help counter the affects of pregnancy fatigue and give you more energy.
How to get started
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 will get better when you get to the second trimester!
Biggest Watch Out
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).
The magic number seems to be a core body temperature of 39 degrees which is actually quite hard to achieve unless you’re unwell with a fever.
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
Exercising in the morning or evening,
Training in air conditioning or in front of a fan
Wearing cool, light clothing
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!
What about my heart-rate?
People often ask what their heart rate should stay below during exercise but the answer is there is no number.
Your 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 is safe as long as it lowers again when you stop.
If you’re concerned about intensity, a good guide is to still be able to talk in sentences during your workout when pregnant but 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.
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By letting me know what topics are important to you in terms of pregnancy and post-pregnancy, we can make this series as frank and relevant as possible. Thank you!
1. Bo K, Artal R, Barakat R, et al. Exercise and pregnancy in recreational and elite athletes: 2016 evidence summary from the IOC expert group meeting, Lausanne. Part 1-exercise in women planning pregnancy and those who are pregnant. Br J Sports Med 2016; 50:571.
2. Bo K, Artal R, Barakat R, et al. Exercise and pregnancy in recreational and elite athletes: 2016 evidence summary from the IOC expert group meeting, Lausanne. Part 2-the effect of exercise on the fetus, labour and birth. Br J Sports Med 2016.