My plan has always been to walk every day of my pregnancy, even months before we were trying. But it is only now that I am making a serious effort to actually get out for my walk every day. I am now 19 weeks into my pregnancy and feeling that I have less stamina and fitness than ever before! I'm asthmatic, so I have never had a high level of cardio-respiratory fitness anyway, but I feel it's really dwindling at the moment. So I'm keen to try and remedy that before teaching my classes completely wipes me out altogether. #banjaxedby9oclock
This makes daily walking the perfect option for me. I can take it at my own pace, don't have to speak (instruct) while doing it and it is building my fitness back up! I thought a great way to motivate me would be knowing all the benefits of walking during pregnancy. So I'm writing a blog post! Turns out there are much more benefits than just maintaining the tone of my legs.
Whether you're 4 weeks or 40 weeks along, walking has amazing benefits for you and your baby. Pregnancy is the best time to begin reaping the rewards of a daily stroll. You can get all your exercise requirements and hopefully some Vitamin D while you're outside in the fresh air.
The Benefits of Walking During Pregnancy:
- Maintain your Fitness
Walking is one of the best cardiorespiratory exercises for a fit pregnancy. It suits expecting women of all different fitness levels. It's as gentle or as challenging as you need it to be. You can do it anytime during the day, choose your own route. It's easy for women who don't regularly exercise to take up and it gives athletic women a way to stay active if their usual routine is no longer suitable.
- Keeps weight gain in a healthy range
A study by the University College Dublin revealed that almost two thirds of women in Ireland exceed weight gain guidelines during pregnancy. This might explain why my doctor quickly calmed me down when I expressed concern that I had lost a little weight by the end of my first trimester.
Most women gain between 12kg and 16kg of body weight during pregnancy. However, putting on too much weight can increase the risk of complications to both you and your baby. It is important that you eat a healthy diet and stay active every day by taking time for exercise such as walking which will burn calories and keeps any excess weight gain in check. But remember, it is important to gain enough weight to support your baby’s growth as well as your own health.
- Maintain muscle mass to make postnatal weight loss easier
The more lean mass (muscle etc) your body has the more energy (calories) your body will burn when simply resting or sitting around watching TV. This is your metabolism, the more lean body mass you have, the higher your metabolism. This means, the more muscle mass we can maintain during pregnancy, the easier it will be to return to our pre-baby body fat levels. Walking will help maintain your muscle mass. I also recommend a weight bearing exercise such as Prenatal Pilates. Be sure that your teacher has excellent prenatal qualifications.
- Lowers Risk of Gestational Diabetes:
All types of diabetes are related to insulin, which regulates the amount of glucose in your blood. When you’re pregnant your placenta produces insulin-blocking hormones. Gestational diabetes can happen if the mother’s body can’t produce enough extra insulin to counteract this blocking effect. Aerobic activity like walking lowers blood glucose, which means your body does not need to produce so much extra insulin to regulate it. You can also lower your chance of getting gestational diabetes by not gaining too much weight during pregnancy. Eating a balanced diet along with regular walking can help keep our (and the babies') blood sugar levels and weight gain within a healthy range.
- Lowers Risk of Preeclampsia:
Doctors cannot yet identify one single cause of preeclampsia, although some researchers suspect poor nutrition or high body fat can be potential contributors. The risk factors that can increase your chances of developing preeclampsia include first time pregnancy, being obese, carrying more than one baby, being over the age of 35, a history of high blood pressure, a history of diabetes or a kidney disorder. I am definitely having our second before I'm 35!
Regular walking in early pregnancy helps maintain a healthy weight and reduces cholesterol and oxidative stress, thus balancing blood pressure levels during pregnancy. This way, you could be at lower risk of preeclampsia.
- Lowers Risk of Fetal Macrosomia (Big Baby)
A chubby baby is adorable. But, the last thing you need while giving birth is a large baby (8 to 9lbs+). This is more likely is you have poorly managed high blood sugar levels or gain an excessive amount of weight during pregnancy. Regular walking will help you to manage both of these factors and achieve a healthy baby weight.
Stress is common for most pregnant women. Blame it on hormones, a pregnant woman has mood swings, from joy to anxiety and back. But, chronic stress can be harmful not just for you but also for your unborn baby. Walking releases endorphins, the feel-good, stress busting chemicals in the body. It will elevate your mood on days when you are feeling extremely low and help you find some peace of mind.
- Prepares us for labour
Pregnancy is a time when you need to concentrate on being physically and mentally fit. We need to build stamina, muscular endurance and hip and leg strength. When you are in a better shape, you are prepared well for delivery. Early morning walk is more helpful for a natural childbirth.
- Promotes sounder sleep
Sleepless nights can make an early entry into your life during your pregnancy. I have been waking up since early in my first trimester and from what I hear I can expect it to get worse! Exercising on a regular basis will burn off any excess energy, the fresh air will promote a longer deeper sleep.
- Other Benefits:
Walking will reduce the chances of future morning sickness, cramps, constipation and relieve aches from being inactive.
Is it safe to start walking while pregnant?
Walking is a safe activity to continue throughout all nine months of pregnancy and one of the easier ways to start exercising if you haven't previously been active or if you had to take a break during your first trimester. As always, check with your doctor before starting any new exercise regime. Even one as gentle and pleasant as walking.
Begin with no more than 15 minutes, alternating days. When you feel ready, add another day of walking then another until you are walking every day. Then begin adding more minutes to your walk on alternate days. Provided you're feeling good, it's fine to continue increasing the length of your walks.
If you've been walking for exercise, keep it up. I plan to begin with adding more of my 30 minute walks to my weekly routine, building up to walking every day until my due date and then continuing with our baby in the pram (as long as I feel up to it).
Keep it safe tips:
- Develop your own brisk yet comfortable pace. Use the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) scale: On a scale of 1-10, most of your walks should fall between a 3 (slow walk) and a 7 (brisk walk). You should be able to converse without gasping for breath. Listen to your body, slow down or stop and rest if you feel exhausted or can't catch your breath.
- Regardless of your fitness level, pay attention to how you feel each day. It's smart to shorten your walks or even skip them occasionally if you are not feeling up to it.
- Eat something small thirty minutes to an hour before you head off to avoid fainting due to low blood sugar.
- Do not allow your body to overheat, as it can cause preterm contractions. If it's very hot and/or humid outside, go early in the morning or late in the day to avoid peak temperatures. Try swimming instead of walking on days that are just too hot to be outside.
- Bring drinking water with you to prevent dehydration. We make ice sticks instead of cubes (different shape) in order to add them to our water bottles in hot weather.
- Make sure you have good walking shoes that fit well. If you notice an increase in your foot size, have your foot measured to make sure you're wearing the correct size.
- Avoid uneven terrain that could cause you to trip and fall.
- Sunlight can worsen melasma, a condition in which blotchy areas of darkened skin appear during pregnancy. Protect your skin by wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 35 or higher no matter what the weather outside.
- Seek medical advice immediately if you suffer from any of the following symptoms while walking: any pain, bleeding, dizziness, faintness, sudden swelling, contractions, lack of normal fetal movement, an abnormally rapid heartbeat, blurred vision, muscle weakness, chest pain or calf pain.
- If you develop muscle or joint pain that doesn't go away within 24 hours, take a break for a few days and try walking again at a slower pace and for a shorter period of time. If you're still having pain, check with your doctor, they may refer to a physiotherapist.
Maintain good form:
- Pay more attention to your posture to avoid straining your lower back. Keep your head up, chest open and shoulders relaxed. Keep your back straight and tuck your hips under your shoulders to minimise the lordotic posture that's common later in pregnancy.
- Swing your arms for balance and to intensify your workout.
- Take long strides to lengthen through the front of your hips with each step. Move with fluidity, rolling off the toes and pushing from your back foot.
- Stretch yourself thoroughly after a walk when you are still warm. It is a great time to improve your flexibility and offers a moment or relaxation in your day.
- You may prefer walking alone or ask a friend to join you on your walks and keep you motivated. You could join or start a walking group.
Tips for Walking in the Second Trimester (13 to 25 weeks):
- Your bump starts to show and you may feel less agile. Walk carefully as your centre of gravity will shift with the expanding belly.
- Do not walk beyond the point of weariness.
- Listen to positive birth podcasts or affirmations on your walk. Anything, as long as it brings you joy while walking in pregnancy!
- Be prepared to reduce the speed and distance of your walks as your belly gets bigger.
Extra Tips for Walking in the Third Trimester (26 to 40 weeks):
- This trimester is all about staying comfortable, keep the focus on simply remaining active. If you find your usual distance tough to manage, break it up into two or more shorter walks throughout your day.
- As you get closer to your due date, consider walking a shorter loop near your home. You might feel safer knowing that you won't get stuck far from home in case of an emergency.
- Carry your (fully charged) mobile phone and the details of who to call in case of a problem.
- Always let someone know where you are walking and when you are due to be back from your walk.
- If you are experiencing pelvic or lower back pain, wearing a pelvic support belt or a belly support belt can help you feel more stable and comfortable.
There is something pleasant about heading outside to go for a walk and I hope this post gives you the confidence and motivation to join me in walking during pregnancy.