• Michelle Cornish

Exercising during the First Trimester

Your fitness trainer or therapist will likely be one of the first people you tell when you become pregnant (even if you haven't gone public with it yet). This can be important so your instructor is aware of what you are dealing with, also in case you require modifications to your exercise or movements.

However, telling anyone during your first trimester is a personal preference and this article addresses some of the common symptoms you may experience, how to adjust to your changing body, the role of the core/pelvic floor connection and how to adjust your exercise in the first trimester.

During the first trimester you will go through a lot of physical and psychological changes including changes in your body, energy levels and hormones, which may also affect your emotions. Your feelings about your body may regularly switch between overwhelm, apprehension and excitement!

One of the most supportive things you can do for yourself during this time is to listen to your body and honour the changes as they come!

The first trimester is general classified as extending to week 13 of your pregnancy, and is accompanied by some of all of these physiological changes:

  • Fatigue

  • Morning sickness (or in some case all-day sickness)

  • Tender, heavier breasts

  • Headaches

  • Increased urination

  • Increased breathlessness

  • Insomnia

  • Vivid dreams

If you’re someone who experiences many of these symptoms, your goal for this trimester is simply to make it through while taking care of yourself and resting as much as possible. You may not feel like moving your body much, and if that’s the case, just do the best you can to follow the workouts in the programme. You may find that you can only get in one or two workouts a week and that’s ok!

However, if you feel pretty good during your first trimester, you can follow the specific guidelines outlined below.

Exercise during the First Trimester

During this time, you may feel short of breath and have less energy but your exercise goals could include:

  • Increasing or maintaining your strength or muscle mass,

  • Strengthening your core and pelvic floor connection,

  • Developing a solid aerobic foundation,

  • Staying somewhat active despite experiencing mild to moderate fatigue (severe fatigue requires rest!).

Despite what you may have heard from well-meaning friends, and family members, exercise during pregnancy has many benefits. During pregnancy, you are training for one of the most physically demanding events of your life. Exercise during pregnancy is very important and its impact is multi-faceted.

Movement affects your body’s levels of hormones to improve your mood and your psychological health, and may also help alleviate common pregnancy symptoms, provide opportunities for social engagement with other pregnant women, improve your ability to recover from labour and delivery, attenuate excessive prenatal weight gain, and keep your body strong and structurally sound during pregnancy.

Maintaining good posture and alignment through exercise can help the baby sit in a position that allows for an easier labour and delivery experience, reduces lower back pain and muscle/joint problems. What’s more, physical activity during pregnancy can improve your ability to carry extra weight more comfortably.

During pregnancy, your body increases its production of hormone called relaxin, which, as the name suggests, works to relax and soften the ligaments in the pelvis (as well as soften and widen the cervix). While this is perfectly normal and very helpful in preparing your body for childbirth, it can lead to compensatory movement and overuse of certain muscles and muscle groups in some women causing pain around the pelvis and/or lower back. Exercise, specifically, strength training, helps improve movement patterns and may reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injury during pregnancy.

Some women also find that exercise helps reduce or alleviate their nausea, fatigue, morning sickness, and headaches. However, this depends on how bad your symptoms are and should be evaluated on a case-by-case and day-by-day basis. Some women may find it helpful all of the time, while others may find it helpful some of the time. Still, others may find that it’s never helpful. But one this is for sure: You should never force yourself to exercise when you’re feeling awful.

When it comes to having a healthy first trimester that sets you and your baby up for healthy days ahead, the proper exercise programme should be designed to maintain proper posture and alignment, increase strength and lean muscle mass, strengthen the core and balance the tone of the pelvic floor, develop a solid aerobic foundation, promote health levels of body fat, and yield health improvements without over-stressing the body.

Gain Strength

Having strong, balanced muscles and good overall stability helps relieve stress on your tendons, ligaments and joints. That is particularly helpful as your body changes and your tummy grows throughout pregnancy. And since building muscle takes time, your best course of action is to begin strength training (or adapt your current strength training programme to meet you pre-pregnancy goals) now.

Muscles that deserve particular attention during pregnancy include those of the upper back, core, pelvic floor and glutes. For instance, while a strong upper back is important to help support your breasts as they increase in size throughout your pregnancy, a strong core helps your body carry the growing weight in your uterus. During pregnancy, the weight of your growing baby pulls the pelvis forward. Strong glutes can help to keep the sacrum, at the base of the spine, in a more neutral position, thereby reducing irritation on the sacroiliac joint and unnecessary stress on the pelvic floor muscles.

Plus, once your baby arrives, you need to have the strength to haul around your baby and car seat and changing bag and pram and shopping etc.! You need to be strong to perform these everyday tasks safely.