Third Trimester Exercises: The Benefits & Risks
You are almost there! You’ll soon hold your child in your arms but still - you have a few more weeks to go! The third trimester is known to be one of the greatest anatomical changes a woman can experience, so is it still safe to perform exercise at this point? These days we're lucky enough to have a treasure trove of reliable research into pregnancy and the effects of exercise on both the mother and fetus. Research indicates quite the opposite, encouraging women to exercise before and during their entire pregnancy as it ’s beneficial for both mother and child, provided that the mom-to-be is aware of any potential risks.
In fact, findings suggest that exercising during your third trimester will significantly lower your postpartum BMI in contrast to those who avoid exercise all together. Fabulous isn’t it!
So now that we know that it’s healthy to stay physically active when pregnant, let's take a look at the changes that happen in the latter stages of pregnancy to better understand our recommended do's and dont's when it comes to performing third-trimester exercises.
Third trimester exercise overview
Pregnancy is an extraordinary period for most women, however it can sometimes also make some women feel worried and unsure about their health and that of their unborn child. So it's important to clearly highlight that there are more health benefits associated with training while pregnant than potential risks.
Being aware of what to do and what to avoid is crucial, so you feel safe while executing any third-trimester exercises. As you’ll see in the next sections, there are a few recommendations that are worth to be aware of when you are in the third trimester.
Note that general recommendations for the first and second trimesters also apply to the third one.
Preeclampsia: Blood pressure and protein on the rise!
Although it's common for blood pressure to decrease in the first and second trimesters, in the last trimester, it increases back to pre-pregnancy levels. However, in the very final stages of pregnancy, some women develop exceedingly high blood pressure (hypertension), which can be dangerous if mismanaged. Termed as Preeclampsia, this condition is characterized by hypertension, fluid retention and proteinuria (presence of protein in the urine).
The good news here is that regular exercise can be a preventative measure, helping to reduce the risks linked to hypertension and even prevent preeclampsia, with cardio workouts going a long way in supporting the cardiovascular system and lowering blood pressure.
Time to take sides
In the later stages of pregnancy, the growing baby starts to weigh a considerable amount and takes up more and more room in the womb. When this happens, lying on your back can create additional load and pressure on a major vein called Vena Cava, potentially restricting blood pumped to the heart and as a result reducing the amount of oxygen circulating for both mother and baby.
Blood flow issues may make the mother-to-be lightheaded and dizzy, increasing the risk of fainting. With this in mind, it's best to perform stretching and strength floor exercises on your side instead. Fret not; it’s normal to briefly move onto your back when you change sides and shouldn't cause any problems.
Diastasis recti... come again?
A common condition that usually pops up in the last trimester or even postpartum is the diastasis of the rectus muscles of the abdomen. This condition is also known as abdominal separation and, as it suggests it's when the rectus abdominis muscle widens so much due to the growing belly that both sides of no longer connect in the middle. This can lead to poor posture, lower back pain, constipation, urinal leaks and in more severe cases, hernias. So, if you notice a bulging of the abdominal muscles, inform your doctor as soon as possible and avoid any abdominal exercises until you get the okay. One risk factor in developing diastasis recti is overworking your abs in the last trimester.
Interestingly enough diastasis recti rarely occurs in women who regularly exercised before pregnancy, suggesting that weak abdominals may be a factor. If you feel like your ab muscles may be too weak, you can modify some exercises or even eliminate any activities like side crunches or Russian twists that engage the obliques as they're connected to the rectus abdominis.
Regulating the body's internal temperature while pregnant can be a challenging task, influenced by everything from digestion to exercise. As metabolism and blood volume increases in pregnancy, you'll start to feel warmer. Now, this is perfectly natural and nothing to worry about, but the risk of overheating (hyperthermia) does increase when exercising during pregnancy. So, if you're going to exercise, make sure to avoid hot, airless and humid environments.
Training in a climate-controlled environment, wearing clothes that breathe well and expose the skin, as well as performing shorter workouts at a moderate level of intensity, will all contribute to you feeling comfortable and avoiding overheating. Also, always remember to stay hydrated, as it supports heat regulation, as well as reduces the impact on joints as it due to to the added weight of that growing belly.
Benefits of third-trimester exercises
Improved cardiovascular function
Weight gain management
Reduced muscular and skeletal discomfort
Decreased lower extremity swelling
Reduced risk of developing gestational diabetes and hypertension/preeclampsia
Improved and stable mood
Lower body fat
Improved stress tolerance
Advanced neurobehavioral maturation
As you can see, there are a host of benefits associated with regular exercise during pregnancy. Whatever you do, always listen to your body and don't overexert yourself. Third-trimester activities are meant to be fun and simple, so let’s wrap this up with a list of the third trimester do’s and don’ts.
Third trimester exercise do’s and don’ts
Talk to your doctor regularly and make sure you’re in a healthy enough to exercise
Exercise moderately for a good 30 minutes most days of the week
Stay active daily and do low-impact exercises like swimming and cycling
Stay cool and work out in airy and well-ventilated spaces
Keep hydrated by drinking water all day long!
Kegel exercises daily to help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles
Have fun while training
Overexert yourself. Being out of breath and feeling a burn in your muscles when training is a good thing, but in the third trimester, it’s important to be gentle with yourself and your body
Deny downtime, you need to recover and enjoy nesting
Exercise if you feel dizzy or lightheaded, respect your limits and rest between sets if you need to
Participate in high-risk or high-impact activities such as contact sports -- avoid activities that increase the risk of accidents
Eat, rest, nest
It's quite amazing to see how women's bodies change and adapt when growing and to giving life to a baby, which in turn, will change the life of its parents too. Take good care of yourself during in your third and last trimester and before embarking on any intense training, remember that it’s a good time to eat healthy foods, rest, and nest! That way, you’ll have the energy you need to give your newborn baby your full attention.