Exercise is encouraged during pregnancy as it has many benefits including preparing you for labor and childbirth. Exercising at least 30 minutes on most, if not all, days of the week can benefit your health during pregnancy in the following ways:
- Helps reduce backaches, constipation, bloating, and swelling
- May help prevent or treat gestational diabetes
- Increases your energy
- Improves your mood
- Improves your posture
- Promotes muscle tone, strength, and endurance
- Helps you sleep better
Regular activity also helps keep you fit during pregnancy and may improve your ability to cope with labor. This will make it easier for you to get back in shape after the baby is born. There are changes that occur in your body during pregnancy that can affect your exercise routine. The hormones produced during pregnancy cause the ligaments that support your joints to become relaxed. This makes the joints more mobile and more at risk of injury. The extra weight in the front of your body during pregnancy shifts your center of gravity and places stress on joints and muscles, especially those in the pelvis and lower back. This can make you less stable, cause back pain, and make you more likely to lose your balance and fall, especially in later pregnancy. The extra weight you are carrying will make your body work harder than before you were pregnant.
Certain sports are safe during pregnancy, even for beginners:
- Walking is a good exercise for anyone.
- Swimming is great for your body because it works so many muscles.
- Cycling provides a good aerobic workout during the early months of pregnancy.
- Aerobics is a good way to keep your heart and lungs strong.
- If you were a runner before you became pregnant, you often can keep running during pregnancy, although you may have to modify your routine.
There are some activities that should be avoided. In general, activities in which there is a high risk of falling, such as gymnastics, water skiing, and horseback riding, should be avoided. Other sports to avoid include contact sports, scuba diving, and downhill snow skiing.
Some sports also increase the risk of falling because of your changing balance. The changes in your body can make certain positions and activities risky for you and your baby. While exercising, try to avoid activities that call for jumping, jarring motions, or quick changes in direction that may strain your joints and cause injury. There are some risks from becoming overheated during pregnancy. This may cause loss of fluids and lead to dehydration and problems during pregnancy. You should be able to talk normally while exercising and it is important to drink lots of fluids, water is best. Hydration is important even in the winter months.
When you exercise, follow these general guidelines for a safe and healthy exercise program:
- After the first trimester of pregnancy, avoid doing any exercises on your back.
- If it has been some time since you have exercised, start slowly. Begin with as little as 5 minutes of exercise a day and add 5 minutes each week until you can stay active for 30 minutes a day.
- Avoid brisk exercise in hot, humid weather or when you have a fever.
- Wear comfortable clothing that will help you to remain cool.
- Wear a bra that fits well and gives lots of support to help protect your breasts.
- Make sure you consume the daily extra calories you need during pregnancy.
If you have any of the conditions following conditions,it is important to discuss exercise during pregnancy with your obstetrician:
- Heart disease
- Lung disease
- Incompetent cervix: The cervix is the narrow, outer end of the uterus. If it is weak, it cannot hold the fetus in the uterus.
- History of preterm labor(before 37 weeks of pregnancy)
- Multiple pregnancy (twins, triplets, or more) or are at risk for preterm labor
- Frequent bleeding from the vagina during months 4-9 of pregnancy
- Placenta previa: The placenta connects the baby’s blood supply to the mother’s blood. Attached to the mother’s uterus, it is an unborn baby’s lifeline. Placenta previa is a low-lying placenta that covers part or all of the cervix. This can block the baby’s exit from the uterus.
Stop exercising and call your health care provider if you have any of these symptoms:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Dizziness or feeling faint
- Increased shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Muscle weakness
- Calf pain or swelling
- Uterine contractions
- Decreased fetal movement
- Fluid leaking from the vagina
Exercise can be resumed after normal delivery when you feel ready. If you had a complicated pregnancy or delivery, you need time to recover and should check with you Obstetrician prior to resuming exercise.
Most women think of physical exertion when they think of exercise. In addition to the exercises mentioned already, women should regularly do pelvic floor exercises, known as kegels. These should be done during and after your pregnancy. Doing kegels during pregnancy has been shown to help with recovery of postpartum muscle strength. This decreases your risk of urinary and bowel incontinence caused by stretched or injured pelvic floor muscles during labor. After pregnancy, doing kegels will help recover strength in the pelvic floor muscles. Strong pelvic floor muscles may enhance sexual pleasure for you and your partner.
Walking is a good way to get back into exercising. Brisk walks several times a week will prepare you for more strenuous exercise when you feel up to it. Walking has the added advantage of getting both you and the baby out of the house for exercise and fresh air. As you feel stronger, consider more vigorous exercise.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2011, August). Frequently Asked Questions FAQ 119 Exercise During Pregnancy and The March of Dimes (http://www.marchofdimes.org/pregnancy/conditions-that-make-exercise-dangerous-during-pregnancy.aspx)