Regular exercise is important in every phase of life, and pregnancy is no exception. Whether you’re maintaining a pre-pregnancy routine or just getting started with exercise, it’s important to understand the benefits, risks and limitations of exercising while pregnant.
Exercising during pregnancy presents numerous advantages and very few risks. Working out, whether you’re pregnant or not, benefits cardio-respiratory fitness, reduces risk of obesity and promotes a long life. In most pregnant women, it improves or maintains physical fitness, helps with weight management, reduces risk of gestational diabetes in obese women, boosts psychological well-being and aids sleep.
Exercise can also work to alleviate common pregnancy pains such as backaches, constipation, bloating and swelling. What's more, working out during pregnancy may help you better cope with labor, and will make it easier to get back in shape after the baby is born.
Exercise does not increase risk of miscarriage in a typical pregnancy. Therefore, women with low-risk, uncomplicated pregnancies can often engage in aerobic and strength-building exercises before, during and after pregnancy without harming themselves or the baby. Some modifications may be necessary to accommodate for anatomic and physical changes, plus fetal requirements. As always, consult with your healthcare provider before beginning an exercise program to confirm you don’t have a medical reason to avoid doing so.
If you’re pregnant and starting a new exercise regimen, take it slow. Pay attention to the signals your body sends. Rest when needed, and slowly increase your workout length and intensity as you feel comfortable. A healthy eventual goal is to exercise at a moderate intensity for 20 to 30 minutes a day.
More research is needed to pinpoint optimal intensity and frequency of exercise during pregnancy. If you’re continuing an exercise routine you began before you became pregnant, chances are you can maintain that routine to a certain degree throughout your pregnancy. Walking, running, swimming, cycling and aerobics are all good exercise options for pregnant women.
Make sure to wear comfortable exercise footwear that provides strong ankle support. Joints become looser during pregnancy, so it’s important to take extra steps to avoid falling or spraining an ankle. Stay hydrated, take frequent breaks and stretch before and after your workout. Make sure you’re eating a healthy diet packed with fruits, vegetables and complex carbohydrates.
Some things to avoid when working out while pregnant:
- Exercising to the point of becoming breathless. This means you (and your baby) aren’t getting enough oxygen
- Exercising in hot, humid weather
- Rocky terrain or unstable ground
- Contact sports
- Scuba diving
- Lifting weights above your head
- Lying flat on your back, especially during the second and third trimesters. This decreases blood flow to the uterus
- Activities that involve a high risk of falling, like gymnastics, skiing (water or snow), horseback riding, etc
Stop working out and call your healthcare provider if you experience any of the following symptoms during or after exercise:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Fluid leaking from the vagina
- Uterine contractions
- Decreased fetal movement
- Calf pain or swelling
- Chest pain
- Increased shortness of breath
- Muscle weakness
Get in touch with one of our OB/GYN providers to learn more about caring for your health during pregnancy.