Exercise and pregnancy: What you need to know

As health care providers, we want to do our best to help you maintain and increase your health with proper nutrition and exercise.
Jan. 13, 2016
woman walking and getting exercise during pregnancy.
Exercise has its benefits, even during pregnancy. Source: iStock

Now that you’re pregnant, you are most likely trying to decipher the list of “do’s and don’ts” you receive from family, friends, co-workers and the media. Engaging in the right amount of physical activity is just one of the many questions you may have. For most women, pregnancy is considered a healthy state of being.

As health care providers, we want to do our best to help you maintain and increase your health with proper nutrition and exercise.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week for healthy women who are not already highly active or used to doing vigorous activity. For most pregnant women, low-impact exercise is a great way to feel better, look better and help prepare their bodies for labor.

Low-impact exercise increases your heart rate and oxygen intake while helping you avoid sudden or jarring actions, which put stress on your joints, bones and muscles. Exercising during pregnancy proves to be extremely beneficial.

Regular exercise during pregnancy can help:

  • Prevent excess weight gain
  • Reduce pregnancy-related problems, like back pain, swelling and constipation
  • Improve sleep quality
  • Increase energy levels
  • Improve outlook and attitude
  • Prepare you physically for labor
  • Decrease recovery time

Stick to low-impact exercise unless your health care provider has advised you otherwise. Scheduling 30 minutes of physical activity per day helps accomplish this goal. Low-impact and moderate exercise activities, like walking or swimming, are great choices.

You also can try yoga or Pilates classes, workout videos or exercise apps that are tailored for pregnancy. These forms of exercise help with strength, flexibility and relaxation. Remember: talk to your health care provider before starting or continuing any exercise routine during pregnancy.

You may wonder, “How much exercise is enough?” If you were very active or did intense aerobic activities before getting pregnant, you may be able to continue your exercise regimen, as long as your doctor or midwife says it’s safe for you and your baby. If you are engaging in high-impact activities, such as jogging, your health care provider may advise you to monitor your heart rate and adjust your activity or slow down, as needed.

High-impact exercise can cause increased pressure on the structures within the uterus that could lead to problems, such as premature labor or bleeding.

It is wise to avoid some exercises and activities during pregnancy including:

  • Heavyweight training (after the first trimester)
  • Sit-ups (also after the first trimester)
  • Contact sports
  • Scuba diving
  • Bouncing or jarring (any activity that would cause a lot of up and down movement, such as horseback riding.)
  • Leaping
  • Sudden changes in direction, like downhill skiing
  • Activities with an increased risk for falling, like gymnastics

Remember, before beginning or continuing any exercise regimen, first talk to your health care provider. It’s also important to be aware of how your body changes. During pregnancy, your body produces a hormone known as relaxin, which is believed to help prepare the pubic area and the cervix for birth. Relaxin loosens the ligaments in your body, making you less stable and more prone to injury.

So, it’s easy to overstretch or strain yourself, especially the joints in your pelvis, lower back and knees. Additionally, your center of gravity shifts as your pregnancy progresses, so you may feel off-balance and at risk of falling. Keep this in mind when you choose an activity.

Lastly, don’t overdo it. Whatever type of exercise you choose, make sure to take frequent breaks and drink plenty of fluids. Use common sense. Slow down or stop the exercise if you get short of breath or feel uncomfortable. If you have any questions about doing a certain sport or activity during your pregnancy, talk to your health care provider for specific guidelines.

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