Exercise During Pregnancy: Benefits & Safety

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Exercise During Pregnancy - Benefits and Safety

The idea of exercise during pregnancy is one surrounded by myth and confusion. Many false ideas are carryover from Victorian times when women were “confined” to rest and stay inside during pregnancy. Thankfully, we live in the 21st century where the benefits of exercise during pregnancy are better understood. Yet, many moms still wonder, “Is exercise during pregnancy safe? Can I do too much? Which exercises are best, and which should I avoid?” Today we’re going to answer some of the most common questions pregnant moms have about exercise, and highlight the benefits and safest ways to stay fit.

Is Exercise During Pregnancy Safe? 

The short answer to this question is, yes. Exercise and physical fitness is safe during pregnancy for the vast majority of women. Of course, you should always check with your doctor or midwife first. But as a general rule, if both mom and baby are healthy, then not only do you have a green light to exercise, but you’re encouraged to do so.

With that said, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) encourages pregnant women with the following conditions to avoid hitting the gym:

  • Certain types of heart and lung diseases
  • Cervical insufficiency (a cervix that opens too early) or cerclage
  • Pregnancy with multiples (twins, triplets, or more) and you have risk factors for preterm labor
  • Placenta previa (a condition where the uterus covers the cervix) after 26 weeks of pregnancy
  • Preterm labor or ruptured membranes (your water has broken) during this pregnancy regular physical activity
  • Preeclampsia or pregnancy-induced high blood pressure
  • Severe anemia (1)

What Are The Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy?

If you’re in the mood for a little exercise adrenaline-rush, you can start working out with a good conscience. Because it turns out there are lots of well-documented benefits of prenatal exercise. You’ve probably guessed that exercise will help you maintain healthy weight gain during pregnancy and make it easier to get back into shape after baby is born. But did you know that prenatal exercise can also:  

  • Reduce back pain, constipation, bloating, and swelling
  • Increase your energy
  • Improve your mood
  • Improve your posture
  • Promote muscle tone, strength, and endurance that can lead to an easier labor and delivery
  • Help you sleep better
  • Decrease your risk of gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, and cesarean delivery (1, 2)

How Much Should I Exercise During Pregnancy?  

So now that you know you can exercise, how much should you do? ACOG recommends that you exercise moderately for at least 30 minutes on most if not all days (3). However, the amount that you exercise during your pregnancy is up to you. If you were an active person before your pregnancy, then it is healthy and safe for you to continue your normal routine. Even if you weren’t previously active, it is still safe for you to exercise—just be sure that you gradually increase your level of activity, rather than immediately putting your body under high stress (3, 4).

What Are Safe Ways to Exercise During Pregnancy?

If you’ve been exercising even before getting pregnant, it’s typically OK to continue your same routine as long as it’s comfortable (1). But if you didn’t consistently exercise before your pregnancy, it might seem overwhelming to find exercises that are safe and meet your current physical abilities. Here are a few ideas of safe, gentle ways to exercise during pregnancy:

  • Walking
  • Dancing 
  • Jogging
  • Kegel exercises
  • Stair climbing machines
  • Swimming and water-based workouts
  • Stationary biking
  • Yoga and Pilates
  • Weight or resistance training (1, 5, 6)

Remember, it’s always important that you hydrate and stretch properly, as well as eat enough to replenish your calories. If you begin to lose weight during pregnancy due to your exercise routine, you may need to adjust your routine or increase the amount of calories you eat (1). Weight loss is rarely the goal of exercise when you’re pregnant.

What Exercises Should I Avoid? 

While your amazing body can continue to perform most activities prenatally, there are some that you should avoid. This becomes more important as your belly starts to grow in size. If the sport puts you at a high risk of falling or injury, strains your pelvic floor muscles, or puts baby at risk by getting hit in the abdomen, then you should replace it with something less dangerous. Exercises to put on hold later in pregnancy include:

  • High impact workouts that require extensive jumping, hopping, skipping, or bouncing
  • Exercise that causes you to lay flat on your back 
  • Contact sports and sports such as ice hockey, boxing, soccer and basketball
  • Skydiving and scuba diving 
  • “Hot yoga” or “hot Pilates”
  • Horseback riding
  • Skiing and water skiing

When To Stop Right Away

Let’s not forget common sense, either. Stop exercising immediately if you begin to experience contractions, vaginal bleeding, or any fluid leaking from your vagina. Also, call it quits if you experience dizziness, nausea, faintness, or shortness of breath (6).

Heat & High Altitude

When preparing to work out, be sure to take into account the environment. Moms-to-be are discouraged from exercising in hot, humid weather to avoid dehydration. So, be sure to drink plenty of fluid and avoid lengthy workout sessions outside in the heat. Also, avoid exercising in high-altitude areas (greater than 6,000 ft) if you don’t already live in one. In such heights, you’ll have less oxygen available to breathe, which will mean that your baby gets less oxygen, too. So, it’s probably best to reschedule that hike up Mount Kilimanjaro until after baby is born :).

Experience The Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy!

Now that you understand the what, how, and why of exercise during pregnancy, put that knowledge into action! Start today by creating your own personal exercise routine and enjoy the benefits of your hard work. Good luck, and get to it!

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References:

  1. Exercise during pregnancy. (2019, July). Retrieved from https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Exercise-During-Pregnancy
  2. Exercise during pregnancy. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/exercise-during-pregnancy/
  3. Aron, E. A. (2006) Pregnancy dos & don’ts: the smart woman’s pocket companion for a safe and sound pregnancy. New York, NY: Broadway Books.
  4. Davidson, M. R., London, M. L., & Ladewig, P. A. (2012) Olds’ maternal-newborn nursing & women’s health across the lifespan. Boston:Julie Levan Alexander. 
  5. Pregnancy workout. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/pregnancy-workout/
  6. Exercise and pregnancy. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/exercise-and-pregnancy/