You’re pregnant! Congratulations! Now what? Exercise during pregnancy has become a pretty hot topic over the past couple of years. From the marathon runner who finished an athlete’s run and delivered her baby a few hours later, to the hard-core CrossFitter mom photographed lifting heavy weights well into her third trimester, exercise during pregnancy tends to be a controversial issue. What do the experts recommend? Is pregnancy a time for training or a time for rest?
Training for Pregnancy
Pregnancy puts a lot of extra stress on women – both physically and emotionally. You’re growing a new life – that takes some work! Some changes you’re likely to experience include:
- Nausea and morning sickness, especially during the first trimester, which may hinder your ability to eat regularly and replenish your fuel supply
- Fatigue and lethargy – growing a new human from scratch is a full-time job
- Loose joints – besides the obvious baby bump, your body will also start to become more flexible in preparation for delivery
- A new center of gravity – as your baby grows, the new weight will likely change your balance
- Emotional sensitivity – your body will go through many hormonal changes and fluctuations in order to nurture the development of your baby
Bottom line? Pregnancy is a time for balance. Both exercise and rest are important to make you a healthy mom and to grow a healthy baby. Experts recommend that healthy women – seasoned and non-seasoned exercisers alike – should make regular exercise a part of their pregnancy routines.
Exercises During Pregnancy
In general, at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise is recommended, which equates to about 20 minutes per day. You should break a sweat, but still be able to speak a few sentences comfortably during moderate exercise. Vigorous exercisers may continue to exercise as long as they do it in a safe and healthy way. If you’re a novice, start slow and consult your doctor to choose an appropriate exercise regime that will benefit both you and your baby. Here are some basic guidelines to make exercise a regular and safe part of your pregnancy:
- Walking is a great way to start. Aim for a brisk mile, 3 times a week, with an additional warm up and cool down.
- Try going for a walk after each meal. It will help with digestion and improve your insulin sensitivity to regulate your blood sugar.
- Dress comfortably in breathable clothes.
- Drink plenty of water to stay cool and hydrated.
- Skip exercise if you’re feeling sick.
- If it’s hot and humid, try exercising early or late in the day to avoid the peak heat. Better yet, exercise inside with air conditioning to help keep you and your baby from overheating.
- Incorporate strength training. This can help increase stability and keep the body from becoming too flexible from the influx of pregnancy hormones.
- Swimming and stationary cycling are low impact options that can provide excellent cardiovascular workouts.
- Prenatal exercise classes, like prenatal yoga, are excellent options, since they are designed specifically for the changing needs of a pregnant woman and her baby.
Benefits of Exercise for You and Baby
Exercising during pregnancy is good for both you and your baby. A recent study showed that mothers who exercised during pregnancy had babies with more mature brains than mothers who were inactive during their pregnancy. Additional benefits include:
- Increased energy levels from endorphin release
- Reduced backaches and improved posture
- Improved digestion and reduced constipation
- Better joint health
- A better night’s sleep due to stress relief and lowered anxiety
- A healthy glow from increased blood flow to the skin
- Quicker and easier labor and delivery due to strong muscles, a fit heart, and increased endurance in the event of a long labor
- Lower risk of complications like preeclampsia and gestational diabetes
- Quicker recovery after delivery
- Reduced risk of gaining excess weight during pregnancy and a quicker return to your pre-pregnancy weight and exercise levels after delivery
Note that you should never be aiming to lose weight during pregnancy. An appropriate goal is to maintain your fitness level throughout pregnancy and gain the recommended weight at the pace advised by your doctor or dietitian
- Bouncing or jarring exercises like jumping
- Exercises that involve a sudden change in direction. This can increase your fall risk since your center of gravity is altered during pregnancy.
- Any exercise that could result in an injury to the abdomen, such as contact sports, downhill skiing, scuba diving, or horseback riding.
- Reaching the point of complete exhaustion
- Heart palpitations (pounding heart that varies from your normal, healthy elevated heart rate during exercise)
- Shortness of breath; gasping for air
- Pain in the back or pelvis area
- Inability to talk. If you can’t talk while exercising, you’re pushing too hard
When to Call the Doc
If you experience any of the following while exercising or otherwise, call your doctor immediately to make sure you and your growing baby are ok:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Unusual pain in the abdominal/lower back/pelvis regions
- Abdominal cramping
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Unusual shortness of breath
- Racing heart beat or chest pain
- Fluid leaking from your vagina
- Uterine contractions
Along with a nutritious diet during pregnancy, exercise is a recommended and safe part of a healthy, successful pregnancy. Always consult your doctor if you have questions or are thinking about starting a new routine while pregnant. And listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it! You’re training for the event of your life – the delivery of a happy, healthy baby!