When it’s safer to stay on the sidelines
Don’t exercise if you have:
- pregnancy-induced high blood pressure
- leakage of amniotic fluid
- premature labor during this or a previous pregnancy
- incompetent cervix
- second- or third-trimester spotting or bleeding
- indications that the fetus may be smaller than average
Other circumstances that call for caution are:
- chronic high blood pressure
- thyroid, cardiovascular or pulmonary disease
- multiple pregnancy (twins, triplets and so on)
- history of three or more miscarriages
- extremely sedentary lifestyle or severe obesity
Congratulations! You’re expecting. Naturally, you want to provide a safe and healthy haven for your developing baby. Should you stop exercising? Modify your workout a bit? Start exercising?
Fitness researchers say active women feel better and suffer less from common symptoms of pregnancy—fatigue, shortness of breath, swelling, backache, varicose veins, constipation. These aerobically fit women have improved muscle tone and gain less fat than their sedentary sisters.
The bottom line? If you’re healthy, you can exercise safely during pregnancy—as long as you also exercise caution. While the general guidelines on these two pages apply to most moms-to-be, discuss your personal fitness concerns with your healthcare provider.
Get off to a smart start
If you start to exercise during pregnancy, go slowly. This isn’t the time to try a new sport or a high-intensity workout. Walking, stationary cycling and swimming may be appropriate. Avoid sporadic bursts of activity and commit to a regular routine that includes at least three exercise sessions a week.
Already active? Keep it up…with a few caveats
If you run, cycle or participate in aerobic dance classes, you can probably continue—as long as your pregnancy remains uncomplicated.
However, avoid sports that could lead to accidents, such as in-line skating, horseback riding or rafting. Also, avoid recreational activities that could force water into the vagina, such as going down water slides, surfing or water skiing. And refrain from competitive sports, contact sports, scuba diving, high-altitude training, sprinting and any activity that involves jerky, bouncy or jarring motions.
Stretch it out
During pregnancy, your joints loosen, ligaments soften and muscles lose their elasticity—potentially increasing the risk of injury. But stretching your hips, neck, legs, shoulders and lower back can help. You may want to include a cat stretch in your workout. Here’s how: Kneel on all fours with your head in line with your spine. Tighten your buttocks and abdomen, gently drop your head and slightly hump your back. Hold and repeat.
Pregnancy is also a good time to add Kegel exercises to your routine: Tighten your pelvic muscles as if trying to stop the flow of urine; hold the contraction for three to 10 seconds. Repeat for five sets of 10. Doing Kegels regularly will prepare you for childbirth and speed your postpartum recovery.
As your shape changes, your center of gravity will shift, which means that sports like jogging, volleyball, tennis, biking and cross-country skiing could set you up for a fall. Be aware of the shift if you participate in those sports, and substitute other activities during the third trimester.
Ban back moves
During pregnancy, your heart pumps more blood with each beat. But certain positions, such as lying on your back, obstruct blood flow to your uterus. Lying on your left or right side, on the other hand, enhances blood flow. So when choosing floor exercises, opt for leg lifts that you can do on your side, especially during the last two trimesters. Don’t do sit-ups, abdominal crunches or leg exercises that require you to lie on your back after the first trimester.
Wear light layers of cotton clothing that you can remove easily. Exercise during the coolest part of the day and never in hot weather or if you have a fever.
Stay out of hot tubs and saunas. Their high temperatures may cause birth defects.
Listen to your body
Never exercise to exhaustion while pregnant. Also, high-intensity exercise may increase uterine contractions and/or decrease blood flow to the uterus. If you experience any of these symptoms, stop exercising and call your healthcare provider:
- increased uterine contractions
- vaginal bleeding
- amniotic fluid leakage
- dizziness or fainting
- shortness of breath
- nausea or vomiting
- stomach pain
- numbness or tingling
- back or hip pain
- difficulty walking
- general swelling
Follow these guidelines and you’ll boost your chances of a safe, healthy—and above all, happy—pregnancy and delivery.