You may think that being pregnant would be the ultimate excuse to skip your workouts, but becoming a couch potato for nine months is not a health-wise decision for you or your baby. The latest exercise guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most, if not all, days for healthy pregnant women.
All the benefits of regular exercise—strength, stamina, cardiovascular fitness, weight control, stress reduction and improved mood and energy—are particularly important to moms-to-be coping with ever-changing bodies, fatigue and anxiety. Physical activity helps combat typical pregnancy maladies like backaches, constipation, bloating, swelling and poor sleep. Studies show exercise may help thwart the serious complications of gestational diabetes and pregnancy-induced hypertension (preeclampsia). What’s more, many experts believe fit women tend to handle childbirth better and recover more quickly.
Choose the right activity
If you’re muddling through fatigue and nausea, walking to the couch might seem like a workout, but a brisk stroll in the fresh air will offer better relief. Of course, you can’t just start training for a marathon or take up a new strenuous sport. Even if you were quite fit before pregnancy, you’re going to have to make some concessions in terms of intensity and goals.
Your first step is to get clearance from your doctor. Most women without medical or obstetrical complications will get the go-ahead to work out. But, if you have a history or risk for preterm labor or low-birth-weight babies, your Ob/Gyn may advise reducing activity during the second and third trimesters.
What’s safe, what’s not
A wide range of activities is generally safe, but others will be off limits because of the sport’s specific movements. Avoid sports with a high potential for impact, falling or abdominal trauma, such as hockey, soccer, basketball, gymnastics, horseback riding, downhill skiing and vigorous racquet sports. If you normally play tennis, golf or bowl, you’ll likely be able to continue, provided you allow for changes in your posture, balance and burgeoning belly. Playing doubles tennis, for example, may be a way to customize your workout.
Scuba diving is out because your baby can suffer decompression sickness. Take extra care at high altitudes as well. You’ll likely be fine up to 6,000 feet, but heed the signs of altitude sickness (shortness of breath, dizziness, headache, confusion, fatigue and rapid pulse). If you experience these symptoms, stop exercising and seek medical attention.
The best and most comfortable activities include walking, swimming, biking (preferably on a stationary bike), yoga and low-impact aerobics. Workout videos have been designed for moms-to-be, but run any by your doctor first.
Keep things in balance
Body changes brought on by pregnancy will affect your ability to exercise and increase your risk for falls. Carrying extra weight all in the front, as much as 30 pounds by the end of your term, will shift your center of gravity, affecting your balance and adding stress to your joints and muscles, especially those of your pelvis and lower back. Pregnancy hormones that relax the ligaments in preparation for childbirth tend to relax all your ligaments, and jerky movements or high-impact activities can increase injury potential.
Also, your blood volume has doubled and your heart works extra hard to circulate it all, so you’ll get winded sooner and more easily. After 20 weeks of gestation, avoid exercise movements or positions that involve lying flat on your back since the weight of your baby can inhibit blood flow.
Be sure to wear comfortable, breathable clothes. Invest in durable athletic shoes; a sports bra with good support; and maternity leggings, sweats or shorts. Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise. If you haven’t worked out for a while, start slowly. Begin with just five minutes a day. Add another five minutes each week until you can stay active for 30 minutes. Keep in mind that what’s important is the well-being of both you and your baby. Avoid overheating and never exercise to the point of exhaustion. Stop immediately if you experience any vaginal bleeding, dizziness, headache, chest pain, muscle weakness, calf pain or swelling, contractions, decreased fetal movement or amniotic fluid leakage.
Exceptions to the workout rule
Certain conditions mean you should sit tight during pregnancy and follow your doctor’s orders. You should not exercise if any of the following apply
- preeclampsia (pregnancy-induced hypertension)
- an incompetent cervix that could initiate preterm labor, or cerclage (a stitched-closed cervix)
- multiple gestations at risk for premature labor
- persistent second- or third-trimester bleeding
- placenta previa (the placenta lies over your cervix, blocking the birth canal) after 26 weeks of gestation
- premature labor during current pregnancy
- ruptured membranes
- heart or lung disease