Pregnancy might seem like the perfect time to sit back and relax. You might feel more tired than usual, your back might ache, and your ankles might be swollen.
But guess what? There's more to pregnancy and exercise than skipping it entirely. Unless you're experiencing serious complications, sitting around won't help. In fact, pregnancy can be a great time to get active — even if you haven't exercised in a while.
Why exercise during pregnancy?
During pregnancy, exercise can:
- Ease or prevent back pain and other discomforts
- Boost your mood and energy levels
- Help you sleep better
- Prevent excess weight gain
- Increase stamina and muscle strength
Exercise during pregnancy might also reduce the risk of gestational diabetes and pregnancy-related high blood pressure, as well as lessen the symptoms of postpartum depression. In addition, it might reduce the risk that your baby is born significantly larger than average (fetal macrosomia).
Pregnancy and exercise: Getting the OK
Before you begin an exercise program, make sure you have your health care provider's OK. Although exercise during pregnancy is generally good for both mother and baby, your doctor might advise you not to exercise if you have:
- Some forms of heart and lung disease
- Pregnancy-related high blood pressure
- Cervical problems
- Vaginal bleeding
- Preterm labor during your pregnancy or risk factors for preterm labor, such as preterm labor during the pregnancy prior to your current pregnancy
- A multiple pregnancy at risk of preterm labor
Pacing it for pregnancy
For most pregnant women, at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise is recommended on most, if not all, days of the week.
Walking is a great exercise for beginners. It provides moderate aerobic conditioning with minimal stress on your joints. Other good choices include swimming, low-impact aerobics and cycling on a stationary bike. Strength training is OK, too, as long as you avoid lifting very heavy weights.
Remember to warm up and cool down. Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, and be careful to avoid overheating. In general, you should be able to carry on a conversation while you're exercising. If you can't speak normally while you're working out, you're probably pushing yourself too hard.
Depending on your fitness level, consider these guidelines:
- You haven't exercised for a while. Begin with as little as five minutes of physical activity a day. Build up to 10 minutes, 15 minutes, and so on, until you reach at least 30 minutes a day.
- You exercised before pregnancy. You can probably continue to work out at the same level while you're pregnant — as long as you're feeling comfortable and your health care provider says it's OK.
Activities to approach with care
If you're not sure whether a particular activity is safe during pregnancy, check with your health care provider. Also, consider avoiding:
- Any exercises that force you to lie flat on your back after your first trimester
- Scuba diving
- Contact sports, such as ice hockey, soccer and basketball
- Activities that pose a high risk of falling — such as downhill skiing, gymnastics, water skiing, surfing and horseback riding
- Exercise at high altitude
If you do exercise at high altitude, make sure you know the signs of altitude sickness, such as headache or insomnia.
You're more likely to stick with an exercise plan if it involves activities you enjoy and fits into your daily schedule. Consider these simple tips:
- Start small. You don't need to join a gym or wear expensive workout clothes to get in shape. Just get moving. Try a daily walk through your neighborhood. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Or, walk the perimeter of the grocery store a few times.
- Find a partner. Exercise can be more interesting if you use the time to chat with a friend. Better yet, involve the whole family.
- Try a class. Many fitness centers and hospitals offer classes, such as prenatal yoga, designed for pregnant women. Choose one that fits your interests and schedule.
- Get creative. Don't limit yourself. Consider hiking, rowing or dancing.
- Give yourself permission to rest. Your tolerance for strenuous exercise will probably decrease as your pregnancy progresses.
Listen to your body
As important as it is to exercise, it's also important to watch for danger signs. If you have vaginal bleeding, stop exercising and contact your health care provider.
In addition, stop exercising if you have:
- Increased shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Uneven or rapid heartbeat
- Uterine contractions that continue after rest
- Vaginal bleeding
- Fluid leaking or gushing from your vagina
- Decreased fetal movement
If your signs and symptoms continue after you stop exercising, contact your health care provider.
A healthy choice
Regular exercise can help you cope with the physical changes of pregnancy and build stamina for the challenges ahead. If you haven't been exercising regularly, use pregnancy as your motivation to begin.