Pregnancy can be a great time to get active! During pregnancy, exercise can help you maintain or improve your fitness level and prepare for labor and delivery. Let’s dive into some common questions and concerns that women have on pregnancy and exercise.
What are the benefits of exercise during pregnancy?
Some benefits of following a regular exercise program during pregnancy may include:
- Higher incidence of vaginal delivery
- Decreased risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, cesarean birth
- Healthy weight gain during pregnancy
- Maintains or improves cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, muscular strength, and endurance
- Decreases stress and enhances self image
- Decreased duration of the first and second stage of labor
- Improved quality of sleep and energy levels
So how much exercise should I aim for?
ACOG recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity each week. You can break that time down into 30 minute workouts on 5 days of the week or even in smaller 10 minute workouts spaced throughout the day. If you are new to exercise, you can slowly build your way up by starting with 5 minutes of exercise a day and adding an additional 5 minutes each week until you can stay active for 30 minutes a day.
What exercises are safe?
If you were exercising prior to pregnancy, you can usually continue performing the same workouts with OBGYN’s approval. It is important to stay hydrated, wear supportive clothing, and avoid becoming overheated. Also try to choose exercises that don’t require you to lay on your back for a prolonged period of time.
Other safe exercises include:
- Brisk walking
- Swimming and water aerobics
- Aerobic exercises
- Stationary bicycling
- Resistance exercises (ex. using weights, elastic bands)
- Modified yoga and pilates
How will my body changes affect my exercise?
Our joints, balance, and breathing are all affected by the changes that happen during pregnancy. The hormone relaxin, which is released from the very beginning of pregnancy, causes the ligaments around the pelvis to become lax in preparation for childbirth. This laxity makes the joints more mobile and susceptible to injury. Performing low impact exercises is a good way to keep the joints safe and painfree. Our balance is also affected by our center of gravity shifting forward as the baby begins to grow. This shift can place different stress than we are used to on the joints and muscles of our low back and pelvis. If you begin to feel off balance, it is best to perform double leg exercises that decrease the risk of falling. Lastly, during pregnancy your need for oxygen increases. Pregnant women have a greater increase in respiratory frequency and oxygen consumption to meet their greater oxygen demand. This change may affect your ability to perform strenuous exercise or prolonged exercise, especially if you are overweight or obese.
What if I wasn’t exercising regularly prior to pregnancy?
Pregnant women who were sedentary before pregnancy should follow a more gradual progression of exercise. Women should start with lower-intensity, shorter periods of exercise and gradually increase the period or intensity of exercise as they are safely able to.
Are there any conditions that make exercise during pregnancy unsafe?
According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) women with the following conditions should not exercise during pregnancy:
- Certain types of heart and lung diseases
- Cerclage (which is a procedure done to close the cervical opening with stitches to prevent or delay preterm birth)
- Being pregnant with twins or multiples with risk factors for preterm labor
- Placenta previa after 26 weeks of pregnancy
- preterm labor or ruptured membranes during this pregnancy
What are signs that I should stop exercising?
Below is a list of signs to stop exercise. If you have any of these warning signs, stop the activity and call your OB-GYN immediately.
- Bleeding from the vagina
- Dizziness or feeling faint
- Shortness of breath PRIOR to starting exercise
- Chest pain
- Regular, painful contractions of the uterus
- Fluid leaking from the vagina
- Abdominal pain
- Muscle weakness affecting balance
- Calf pain or swelling
How do I stay motivated?
Find an exercise that feels good and that you enjoy! Also, exercise during pregnancy doesn’t necessarily mean having to join a gym. Small changes such as taking the stairs or walking around the block are great ways to start. For some women exercising with a partner is a helpful way to stay accountable. Others enjoy small group classes for a feeling of community and teamwork. Finding whatever works interests you and works with your schedule is key!
In conclusion– As always it’s so important to listen to your body, stop when things are too challenging, and that pain during pregnancy can be prevented and treated through the right stretching and strengthening. If you have any questions or concerns in regards to starting an exercise routine or modifying your current program, reaching out to a Pelvic Floor PT is a great place to start.
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