If you’re pregnant, it can be tempting to sit back and relax for nine months, but it’s better to stay active if you can. Maintaining a regular fitness regimen during your pregnancy can help you stay healthy and feel strong. It’s important for your current health, labor and delivery, and post-partum success. With a few minor tweaks to your fitness routine, you can find the exercise that works for both you and baby.
The Basics of Pregnancy and Exercise
The general rule of thumb for pregnancy during exercise is that if you were active prior to your pregnancy, you should be able to continue your exercise regimen during your pregnancy—in moderation. Exercise during pregnancy should be lower impact—your heart rate should not exceed 140 beats per minute. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends 30 minutes of daily moderate exercise.
Exercise during pregnancy has been shown to improve posture, decrease fatigue, prevent back pain, relieve stress, and prevent gestational diabetes. Furthermore, some speculate that it builds stamina for labor and delivery.
Most pregnant women will benefit from exercise during pregnancy; however, there are some women who should proceed with caution—or not at all. Exercise during pregnancy can be harmful if you have any of the following conditions:
- Heart disease
- Bleeding or spotting
- Low placenta
- Recurrent miscarriages
- Previous premature births
If you have any of the above conditions, you should seek the counsel of your doctor regarding pregnancy during exercise.
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Safe Pregnancy Exercise Programs
Most exercise is safe for pregnant women, but some forms of exercise are better than others. Generally, swimming, walking, and stationary bicycling are considered the safest forms of exercise for pregnant women because they are low impact and carry the lowest risk of injury.
Use your personal judgment, as well as the advice of your doctor, regarding other forms of exercise. Typically, any activity you participated in regularly prior to your pregnancy is fair game, though at a lower level. For example, if you were an avid runner prior to pregnancy, you can likely continue jogging throughout your pregnancy, at a lower intensity level. However, if you’ve never run before, pregnancy is not the time to start.
What to Avoid
There are some exercises that are considered unsafe during pregnancy. First and foremost, pregnant women should avoid any exercise that doesn’t feel good—if you’re lightheaded or generally feel lousy, pay attention. In addition, it’s best to avoid:
- Any activity with a risk of falling (horseback riding, skiing, mountain biking)
- Contact sports (softball, volleyball, ultimate Frisbee)
- Activities that require extensive jumping and bouncing (jumping rope)
- Abdominal exercises such as sit-ups or double leg raises
- Exercises that over-strengthen the pelvic floor (be careful with Pilates)
- Exercises that include jarring motions or rapid changes in direction (tennis)
When to Stop
Exercise during pregnancy should make you feel fit and healthy and strong, not fatigued and strained. The goal of exercising throughout pregnancy is to maintain health, which supports the health of the baby and also helps you regain your fitness faster after delivery. This is not the time to train for a big event or try to improve your fitness. This is a time for maintenance. Common sense should prevail. Stop exercising and consult with your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Abdominal pain
- Chest Pain
- Vaginal fluid leaking
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle weakness
- Irregular heartbeat