Pregnancy Matters: Exercise
By Theresa Gipps MD
You probably know a mother’s health during pregnancy plays an important role in her baby’s health. But did you know it is also important for her health in future pregnancies, and long after baby is born?
Weight, weight gain during pregnancy, and exercise are common topics pregnant women want to discuss at office visits. ‘What exercises are safe in pregnancy?’ ‘How much weight should I gain, am I on track?’ In today’s column I will discuss exercise in pregnancy. In the next column I will review recommendations for weight gain.
Healthy women with a normal pregnancy can usually continue most exercises safely. Being physically active does not increase your risk of miscarriage or early delivery. Exercise has many benefits - it can decrease back pain, support healthy weight gain, decrease constipation, and it improves your overall fitness.
The Center for Disease Control recommends pregnant women get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week. During moderate intensity activity you will feel like you are working out - your heart and breathing rate increase, your body temperature increases and you may sweat, you can talk but may need to pause while talking or take a breath every few sentences. Examples include brisk walking, hiking, yoga, and casual biking.
Women who exercise at high intensity before pregnancy can often continue their exercises during pregnancy. Examples include running and interval or ‘bootcamp’ exercises. If you are starting an exercise program when you are pregnant you may need to start slowly. Start exercising 5-10 minutes at a time and increase until you can exercise 30 minutes or more.
Changes in your body during pregnancy will affect how you feel during exercise, and may affect your ability to work out. Changes early in pregnancy affect your breathing and oxygenation. You may become short of breath faster or need to take more frequent breaks. Hormones in pregnancy relax the ligaments around your joints. Make sure your form is correct, and consider avoiding high impact or jerking movements to protect your joints. Your balance may be affected as your belly grows. Take precautions to prevent falls.
- Stay well hydrated
- Wear a supportive bra. Consider a belly belt for comfort
Women with certain high risk pregnancies should not exercise without talking to a doctor. Examples include:
- Serious lung or heart disease (not mild asthma)
- Pregnancy related high blood pressure (pre-eclampsia)
- Preterm labor, or risk for preterm delivery, including twin or triplet pregnancies
- Cervical cerclage
- Placenta previa after 26 wks of pregnancy
Some exercises and activities are unsafe in pregnancy. Avoid activities which risk a fall or getting hit in the abdomen - boxing, basketball, soccer, skydiving, horseback riding, downhill or water skiing, and surfing. Do not scuba dive. Avoid activities which may cause you to overheat such as ‘hot’ or Bikram yoga or Pilates.
If you had an uncomplicated, vaginal delivery it is typically safe to begin exercising as soon as a few days after giving birth, or when you feel ready. You may need to resume your activities slowly at first - listen to your body.
Starting exercise can help you get back to your pre-pregnancy weight, strengthen and tone your abdominal muscles, boost your energy, promote good sleep, and relieve stress. It can be hard to find the time and energy to exercise with a new baby, but it is best for both of you in the long run! Try bringing baby in a stroller, looking for Mommy friendly options, or just doing exercises on the floor next to your baby.
If you had a cesarean section, an extensive vaginal repair, or complicated pregnancy you likely need to wait longer to resume regular exercise.
Exercise does not affect your production of breast milk, so should not affect your baby’s growth.
As always, if you have specific questions or concerns check with your doctor. Happy exercising!