You may have heard the advice that “gentle” exercise is good for your pregnancy, but that strenuous sports and activities should be avoided. This may not actually be the case, as I recently read here. In fact, vigorous exercise appears to be quite safe during pregnancy, and has additional benefits for your baby too!
Benefits of Vigorous Exercise
The book “Exercising Through Your Pregnancy” by James F. Clapp M.D. cites over 20 years of research into the pregnancies of competitive athletes. Dr. Clapp found that exercising at a fairly high level throughout your pregnancy, including full weight bearing exercises, is safe and actually has many positive effects. Some of theses outcomes are obvious, such as reduced maternal weight gain and fat accumulation, and improving your mood, energy levels, and muscle tone. But some are more surprising, including:
- reduced pregnancy-related symptoms
- Helps reduce backaches, constipation, bloating, and swelling
- May help prevent or treat gestational diabetes
- good placental growth
- fewer big babies
- increased chance of delivering close to due date
- shorter and less complicated labors
- more rapid recover after delivery.
Changes in Your Body
Your body is changing in many ways during pregnancy. You should be aware of these, as they will affect the way you move and exercise.
- Joints: Pregnancy hormones cause the ligaments supporting your joints to relax. This puts them at increased risk of injury, so you should avoid jerky, bouncy, or high-impact motions.
- Balance: The extra weight you’re carrying causes your center of gravity to shift. It also puts stress on your joints and muscles, specifically those in the pelvis and lower back. This puts you at risk of back pain, loss of balance, and falls.
- Heart Rate: Growing a baby is hard work, and your body is working extra hard to deal with the weight gain and other changes. Exercise directs oxygen and blood flow to the muscles being worked, and thus away from other parts of your body. It’s important not to overdo it if you begin to feel short of breath, faint, or exhausted.
What’s Safe and What to Avoid
This may come as news to your Grandma, who has probably told you to stop carrying the groceries into your house, and to lie down and put your feet up. But there are, of course limits to how much your pregnant body can handle. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends walking, swimming, cycling, and aerobics. Other activities, such as running, racket sports, and strength training are good if you’re body is already accustomed to these exercises.
Activites that should be avoided during pregnancy include:
- Downhill snow skiing: Your changing center of gravity can throw off your balance and cause falls and sever injuries. High altitudes with less oxygen may not be the best idea, either.
- Contact sports can result in injuries to you and your baby as well.
- Scuba diving: The water pressure can put your baby at risk for decompression sickness.
- Excessive weight lifting.
- Yoga poses that have you lying on your back or hanging upside down.
- Activities that increase your chance of falling and injuring yourself, such as horseback riding, water skiing, and gymnastics.
- Standing still for long periods of time should be avoided.
If you haven’t been exercising much before you became pregnant, start slowly and carefully. It’s a good idea to consult your doctor about what types of exercise are best. You should also expect that physical exertion will become more difficult during the last trimester, and respond accordingly. Always incorporate a warm-up and cool-down stage for 5-10 minutes each.
Things to Watch Out For
Women with the following conditions will be advised against exercising during pregnancy:
- Risk factors for preterm labor
- Vaginal bleeding
- Premature rupture of membranes
The ACOG recommends the following guidelines for a safe and healthy exercise program:
- After the first trimester of pregnancy, avoid doing any exercises on your back.
- Avoid brisk exercise in hot, humid weather or when you have a fever.
- Wear comfortable clothing that will help you to remain cool.
- Wear a bra that fits well and gives lots of support to help protect your breasts.
- Drink plenty of water to help keep you from overheating and dehydrating.
- Make sure you consume the daily extra calories you need during pregnancy.
Stop exercising and call your doctor if you get any of these symptoms:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Dizziness or feeling faint
- Increased shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Muscle weakness
- Calf pain or swelling
- Uterine contractions
- Decreased fetal movement
- Fluid leaking from the vagina
Bottom Line: It’s good news for pregnant sports lovers and exercise enthusiasts! Exercise during pregnancy can help prepare you for labor and childbirth, in addition to staying fit and feeling good. And exercising afterward can help you get back into shape. So put on those running shoes, get out your tennis balls and rackets, or head to the gym or nearest hiking trail. If there’s something you loved doing before pregnancy, chances are you may be able to continue in almost the same way that you always have!
feature image from Hello Beautiful