Pregnant women are often told they should exercise during pregnancy and that exercise helps to maintain a healthy pregnancy. While this message is important, it is often vague and leads to many questions and concerns such as: How is exercise during pregnancy beneficial? Is there an exercise that is best for my baby? Are there any exercises I should be avoiding? How do I know if the exercise I choose is safe for my baby? All valid questions, which will be addressed below.
Exercising during pregnancy is safe and beneficial to both mother and baby, as it has been associated with improved labor and delivery outcomes and lower rates of C-section.
Correlations have also been found between exercising during pregnancy and reduced risk of complications such as gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension, pre-eclampsia, excessive gestational weight gain, delivery complications, and post-partum depression. Additionally, exercise can help to reduce symptoms during pregnancy such as low back pain, constipation, and overall fatigue.
For healthy women with uncomplicated pregnancies, it is typically safe to continue your current mode of exercise or even begin a new exercise routine. However, you should always talk to your OBGYN about exercise and get clearance before doing so. The current recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO) and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) state that women who are pregnant should exercise for a total of at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week. A variety of muscle strengthening (including pelvic floor muscle training) and gentle stretching should also be included. If you would like more specifics on the amount of exercise (duration, frequency, etc.) please check out this link. The key thing is to monitor how you are feeling during any bout of exercise and use the “talk test” throughout. If you’re unsure what that is, read more about that here in our last post.
Mode of Exercise:
When it comes to choosing a mode of exercise, no one type is superior. However, there are some activities that may pose a higher risk to you or your baby and therefore may be advised against. Therefore, it is recommended that you choose an activity that poses the least amount of risk. Some examples of exercise that are considered safe include, but are not limited to, the following: walking, jogging or running, stationary cycling, row machine, elliptical, swimming, and strength training. Activities that should be avoided, due to high risk to you and your baby, include those that involve physical contact, high risk of falling, or reduced oxygen levels (if you are not already living at high altitude).
Whatever mode of exercise you choose, keep in mind that as you progress through the different stages of pregnancy, your body will go through many physical changes that may impact your tolerance to exercise. When choosing your mode of exercise, you should choose a type of exercise that you will be able to modify as needed throughout the course of pregnancy. Every day may feel different, so having the ability to modify based on how you are feeling on a given day will allow you the ability to continue exercising throughout pregnancy.
Here are some additional tips and modifications to be aware of:
- Stay hydrated! Make sure to drink water before, during, and after exercise.
- Avoid excessive heat and high humidity.
- Exercise indoors under these conditions
- Avoid exercise classes in high temperatures (i.e., hot yoga)
- Avoid activities that involve lying on your back after the 1st trimester
- Opt to use pillows, wedges, or an exercise ball to place your upper body at a 45-degree angle from the hips
- Be alert for “danger signs” for when to reduce or stop physical activity, and contact your OBGYN if these occur. According to ACOG, the following are signs that indicate exercise should be discontinued:
- Shortness of breath prior to initiating exercise
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Chest pain
- Muscle weakness that subsequently affects balance
- Calf pain and/or swelling
- Vaginal bleeding
- Leakage of amniotic fluid
- Regular, painful contractions
If you are feeling overwhelmed by all the information and still not sure where to start, contact your OBGYN and always feel free to reach out to our physical therapists for additional guidance.