Many people are concerned exercising during pregnancy could be harmful, but that is almost never true. In fact, exercise during pregnancy has so many benefits that professional organizations, such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, make a point to recommend it.
Benefits of exercising: In general, exercise helps prevent heart disease, diabetes, obesity and some types of cancer. It leads to stronger bones and decreases the chance of developing gallstones. People who exercise also have less depression and anxiety.
If you're pregnant, exercise helps you avoid gaining too much pregnancy weight, and makes it less likely your baby will be very large at the time of delivery. Common pregnancy discomforts like low back pain and pelvic joint pain occur less often for women who exercise. Other possible benefits include a shorter labor, decreased chance of requiring a cesarean delivery and lower risk of developing gestational diabetes or preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure. Since exercise is a good way to relieve stress, it can help you adjust to the life changes that come with pregnancy, and may help prevent postpartum depression.
Pregnancy-approved exercises: Walking, jogging, cycling and aerobic dance are great exercise choices for pregnant women. Swimming or walking in a pool are exceptional exercises because being in water is gentle on joints.
The amount and intensity of exercise should match your fitness level. If you never exercise, a ten-minute walk is a good place to start. Walk three to five times per week, and gradually increase the length of time. A good goal is 30 minutes of activity, five times per week. If you are already exercising, it is fine to continue at a mild to moderate intensity throughout your pregnancy.
Exercises to avoid: Some types of exercise are not considered safe during pregnancy. Contact sports, such as ice hockey or boxing, should be avoided, because if a pregnant woman gets hit or pushed in the abdomen, or has a bad fall, it could cause a placental abruption, which is very dangerous to baby and mom. For the same reason, activities such as downhill skiing, surfing and horseback riding are not recommended during pregnancy.
Low-intensity strength training is okay, but heavy lifting is not recommended while pregnant. “Hot” yoga also is not recommended due to the risk of overheating or dehydration, but other types of yoga are acceptable, although some positions may need to be adapted. Extreme heat can be very dangerous, so pregnant women should not exercise in hot weather or rooms.
Safety tips: A few basic safety considerations apply when exercising during your pregnancy. Your body will need a lot of fluid to maintain good circulation. The better the circulation, the healthier you and baby will be. Exercising muscles need more nutrients, and you lose water during exercise by breathing faster and sweating, so always drink plenty of water.
As pregnancy progresses, it also can affect a woman’s balance and agility. Exercising can help you maintain your strength and adjust to these changes, but during pregnancy you must be careful to avoid tripping, slipping and falling. Stay away from icy sidewalks when walking or jogging outside!
Women with certain health problems and pregnancy complications should not exercise. Always be sure to talk with your doctor or midwife if you are uncertain.
Making time to exercise: For women who do not have a lot of extra time, a brisk walk to and from the store or around the block during a lunch break are good options. YouTube also is a great resource for quick exercise routines to do at home.
If you have young children, try a game of “race you up the hill” a few times. Or, if you have older kids, fit in some exercise while waiting at their sports practices or after-school activities. Walking or jogging around the soccer or football field lets you exercise while watching your kids practice. You might even inspire other adults to join you, and realize yet another benefit of exercise: camaraderie and making new friends!
Exercise is a key part of taking care of oneself, and it is important to continue exercising after your baby is born. As your baby and family grow, you can be proud that you are giving your children a really great example of a healthy lifestyle.
Lisa Espinosa is a certified nurse midwife at Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers