Why You Should Exercise While Pregnant and How To Do It Safely
Most pregnant women wonder if it is safe to exercise during pregnancy. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “if you are healthy and your pregnancy is normal, it is safe to continue or start regular physical activity. Physical activity does not increase the risk of miscarriage, low birth weight, or early delivery.” However, everyone is different, and you should discuss your pregnancy exercise routine with your obstetrician-gynecologist (ob-gyn) prior to starting or continuing any exercises once you suspect you are pregnant. Your healthcare provider will discuss your options for safely exercising as well as what you should avoid during every stage of your pregnancy.
Benefits of exercising during pregnancy
Pregnancy seems to be a good time to sit back and relax. You are growing another human and this can be exhausting, especially during the first and third trimesters. Your back might even hurt a little more from carrying more weight, and your changing hormones might make it more difficult to stay motivated with physical activity. However, unless you have any complications with your pregnancy, this is a good time to keep moving. Exercising during pregnancy can help you keep in shape throughout the pregnancy as well as prepare you for labor and delivery. Other benefits of exercising during pregnancy include:
- Reduce backache
- Ease pelvic pain
- Boost your mood
- Increase your energy and stamina
- Prevent excess weight gain
- Promote better sleep
- Reduce swelling and bloating
- Reduce constipation
- Possibly shortened and more favorable labor
- Lower blood pressure and maintain blood pressure within normal range
- Reduce risk of having a C-section
- Reduce risk of blood clots
- Reduce overall risk of pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes
- Speed up post-delivery recovery
When you should not exercise during pregnancy
Although most pregnant women can safely exercise without causing any harm to themselves or their developing babies, there are instances when your doctor might advise against exercising for some or all of the pregnancy. Certain medical conditions such as heart disease, lung disease, cervical concerns, placenta problems, persistent vaginal bleeding after the second trimester, high blood pressure that develops for the first time during pregnancy, and history or being at risk for preterm labor and severe anemia can increase the risk of complications during pregnancy. Your doctor will advise you whether it is safe to exercise if you have any of these medical conditions.
How to exercise during pregnancy
Once you receive the go-ahead to exercise while pregnant, the next thing to figure out is how long and how hard you should exercise. For most pregnant women, 30 minutes of low to moderate exercise at least 5 times a week is sufficient. Remember to warmup before exercising and cool down afterwards to avoid any injuries. If you haven’t been physically active for some time, consider starting slow and then building up. Perhaps start with about 10 minutes of physical activity per day and slowly work up to 30 minutes most days of the week. If you were active before pregnancy and are physically fit, you could continue with your current exercise regimen as long as you have received a go-ahead from your healthcare provider.
What you should avoid when exercising during pregnancy
Although most low-to-medium-intensity exercise is safe during pregnancy, a few things you should avoid during pregnancy include:
- Hot yoga
- Exercises that have you on your back, especially after the first trimester
- Exercising in extreme temperature, especially in very hot weather
- Contact sports
- Sports with higher risk of falls like horseback riding and skiing
Also remember to take things easy. Your ligaments are more flexible during pregnancy and it is easier to sustain a sprain or strain. And always hydrate before, during, and after a workout.
Best exercises for first trimester
Whether you rarely exercised before getting pregnant or are a pro athlete, exercising during your first trimester is very beneficial to you and your growing baby. Aim for moderate activities such as walking, jogging, moderate running, swimming, yoga, Pilates, spinning, road biking, stationary biking, dancing, Kegels, water aerobics, and some lightweight training. Listen to your body and make sure you do not overdo it. Avoid routines that might include jumping, twirling, leaping, lying on your back, stomach stretches, and holding weights over your stomach.
You may be more exhausted than usual during this semester due to increased levels of hormones, especially progesterone, so be sure to listen to your body and always stay alert to reduce the risk of injury while exercising.
Since blood volume increases during this trimester to supply your developing baby with nutrients, you may experience a faster pulse as well as increased breathing rate. Be aware of your new baseline and know when to slow down to keep you and your baby safe.
Best exercises for second trimester
Most pregnant women feel more energetic and at their best during the second trimester since morning sickness and fatigue typically decrease at this point. You can continue most of your first trimester exercises during your second trimester depending on how you feel. However, at some point, you may need to make modifications as your pregnancy develops. Biking and cycling are still good exercise; however, you may need to switch to a stationary bike rather than outdoor biking as your changing body might distort your sense of balance. Low-impact exercise like yoga, walking, and swimming are still great options in the second trimester. Jogging is still considered safe, although you may get slower as your belly grows. You can safely continue swimming and water aerobics. If you like yoga, consider prenatal yoga at this time. Like in the first trimester, listen to your body and do not overdo things. Stop exercising and inform your healthcare provider if you feel uncomfortably hot, dehydrated, queasy, or experience any vaginal discharge, abdominal discomfort, or pelvic pain.
Best exercises for third trimester
As you count down to delivery and your baby grows bigger, your body also grows. During these last few weeks, you may notice a considerable slowdown in what you can normally do. You may find most basic physical activities challenging, such as bending over. You may also notice that your center of gravity has changed drastically, which means exercises that require balance might increase the risk of falls and injury. There are still a lot of safe exercises you can do in your third trimester, including brisk walking, Kegel exercises, and prenatal yoga. Swimming and some low-impact water aerobics will benefit you and the baby. Since your body is getting ready for labor and delivery, this would be a great time to incorporate exercises that safely strengthen the abdominal muscles and pelvic floor.
Best exercises for fourth trimester
The fourth trimester is considered the first three weeks immediately after you have delivered your baby. It can be physically and mentally demanding since your body and life go through a lot of transition and adjustment. Most mothers experience fluctuating hormones, challenges in taking care of a newborn and breastfeeding, and postpartum discomfort. With an increased demand on your time and the challenges presented by your changing body, exercising might be the furthest thing from your mind. However, you should consider easing back into low-to-moderate-impact exercises once you have been cleared by your healthcare provider. Exercise has been shown to help with postpartum depression and mood changes. Be sure to take it slow at first and build up your duration as your body recovers. Exercises that can be beneficial during these early stages of postpartum include walking, low-impact yoga, pelvic floor exercises, swimming, and water aerobics. Since your abdominal muscles have been through a lot to give birth, skip traditional sit-ups and crunches during early postpartum to allow the abdomen to recover; instead, do some planks to tone and strengthen your core.
What you should watch out for while exercising
Immediately stop exercising and contact your healthcare provider if you feel or see any of these symptoms:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Fluid leaking
- Decreased fetal movement
- Early contractions
- Light-headedness that does not resolve when you stop exercising
- Shortness of breath that does not resolve when you stop exercising
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