May is Women’s Health Month, a reminder to women to prioritize their health and build healthy habits for life. And there is never a more important time in a woman’s life to be proactive about her health than during pregnancy. In addition to eating right, taking folic acid, staying hydrated, and getting good prenatal care, exercising while pregnant can also have many health benefits.
Some of the many benefits of exercise during pregnancy include increased energy, better sleep, and a reduction in backaches, constipation, bloating, and swelling. Other benefits are improved mood, better posture, increased muscle tone, strength, and endurance. Some studies have shown regular exercise while pregnant may reduce your chance of developing gestational diabetes. Regular activity may also help you cope better with labor and delivery and will make it easier to get back in shape after your baby is born.
Check with the doctor!
Before beginning a new exercise program while pregnant or continuing your regular workouts, it’s important to discuss your plans with your OB/GYN. Most of the time, exercise during pregnancy is beneficial for both mom and baby, but if you have certain conditions, your doctor may advise you not to exercise. Conditions such as heart disease, lung problems, problems with your cervix, repeated vaginal bleeding, and high blood pressure as well as some pregnancy complications (including being pregnant with multiples, preterm labor, or severe anemia) may make it unsafe to exercise.
If you’ve been cleared to exercise throughout your pregnancy by your doctor, the official advice of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) is to aim for 30 minutes of some sort of physical activity at least five days per week. While that may seem daunting, keep in mind that activities such as doing housework or yard work also count. You can also break up that time into several mini-workouts throughout the day.
Pace it for pregnancy
Most women can continue their regular exercise routines during pregnancy, although there may need to be some modifications. If you haven’t exercised in a while but want to incorporate some activity during your pregnancy, it’s important to start slowly and build up to the recommended 30 minutes per day.
Walking is a great exercise for beginners and perfectly safe while pregnant. Activities like swimming, riding a stationary bike, and low-impact aerobics classes are also safe to do. If you do regular strength training, it is better to use lower weights during your pregnancy. Prenatal yoga is also a great choice to do during your pregnancy—there are many DVDs or videos available online, or you can usually find in-person prenatal yoga classes at studios in your area.
Exercises to avoid
While most physical activity is safe to do while pregnant, there are a few things you should avoid:
- Sports with a high risk of falling or abdominal injury—such as skiing, ice skating, horseback riding, or contact sports.
- Sports that involve altitude change. Unless you already live in a high altitude, you should avoid any activity that takes you above 6,000 feet. Conversely, scuba diving, which can cause decompression sickness to your baby, is off limits while pregnant.
- After your fourth month, you should avoid all exercises that require lying flat on your back for long periods of time as it can restrict circulation to you and your baby.
- Hot yoga or exercise in very hot weather.
It is important to watch for any warning signs that there might be a problem when exercising. Stop exercising and consult your doctor if you experience any unusual symptoms such as vaginal bleeding, headache, dizziness, chest pain, or shortness of breath.
Regular exercise while pregnant can help you cope with physical changes in your body and help you build stamina for what lies ahead as long as you follow your doctor’s recommendations and carefully listen to your body.