How Pregnant Women Can Do Exercises Without Risk
Now that you expect, you are ready to put your feet and comfort during the next nine months, right? Not so fast. “Regular exercise during pregnancy can improve your heart health, give you energy, and amplify your self-image,” says Francis Creates, a human physician, and Objean at Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. Maintaining a healthy body can also reduce common pregnancy complaints such as low back pain, and may also shorten labor time.
Consult your doctor before starting any routine exercise to make sure that the activities you choose are safe. If you get well, try to get at least 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise three to four days a week. Remember that your goal is to maintain your fitness before pregnancy, not to train for dancing with the stars. Start with a doctor-approved activity.
What Are the Benefits of Exercising During Pregnancy?
No doubt about it, exercise is a big plus for both you and your baby (if complications don’t limit your ability to exercise). It can help you:
Feel better: At a time when you wonder how this strange body can possibly be yours, exercise can increase your sense of control and boost your energy level. Not only does it make you feel better by releasing endorphins (naturally occurring chemicals in the brain), appropriate exercise can:
- relieve backaches and improve your posture by strengthening and toning muscles in your back, butt, and thighs
- reduce constipation by accelerating movement in your intestines
- prevent wear and tear on your joints (which become loosened during pregnancy due to normal hormonal changes) by activating the lubricating fluid in your joints
- help you sleep better by relieving the stress and anxiety that might make you restless at night
Look better: Exercise increases the blood flow to your skin, giving you a healthy glow.
Prepare you and your body for birth: Strong muscles and a fit heart can greatly ease labor and delivery. Gaining control over your breathing can help you manage pain. And in the event of a lengthy labor, increased endurance can be a real help.
Regain your pre-pregnancy body more quickly: You’ll gain less fat weight during your pregnancy if you continue to exercise (assuming you exercised before becoming pregnant). But don’t expect or try to lose weight by exercising while you’re pregnant. For most women, the goal is to maintain their fitness level throughout pregnancy.
Exercises to Try
Body Benefits: Even if you’ve never exercised a day in your life, a quick stroll around the neighborhood is a great way to start. You’ll get a cardiovascular workout without too much impact on your knees and ankles, and you can do it almost anywhere and at any time throughout the entire nine months.
Safety Bump: “As your belly gets bigger, you can lose your sense of balance and coordination,” says Dr. Crites. Try to walk on smooth surfaces, and watch out for potholes and other obstacles. Remember to wear supportive sneakers. Your feet may swell in your later trimesters, so if your shoes start to feel tight, buy ones that are a half-size bigger.
Body Benefits: Prenatal yoga classes keep your joints limber and help you maintain flexibility. “Also, because yoga strengthens your muscle system, stimulates circulation, and helps you relax, you can use the techniques you practice in class to stay calm and have a little more control during labor,” says Sokhna Heathyre Mabin, a yoga teacher at Laughing Lotus, in New York City.
Safety Bump: As your pregnancy progresses, skip positions that really challenge your balance. In your second trimester, steer clear of poses that require you to lie flat on your back – as your uterus gets heavier, it can put too much pressure on major veins and decrease blood flow to your heart. Also, be careful not to overstretch, says Annette Lang, personal trainer and author of Prenatal & Postpartum Training Fan. Pregnant women produce more relaxin, a hormone that increases flexibility and joint mobility, so it’s important to know your limits and hold back slightly when stretching.
Body Benefits: “This is the ideal form of exercise during pregnancy,” says Baron Atkins, MD, an Ob-Gyn at Arlington Memorial Hospital in Texas. There’s zero chance of falling on your stomach and injuring your baby. Exercising in water gives you better range of motion without putting pressure on your joints. “I feel weightless in the pool, even though I’m carrying twins,” says Sharon Snyder, of San Francisco, who is four months pregnant. Even in your ninth month, you can swim, walk, do aerobics, or dance in the water.
Safety Bump: Choose a stroke that feels comfortable and doesn’t hurt your neck, shoulders, or back muscles. The breaststroke is a good choice because you don’t have to rotate your torso or belly. Be careful entering the water. Diving or jumping in could cause too much abdominal impact. To avoid overheating, stay away from very warm pools, steam rooms, hot tubs, and saunas.
Body Benefits: Lifting weights is a great way to prepare your body for all the heavy lifting you’ll be doing once your baby is here. Plus, it helps counteract the risk of injury during pregnancy by strengthening the muscles surrounding your joints.
Safety Bump: Reduce the amount of weight you’re used to lifting by half and do more repetitions so you still get a good workout. “Lifting weights that are too heavy can strain your muscles and put a dangerous amount of pressure on your abdomen,” says Dr. Atkins. And when you’re weight training – just like when you’re doing yoga – don’t lie flat on your back. If you find yourself holding your breath, reduce your load ASAP. Breathing incorrectly can increase your blood pressure and decrease the flow of blood to your baby.
Your body is signaling that it’s had enough if you feel:
- heart palpitations (your heart pounding in your chest)
- shortness of breath
- pain in your back or pelvis
And if you can’t talk while you’re exercising, you’re doing it too strenuously.
It also isn’t good for your baby if you become overheated because temperatures higher than 102.6°F (39°C) could cause problems with the developing fetus ( especially in the first trimester ) which can potentially lead to birth defects. So don’t overdo exercise on hot days.
During hot weather, avoid exercising outside during the hottest part of the day (from about 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.) or exercise in an air-conditioned place. Also remember that swimming makes it more difficult for you to notice your body heating up because the water makes you feel cooler.
Exercises to Avoid
Most doctors recommend that pregnant women avoid exercises after the first trimester that require them to lie flat on their backs.
Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, it’s also wise to avoid any activities that include:
- Jarring (anything that would cause a lot of up and down movement)
- A sudden change of direction
- A risk of abdominal injury
Typical limitations include contact sports, downhill skiing, scuba diving, and horseback riding because of the risk of injury they pose.
Although some doctors say step aerobics workouts are acceptable if you can lower the height of your step as your pregnancy progresses, others caution that a changing center of gravity makes falls much more likely. If you do choose to do aerobics, just make sure to avoid becoming extremely winded or exercising to the point of exhaustion.