Patient Education

Exercise During Pregnancy

Exercise is a very important part of all people’s lives. It keeps them healthy and allows them to build stronger muscles and burn off calories. Exercise is also very important during pregnancy because it can help your baby be much healthier when it is born. However, it is important to know which exercises to avoid and which to do while you are pregnant. Some exercises can be potentially dangerous. This page covers basic information about exercise during pregnancy to help you stay as healthy as you can. 

WHAT CHANGES HAPPEN IN MY BODY DURING PREGNANCY THAT MAY AFFECT EXERCISE?

There are many changes that take place during pregnancy to allow your body to grow and nourish a baby. These changes can be both big and small, but most of them will be noticeable. Although not all of these changes will affect the way you will exercise, but some may. 

  • Changes in Balance: While you are pregnant, you will probably be carrying a lot more weight in a concentrated part of your body than you will ever have been used to. Especially towards the end of your pregnancy, you may be carrying anywhere from 25 to as much as 40 pounds in your abdomen, all from the new baby. Inevitably, this new weight changes your center of gravity. This weight change will cause strain on pelvic joints and muscles, as well as those in the back. This oftentimes makes it much easier to fall while exercising. 
  • Changes in Heart Rate: Oftentimes, your heart rate will go much higher than usual during difficult or strenuous exercise, because your body is working harder in order to pump blood. During pregnancy, your heart rate is very prone to rising during most activities much faster and higher than it normally would. This is because your heart and blood vessels are working extra hard to supply blood to both you AND your baby. Exercise during pregnancy may cause your heart rate to go up very quickly and for you to get very tired. 
  • Changes in your Joints: Sometimes, pregnancy can affect the way your joints work. Certain hormones that are released by your body as a result of pregnancy can cause your joints and ligaments to loosen and become relaxed. Overly relaxed joints can be very mobile and prone to injury from certain types of movement. 

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO EXERCISE DURING PREGNANCY?

Although exercise is very important to do during all stages of your life, it is especially important during pregnancy. One reason it is important to exercise during pregnancy is because it helps your pregnancy become healthier. Also, exercising during pregnancy can help your ability to cope during labor, as well as making it almost twice as easy for some women to get back into shape after their pregnancies. 

Especially during the later terms of your pregnancy, you will probably experience a lot of side effects that are a result of the changes that have taken place in your body. Exercising regularly for at least 30 minutes a day is proven to somewhat relieve some of the following symptoms: 

  • Excessive weight gain that is far above the amount needed to gain during pregnancy 
  • Backaches, constipation, swelling, and bloating 
  • Energy decreases 
  • Mood swings 
  • Gestational diabetes 
  • Sleep problems 
  • Posture problems 
  • Loss of endurance, strength, or tone

However, it is important to remember that gaining weight is an essential part of pregnancy. In order to have a healthy baby, you must gain a certain amount of weight that will be predetermined for you by your doctor. However, if you exceed that weight by a large amount, exercising to lose and maintain the weight gain to a healthy level is important. 

SHOULD ALL WOMEN EXERCISE DURING PREGNANCY?

If you decide to start exercising during your pregnancy, make sure to talk to your doctor about it first. He or she may have some tips for you or information about what is and isn’t safe to do. Although most women are advised to exercise during pregnant, some women, especially those with vaginal bleeding, premature membrane rupture, or a risk for preterm labor, are not advised to do so. Also, women with certain chronic medical conditions may be advised not to do so. 

WHAT EXERCISES ARE SAFE TO DO DURING PREGNANCY?

There are many different physical activities that are very safe to do during pregnancy: 

  • Walking: Walking is great because it can range from being very easy to being very strenuous, depending on the desire of the woman. Power walking can give a total body workout while being very mild on painful or loose joints and muscles. 
  • Swimming: Swimming is especially good for your body because it works almost all the muscles in your body. It is especially good for pregnant women because the water can support your weight and you won’t have to worry about being balanced. It also helps keep your legs from swelling. 
  • Yoga: Yoga exercise is a great way to maintain flexibility and strength during you pregnancy. It can also help reduce stress from your day. 
  • Aerobics: Aerobics classes on tapes or at gyms are great ways to get a good cardio workout, which helps keep your heart and lungs in shape and strong. Water aerobics can be just as helpful as well. 
  • Strength Training: Strength training, such as weight lifting exercises, can help your build and maintain muscle mass, as well as helping you prevent some common aches during pregnancy. 
  • Running: Running during pregnancy is a great way to stay in shape. However, it should only be done if you were in shape and a runner before pregnancy, or if you have worked up to it with other exercises. 

WHAT EXERCISES SHOULD I AVOID DURING PREGNANCY?

Although exercise is important during pregnancy, some activities may become uncomfortable after the first trimester. Ask your doctor about what is and isn’t safe to do during your pregnancy. As a generalization, your doctor will probably suggest not to do any exercises that require you to lie flat on your back.

He or she may also discourage these sports: 

  • Scuba Diving: Diving down deep underwater for extended periods of time can cause your baby to become very sick due to decompression sickness. This occurs due to the very large amounts of pressure exerted when you are deep underwater, and then coming back up on land very quickly without much time for your body to readjust. 
  • Downhill Snow Skiing or Snowboarding: Since your center of gravity will inevitably changing as you baby grows, you may not be as used to balancing as you used to be. This is especially during downhill skiing and snowboarding, where you rely only on your balance. If you fall, it can put you at risk for very severe injuries to yourself and to the baby. Also, exercising at very high altitudes can have a very great risk for altitude sickness because your oxygen supply for both you and your baby will be depleted. 
  • Contact Sports: Sports such as soccer, basketball, football, and ice hockey can be potentially very damaging to you and your baby. Falls, tussles, or being hit could all cause serious complications. 
  • Sports with risks of Falling: Sports such as horseback riding, gymnastics, or water skiing are risky because they increase your risk of falling, which could cause serious problems with you pregnancy. 

WHAT KIND OF A ROUTINE SHOULD I GET INTO?

When exercising during pregnancy, it is a very good idea to get into a workout routine to allow you to do it regularly. Usually, exercise is most doable during the first 24 weeks. If you are not currently in shape, it is best to start slowly. Rushing into exercise or believing that you should immediately push yourself too hard can be very negative and potentially harmful. If you are moderately to very out of shape, start with 5-10 minutes of exercise a day, and add 10 minutes a week as you go until you can be active for 30-45 minutes a day. 

 It is important to remember to ALWAYS start your exercise session with both stretches AND a warm up. These are both very important because they keep you from having any muscle strains and to optimize the time that you do work out. During stretching, make sure to hold each stretch for at least 10-20 seconds. The following warm-up period should last for 5-10 minutes, and should be an activity such as slow walking. It is also important to cool down after exercising, especially after cardio/aerobic exercising. This allows your heart rate to steadily drop and return back to normal and to allow your body to relax. Cool down exercises such as medium to slow walking for 5-10 minutes after the exercise is very important. It is also beneficial to stretch after cooling down. 

ARE THERE ANY THINGS I SHOULD WATCH OUT FOR WHILE EXERCISING?

While doing approved exercises during your pregnancy, it is important to take certain measures to avoid getting sick. The most common type of problem resulting from exercise is dehydration (not getting enough water), which can be easily prevented by: 

  • Avoiding strenuous exercise in hot or humid weather 
  • Drinking the recommended amount of water 
  • Wearing comfortable, weather appropriate clothing that will keep you cool and supported 
  • Not doing exercises that require you to lie on your back 
  • Getting the right amount of calories recommended for your pregnancy.

If you follow these guidelines, exercising should be very easy and rewarding for you. However, problems could occur. If you experience any of the following warning signs during exercise, stop immediately and call your doctor: 

  • Vaginal bleeding 
  • Faintness or dizziness 
  • Chest pain 
  • Headache 
  • Increased shortness of breath 
  • Muscle weakness 
  • Uterine contractions 
  • Decreased fetal movement 
  • Calf pain or swelling
  • Fluid leaking from the vagina 

IN CONCLUSION

Exercise is one of the most important things you can do to keep yourself healthy and in shape. It is especially important in pregnancy to keep you and your baby healthy. However, it is important to talk to your doctor before you begin to exercise so you can make sure that you are doing only safe, healthy things.