During pregnancy, women are encouraged to discuss physical activity with their health care provider since some women may have contraindications to exercise. Women with absolute contraindications should not exercise until those health conditions are resolved. A woman with relative contraindications may participate in physical activities as long as she checks with her health care provider first. More intensive monitoring of maternal and fetal health may be warranted for women with relative contraindications.
Precautions for Pregnancy Conditions Before Exercise
Pregnant women face unique barriers to exercise, including fatigue, lack of time, morning sickness, increasing physical and joint discomfort, and lack of child care for other children. In order to overcome these barriers, you should seek to incorporate exercise into your daily life. Exercise sessions can be broken up into smaller bouts to ease fatigue and time constraints. If you experience low back or joint pain, you may wish to pursue non–weight-bearing activities like swimming, cycling, or water aerobics. An abdominal support band can also help to support the pregnant belly during weight-bearing exercise and ease discomfort. In the postpartum, you may choose to include your baby in your workout by using a jogging stroller. It is also a good idea to try exercising with a friend or a group, especially during postpartum when many women encounter feelings of depression or feel shut off from the outside world.
Monitor Baby Movement
Exercise prescription during pregnancy and postpartum does not differ from exercise prescription at any other time, except for the need to avoid or modify certain activities and monitor the baby’s well-being. You should maintain open communication about your exercise program with your health care provider. Additionally, you can check on your baby’s health by monitoring weight gain during pregnancy to ensure that you are gaining recommended amounts and by recording your baby’s activity patterns, such as kicking or rolling, during the day. Knowing normal activity patterns can help you determine whether a change occurs with exercise. In general, the baby should move several times within the first half hour after exercise in the second and third trimesters.
If the baby stops moving or decreases the amount of usual activity throughout the day, you should contact your health care provider.
If you were already doing vigorous activities before becoming pregnant, you can feel good about continuing those activities throughout pregnancy, although you may choose to make some practical changes to your exercise routine later in pregnancy. If you are not already an exerciser when you become pregnant, research supports that starting a moderate aerobic exercise program like walking or swimming is both safe and beneficial.
How much do I need to exercise?
Women often ask “How much do I need to exercise?” or “How much is too much?” during pregnancy. While the guidelines provide direction for a minimum amount of exercise (i.e., 150 minutes per week of at least moderate activity), they do not address an upper limit for exercise during pregnancy. Instead, women who were already active before pregnancy are advised to continue normal exercise routines until symptoms tell them to stop. Basically, if it feels good, it’s probably OK to keep doing it during pregnancy. The ACOG also gives a list of warning signs that call for terminating exercise during pregnancy:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Regular painful contractions
- Amniotic fluid leakage
- Dizziness or headache
- Chest pain
- Muscle weakness affecting balance
- Calf pain or swelling
- Shortness of breath (before exercise)
Symptoms don’t always need to be dramatic. Warning signs are relative to each woman and should be interpreted in light of your exercise and medical history. Many women simply report the need to decrease exercise intensity, duration, or frequency later in pregnancy. Now, more than ever, it is important to listen to your body! Also Read: Do you need special clothes and shoes to workout
Do and Don’ts
Some women fear that exercise might hurt their baby and perceive vigorous or high impact activities as unsafe. While such fears are unwarranted based on current research results, precautions should still be followed. Specifically, you should not engage in contact sports (e.g., ice hockey, boxing, soccer, basketball), activities with a high risk of falling (e.g., downhill skiing, water skiing, surfing, off-road cycling, gymnastics, horseback riding), scuba diving, or sky diving. You should also be cautious about trying new activities that require balance and coordination, like lifting free weights, since the risk of falling increases due to a changing center of gravity and increases in joint laxity. Maintaining a normal body temperature during activity can also be harder during pregnancy, so avoid exercising in hot and humid conditions (including “Hot yoga” or “Hot Pilates”), and use a fan when exercising indoors on a treadmill or other exercise machine.
Things To Consider
In the postpartum period, many women are concerned about how exercise might affect breastfeeding. From a comfort perspective, enlarged breasts from lactation pose a problem for exercise; thus it takes some effort and planning to coordinate breastfeeding and exercise. Breastfeeding also requires a lot of water, so drinking plenty of water before, during, and after exercise is important. Feeding or pumping immediately before working out can ease discomfort associated with enlarged breasts. Also, many women choose to wear two sport bras or use an elastic bandage wrap to give more support while exercising. Importantly, research shows that milk volume and nutrient content are not negatively affected by exercise. So you can choose to be active during the postpartum period and reap the many benefits associated with exercise while knowing you are not depriving your infant in any way. Read More: How To Stay Motivated To Workout
Risks of Exercise During Pregnancy
- Fetal harm because of blunt trauma
- Falling because of changing center of gravity
- Overheating during intense exercise
- Reduced blood return to the heart during supine exercise
- Feeling excessively tired or fatigued during or after exercise
Suggested Exercise Modifications During Pregnancy
- Avoid activities like water skiing and downhill skiing and contact sports.
- Switch to weight machines rather than free weights; use a treadmill or track with even footing rather than a sidewalk.
- Do not exercise in hot and humid conditions; use a fan when exercising indoors; wear clothes that allow heat to dissipate, and drink
plenty of water.
- Avoid prolonged exercises lying on the back; use an incline bench to do crunches with the head higher than the feet.
- Do not exercise to exhaustion; be sure to consume extra calories (pregnancy requires ~300 extra calories a day); have a snack right before exercising to avoid hypoglycemia.