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Exercise During Pregnancy: Pace Yourself

  • Dana Sullivan
  • Posted March 11, 2013

There are a dozen good reasons to exercise during pregnancy. Lowering your risk of developing gestational diabetes and high blood pressure, and keeping your body fit so you can endure the challenges of labor and childbirth are just two of them.

Still, you do have some special considerations, and you should discuss your exercise regimen with your health-care provider. Here are some issues to consider:

Don't push yourself too hard.

You should be able to carry on a conversation comfortably while exercising, according to recommendations from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Stay hydrated and keep cool.

Before, during and after exercise, drink water. Carry a water bottle, and don't exercise in very warm or humid environments.

Do weights only if your doctor recommends it.

Strength training will help you maintain a healthy back, but don't overdo it. Doing multiple repetitions with one or two-pound weights is preferable to lifting heavier weights that will cause you to strain.

Count calories.

During pregnancy, you need at least 300 extra calories a day to support your developing baby. These extra calories are even more important if you're exercising.

Time yourself.

For some women 15 minutes is great. Others are probably fine with an hour or more if they are in good shape and pay close attention to their bodies. If you feel tired, stop exercising. This is not the time to test your limits.

Watch your back.

Once you are in your second trimester, do not lie on your back. Being in this position can impair blood flow to the placenta in some cases.

If you have a fever, avoid exercise.

When your body temperature is elevated, it's potentially dangerous for your baby.

Avoid contact sports, straining or exercises that could deprive you of oxygen or injure you.

  • Avoid exercises that require repeated bouncing or jerking movements (such as cardio kickboxing).
  • Avoid activities such as scuba diving or hiking at a high altitude since you may be deprived of oxygen.
  • Avoid exercises that involve maneuvers that can strain you, including power-lifting, leg presses, pull-ups, or sit-ups.

Danger signs

Stop exercising immediately and contact your doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • abdominal or pelvic pain
  • uterine contractions
  • absence of fetal movement
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • cold or clamminess
  • vaginal bleeding
  • fluid leaking from your vagina
  • irregular or rapid heartbeat
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • difficulty walking
  • sudden swelling in your hands, face, or ankles

Know your limits

If you have any chronic illnesses, such as asthma, high blood pressure, or diabetes, your doctor may have more specific exercise recommendations for you. If you were a couch potato before you got pregnant, pregnancy is probably not the time to decide to become a fitness fanatic (although daily walks and mild exercise are certainly in order).

Of course, if you are a marathon runner, it's likely you will be able to continue with a vigorous exercise routine most of the way through your pregnancy. However, as you get closer to your due date, even fitness mavens will want to listen to their bodies and slow down -- usually more than just a bit.

In many communities, there are exercise classes designed for pregnant women, and working out with someone who is attuned to your specific exercise needs and tolerance during pregnancy can be a big help.

There are also a number of situations in which your caregiver may recommend that you not exercise at all. They include:

  • heart disease or constrictive lung disease
  • second- or third-trimester bleeding
  • pregnancy-induced hypertension
  • preterm labor with this or past pregnancy
  • an intrauterine growth retardation/restriction
  • weak cervix
  • placenta previa
  • premature rupture of membranes

Never engage in any "high risk" activities

Certain sports and activities are not recommended during pregnancy because they are potentially dangerous for you or your baby. Definite no-no's include horseback riding, scuba diving, snow- and water-skiing, ice-skating, soccer, basketball and any other sport where you may be inadvertently hit by a ball or other object.

Exercise will keep you in better shape to lose weight when your baby comes. But remember to do it safely.

References

Mayo Clinic. Exercise during pregnancy: Is heart rate a concern? Aug. 1, 2009

Nemours Foundation. Exercising During Pregnancy. October 2007. http://www.kidshealth.org

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Exercise During Pregnancy. Patient Education Pamphlet. June 2003.

Mayo Clinic. Exercise: A drug-free approach to lowering high blood pressure. August 2008

YMCA. Fit for two: the official YMCA prenatal exercise guide. Human Kenetics Publishers, Inc. 1995.

American Council on Exercise. Exercise and Pregnancy. http://www.acefitness.org/fitfacts

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. What should I do if I have gestational diabetes?

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