Pregnancy and Exercise
Exercising is one of the best things a woman can do for her body while she’s pregnant. There are many different types of prenatal exercise that are beneficial as your body goes through the extreme changes brought on by pregnancy. Trying to stay fit or become fitter during pregnancy, if done wisely and safely, can be very good for you and your baby!
The Experts Agree — Exercise During Pregnancy is Safe and Beneficial
According to the American College of Ob/Gyn, “becoming active and exercising for at least 30 minutes on most, if not all, days of the week can benefit your health in the following ways: it helps reduce backaches, constipation, bloating, and swelling; help prevent or treat gestational diabetes; increases your energy; improves your mood; improves your posture; promotes muscle tone, strength, and endurance; and helps you sleep better. Regular activity also helps keep you fit during pregnancy and may improve your ability to cope with the pain of labor.”
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, “Weight-bearing and non-weight-bearing exercise are thought to be safe during pregnancy. Improved maternal fitness is a well-known benefit of non-weight-bearing exercise such as swimming and cycling. Weight-bearing exercises are similarly beneficial as long as they are comfortable. Swimming and stationary cycling are excellent non-weight-bearing exercises, and may be recommended. Walking, jogging, and low-impact aerobics programs are good choices when weight-bearing exercise is to be considered.”
Aerobic exercising and strength training exercises are great ways to keep your muscles strong and your body feeling good. They are also great for your cardiovascular system. The methods described below are also known to help lessen the strain of labor and delivery and improve your postpartum recovery.
Type of Pregnancy Exercise and Prenatal Exercise Classes
Dance classes can be found at the gym, at private dance halls, on college campuses, and other locations. Dancing is great cardiovascular exercise that helps a woman strengthen her muscles, tone her body, and keep her heart pumping.
Prenatal yoga is a great way to learn how to breathe deeply during labor and birth. Yoga exercises during pregnancy keep you limber, and they can also improve your balance and circulation. There are a few yoga positions that are designed especially for pregnant women: Cobbler’s or Tailor’s Pose, Squatting, Pelvic Tilts or Cat Cow, and Warriors I and II. It’s important to know that Bikram and other “hot” yoga classes are not recommended for pregnant women (although veteran hot yogis might disagree with this!). Also, poses that keep you on your back for longer than a few minutes should be avoided, as should poses that place too much emphasis on using the abdominal wall muscles.
Simple Pregnancy Exercises At Home or at the Gym
Walking is a great way to stay active safely throughout your pregnancy. It’s one of the best cardiovascular exercises you can do. It is perfectly fine to walk every day, and a brisk 20–30 minute daily walk is ideal.
Kegel exercises during pregnancy help strengthen the muscles that support the bladder, uterus, and bowels. Strengthening these muscles helps a woman in labor to relax. This method involves contracting those specific muscles repeatedly to build strength. They should be done daily, in sets of five. Tighten and hold the muscle you use to stop the flow of urine, and try to maintain this tightness for five seconds, five times in a row, up to five times a day.
Weightlifting can strengthen and tone your body in preparation for childbirth. Leg and ankle lifts and rotations exercises are a great way to build muscle and maintain your cardiovascular health. The use of low weights, multiple repetitions (reps), and proper form is extremely important if you wish to do weight training while pregnant.
Remember that simple stretches are also a great way to reduce stress brought on by strained muscles. Neck, ankle, shoulder, and leg rotations keep your muscles limber and warm. Swimming is another great way to stretch your body and keep your heart healthy. Stretching should be done dynamically, which means to move and stretch at the same time. This includes arm circles—small and large—and lunges and squats. Static stretching, which means trying to stretch out a body part to the point at which you feel pain, can actually increase the risk of injury unless you are thoroughly warmed up and deep into your routine.
Risks and Warning Signs
Avoid becoming overheated during pregnancy. This may cause loss of fluids and lead to dehydration. While you exercise during pregnancy, pay attention to your body. Do not exercise to the point that you are exhausted. Stay well hydrated before, during and after exercising. Empty your bladder when you feel the need rather than trying to hold it.
Stop exercising and call your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms:
- Vaginal spotting or bleeding
- Dizziness or feeling faint
- Increased shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Muscle weakness
- Calf pain or swelling
- Strong or uncomfortable uterine contractions
- Decreased fetal movement
- Fluid leakage from the vagina
Things to Consider When Choosing a Prenatal Exercise Class
The first question you should ask yourself is, “How did I find out about this class?” Did you search the Internet or look at brochures at your doctor’s office, or did a friend refer you to the class? The credibility of the class and instructor is extremely important. Your teacher should be experienced and well educated about exercise during pregnancy. Yoga and exercise classes not specifically designed for pregnant women should be approached with caution.
Also, what time of day is the class? You don’t want it to be too late at night, when your body should be in a state of relaxation. Attending classes earlier can enable you to relax throughout your day.
Finally, how much does your class cost? Many insurance providers offer reimbursement for prenatal exercise classes.