The Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy
Your body is changing and your belly is growing, but that doesn’t usually mean that exercise during pregnancy has to stop. Some women believe that physical activity during pregnancy could negatively affect the baby. Fortunately, exercise is safe for most pregnant women under a few conditions. In fact, it could even be beneficial for you and your baby.
In this post, you will learn who maternal workouts are safe for, what activities you should avoid and the benefits of exercise during pregnancy. It’s important to note that the recommendations below are general guidelines and that you should always consult your doctor to see if and what exercises are right for you.
Is it Safe to Exercise During Pregnancy?
Exercising during pregnancy is generally considered safe as long as the intensity is comparable to the exercise you did before you conceived.
A 2015 report urged every expecting mother to move her body, concluding, “All pregnant women should engage in physical activity and may benefit from planned and programmed exercise.”
However, exercise during pregnancy is not considered safe for all women.
Your doctor may advise against physical activity if you have:
- Type 1 diabetes
- Heart disease
- Weak cervix
- Are very underweight
Other health conditions may be affected by exercise, so it’s important to talk to your doctor first.
When a pregnant woman exercises, there are considerations that need to be taken into account. On average, during the third trimester, pregnant women need about 340 more calories a day. That increases to 450 more calories in the third trimester. Since you need more calories than before, you must ensure that you’re not burning too many. It may help to track your calories and approximate calories burned by using an app such as CRON-O-Meter.
To safely exercise, pregnant women must also stick to safe physical activities. Sports that involve contact, such as basketball or baseball, should be avoided. Other activities to avoid are mentioned below.
The Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy
There are multiple benefits to exercising during pregnancy. Firstly, it can improve your posture, which may help with the backaches and fatigue associated with pregnancy.
Exercise is also known to relieve stress. If you’re stressing about the big change happening in your life or just have general anxieties, moving your body can help you stay calm. Evidence shows that chronic stress may affect your baby’s health, so even a relaxing walk around the block can be helpful.
Although the research is mixed, some studies suggest that physical activity may also prevent gestational diabetes. Researchers studied women who had a high risk of developing gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM). The 2016 study found that exercise changes, coupled with diet changes, significantly reduced their risk of the disease. When an expecting mother is diagnosed with gestational diabetes, she needs to attend to her disease or she heightens her and her baby’s risk of negative outcomes. A 2015 report concluded that exercise can be used as a treatment for the disease. Another study also suggested that getting physical activity before conception can lower your risk of developing GDM.
A 2012 study found that pregnant women who exercised three times a week were less likely to give birth to a macrosomic baby (a baby with a larger than average birth weight).
If you’re constipated during pregnancy, adding a bit of exercise into your daily routine can help get things moving. It may also help to improve your mood and sleep.
Another plus to keeping active is that it may help you to build stamina to make labor and delivery easier and can make recovery faster. According to a 2010 study, active women who got 30 minutes or more of exercise per day spent an average of 88 minutes in the second stage of labor (the pushing stage). This is compared to 146 minutes for the inactive group.
Your Baby May Also Benefit from Exercise
Research suggests that you’re not the only one who can benefit from physical activity.
A 2013 study found that rats who had mothers who exercised while pregnant had better insulin sensitivity. The report even suggests that maternal exercise could be an easy method of preventing disease in future generations.
Another study conducted on mice found that babies were less likely to be obese and have diabetes if the mother exercised. Similar to the later study, it suggested that exercise before and during pregnancy could be key to fighting the rising obesity rates.
Physical activity could also make your baby’s heart healthier. Researchers found that when mothers exercised three times a week, their 34-week fetus had lower heart rates and pumped more blood than mothers who did not exercise. Researchers say that maternal exercise affects how the nervous system and heart develops. Even after the baby born, he or she still experiences these positive effects.
Exercise Pregnancy Guidelines
The best guideline to follow is often the one you set for yourself before pregnancy. It is generally considered safe to exercise the same way you did before you conceived, although modifications for comfort may be necessary. That means if you’ve never ran a marathon, now is not a good time to start.
However, if you weren’t big on physical activity before, you can still begin a new routine if your doctor says it’s safe. Low-intensity exercises, such as walking, swimming or pilates are generally recommended. Tennis and jogging in moderation are also generally safe if you enjoyed those activities before pregnancy.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends 30 minutes or more of exercise each day. Low impact aerobics are recommended, but you should keep your heart rate below 140 beats per minute, according to WebMD. Do not over exert yourself and always make sure to stay hydrated.
Each workout should begin with at least five minutes of warm-up and another five minutes of stretching. A good regime will consist of both cardiovascular activity and aerobic exercise. You should always end your workout with some stretches. The intensity, length and frequency of your exercise sessions should remain consistent.
If you’re an athlete and plan to continue high-intensity activities, you should be monitored by your doctor, but it’s usually safe. Runner Amy Keil safely finished a marathon in 2015 while 34 weeks pregnant.
A 2015 report recommends that women with gestational diabetes should do moderate-intensity aerobic exercises and strength training with added recreational physical activities, such as taking walks. However, exercise programs should be tailored by a professional who has knowledge of pregnancy, risks and gestational diabetes. This could include a doctor, specialist or a knowledgeable personal trainer.
Not every form of physical exercise is considered safe during pregnancy.
Exercises to avoid while pregnant:
- Baseball, basketball, volleyball and football
- Scuba diving
- Exercises where falling is possible, such as skiing
- Extensive skipping or bouncing
- Exercises that require you to hold your breath, such as underwater swimming
- Lying on your back or right side for three minutes or longer
- Exercising in heat, such as hot yoga
Stop or slow down exercising if:
- You’re too out of breath to have a conversation
- You feel faint
- Your heart rate is above 140 beats per minute
- You feel completely drained of energy
- You get a headache
- You feel overheated
- You have chest pain
- You experience vaginal bleeding
Exercise After Delivery
Recovery after delivery varies per mother and dictates when it’s safe to start exercising again. You should check with your doctor to see when physical activity should begin and which exercises are recommended at that point. In general, most women feel comfortable beginning exercise one or two weeks after a no-complication delivery. You should start slow with low-impact activities and gradually build up the intensity and length of your workouts.
Other women feel that the first six weeks should be dedicated to healing and stick solely to walking. If you had a cesarean, it will take longer for your body to heal and gain back strength.
Your doctor may discourage swimming until you’ve had a week without postnatal bleeding or if you’ve had a cesarean.
When you begin physical activity after birth, it’s common to leak a little urine. For this reason, it can be helpful to begin with pelvic floor exercises. Gaining back strength in your pelvic floor will help avoid leaks when engaging in activities such as sit-ups or cardio.
If you’re worried about losing weight right after pregnancy and you can’t exercise yet, you should eat a healthy balanced diet. Research also suggests that breastfeeding may help women to lose weight quicker after birth. Remember that your body takes time to recover and you shouldn’t put pressure on yourself to lose the baby weight right away.
The above information highlights general recommendations and advice. However, you should consult your doctor to see if it’s safe for you to exercise during pregnancy and what cautions you should take.
Are you continuing physical activity during pregnancy? If you are, comment below which exercises you’re doing. If you have pregnant friends, be sure to share this post with them, too!
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