Is Exercise Safe During Pregnancy?
Regular exercise during pregnancy benefits a mother and her baby in many ways. It reduces back pain, eases constipation, may decreased risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and cesarean delivery, promotes healthy weight gain during pregnancy, improves overall fitness, and helps a mother return to her normal body weight after delivery.
Many women wonder if it is safe to exercise during pregnancy. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists promote exercise during pregnancy if the mother is healthy and the pregnancy is “normal”. In other words, it is safe to continue or start most types of exercise. Physical activity does not increase the risk of miscarriage, low birth weight, or early delivery. However, it is important to discuss exercise with the obstetrician or other members of the health care team during the early prenatal visits.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that pregnant women get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week. Moderate intensity means moving enough to raise your heart rate and start sweating. As a general guideline this means that you still can talk normally, but you cannot sing. Examples of moderate-intensity aerobic activity include brisk walking and general gardening (raking, weeding, or digging).
If the mother is new to exercise, start out slowly and gradually increase activity. The mother can begin with as little as 5 minutes a day. Add 5 minutes each week until you can stay active for 30 minutes a day. If the mother is very active before pregnancy she can keep doing the same workouts with her doctor’s approval.
There are a few precautions that pregnant women should keep in mind during exercise:
- Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workout. Monitor for signs of dehydration, which include dizziness, a racing or pounding heart, and urinating only small amounts or having urine that is dark yellow.
- Wear a bra that gives a lot of support to help protect your breasts. As your pregnancy progresses use of a belly support belt may reduce discomfort while walking or running.
- Avoid becoming overheated, especially in the first trimester. Drink plenty of water, wear loose-fitting clothing, and exercise in a temperature-controlled room. Avoid exercising outside when it is very hot or humid.
- Avoid standing still or lying flat on your back. Both of these positions can decrease the amount of blood returning to your heart and may cause your blood pressure to decrease for a short time.
Stop exercising and call the obstetrician if you have any of these signs or symptoms:
- Bleeding from the vagina
- Feeling dizzy or faint
- Shortness of breath before starting exercise
- Chest pain
- Muscle weakness
- Calf pain or swelling
- Regular, painful contractions of the uterus
- Fluid leaking from the vagina
If back or pelvic pain become a barrier to exercise during pregnancy, seek out the help of a Physical Therapist who specializes these issues. Experts estimate that anywhere from 24% to 90% of women experience low back or pelvic-region pain when they are pregnant. More than a third of women still have pain 1 year after giving birth. Physical therapy during and after pregnancy has been shown to decrease low back and pelvic pain. (J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 2014;44(7):474. doi:10.2519/jospt.2014.0505).
*Always consult with your doctor prior to starting an exercise program.