Safely exercising while pregnant is a concern for many women, especially since each trimester of pregnancy has different cautions and considerations. As her due date draws closer, many women shy away from participating in exercise for fear of causing complications. However, many medical professionals recommend a vast assortment of exercises for pregnant women. As always, consult your physician before attempting any exercises or work-out regimens.
Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D., offers his recommendations for exercising while pregnant on his website. “Exercise during pregnancy is definitely recommended as long as you’re healthy and your physician approves. It can make you feel better physically and emotionally, help with weight control and speed your recovery after the baby is born,” he explains, in response to a posted question from a pregnant woman with a gym membership. In the article, Dr. Weil promotes walking and yoga for women who are unaccustomed to exercising prior to pregnancy.
Low-impact exercises are stressed, and according to Dr. Weil. “The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends stationary cycling and aquatic exercises in a swimming pool as good non-weight-bearing exercises during pregnancy.” Of course, each woman should custom tailor her approved exercise regime to fit her level of comfort; discomfort, high heat and fatigue should all be avoided, and persistent pain or any vaginal bleeding should be checked by your physician immediately.
An article on the American Family Physician website by Dr. Thomas Wang, M.D, and Dr. Barbara Apgar, M.D., stresses the importance of safe exercise during pregnancy. “Exercise may make pregnancy more comfortable, shorten labor and reduce the need for obstetric interventions,” the article explains, though the Doctors are quick to stress that adequate hydration and avoidance of fatigue or pain should be primary concerns for expectant mothers.
Joan Lingen of the Onley Community Health Center recommends aerobic exercise, yoga, relaxation or medication techniques and light weight training during the first trimester of pregnancy. In the article, Lingen explains that walking, swimming and Kegal exercises are also beneficial during the early months of pregnancy. She advocates relaxation techniques and massage, stating: “Having your body stroked and kneaded can help loosen tight muscles, calm your nervous system, increase blood flow throughout your body, and ease the discomforts that can accompany pregnancy.” A daily exercise regimen and emphasis on stretching are also recommended, especially conditioning of the pelvic floor muscles.
In the second trimester, Joan Lingen recommends women carefully monitor their heart rate. “When you exercise, make sure you stay below 60% of your maximum heart rate. For most women, this means you should maintain your heart rate at less than 140 beats per minute.” Strenuous exercise can reduce the amount of oxygen reaching the baby, and add a higher risk of overheating or dehydration. Once approved by a physician, exercising while pregnant in the second trimester has a variety of options. Weight training, jogging and running, yoga and swimming are some of the most beneficial, least strenuous ways of exercising, though Lingen only recommends weight training or yoga in the 6th month.
Many women decide to slow down their exercise regimen in the third trimester, even without a physician’s instruction to do so. Swimming, stretching, walking or biking can provide a beneficial exercise which increases circulation and strengthens muscles. Lingen recommends activities which can include a friend, which isn’t too strenuous or taxing. Remembering to get plenty of sleep is crucial throughout pregnancy, but especially towards the end of the 8th and 9th months. After delivery, Lingen suggests resuming a light exercise regimen about six weeks post-delivery, or as instructed by your physician. Walking, stretching and yoga are light activities which can help women get back into regular exercising after pregnancy.
Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D., “Safe exercise while pregnant”
Joan Lingen, “Exercise & Fitness in the First Trimester,” “The Second Trimester of Pregnancy: Exercise & Fitness Information,” and “The First Trimester Of Pregnancy: Exercise & Fitness Information,” HealthLine
Dr. Thomas Wang and Dr. Barbara Apgar, “Exercise During Pregnancy,” AAFP