Exercise During Pregnancy

What are the benefits of exercise during pregnancy?

Pregnancy and childbirth are physically stressful. Regular exercise during pregnancy can help because it:

  • Strengthens muscles, bones, and ligaments needed for labor and delivery
  • Helps reduce backaches, constipation, bloating, and swelling
  • Gives you more energy and helps you feel better
  • Helps you sleep better
  • May help keep you from becoming diabetic during pregnancy

When should I start exercising?

Regular exercise is a very important part of a healthy lifestyle. The sooner you start exercising, the better you will feel during and after your pregnancy.

Before you start an exercise program, discuss it with your healthcare provider. This is especially important if you:

  • Are a smoker
  • Are very overweight Have a pregnancy problem, such as high blood pressure or early labor
  • Have any medical condition and are not sure if you should exercise

Some physical activities can be harder to do during the last 3 months of pregnancy because of the changes in your body. Your uterus and breasts are bigger and can affect your balance and make it easier for you to fall. Also, hormonal changes make your joints looser. If you have not been exercising regularly, simple walking may be the best exercise at this time.

Which muscles should I strengthen with exercise?

Besides exercise to keep your heart and lungs healthy, focus on strengthening the muscles of your belly, back, and pelvis.

  • Strengthening the muscles in your belly will make it easier to support the increasing weight of your baby. You will also be able to push with more strength when you deliver your baby.
  • Strengthening back muscles and doing exercises to improve your posture will reduce the strain of pregnancy on your lower back. Strengthening pelvic muscles will allow your vagina to widen more easily during childbirth.

What kinds of exercise can I do?

What kinds of sports and exercise you do during pregnancy depends on your health and what you were doing before you got pregnant. Pregnancy is probably not a good time to take up a new strenuous sport. However, if you were active before you were pregnant you can probably keep doing your usual exercise, within reason. Talk with your provider about continuing sports and strenuous exercising during your pregnancy.

  • Walking: If you did not do any exercise before getting pregnant, walking is a good way to start an exercise program.
  • Swimming: Swimming is good way to exercise during pregnancy. The water supports your weight while you tone and strengthen many muscles. Scuba diving is not advised because of the risk of decompression sickness and oxygen problems for the baby.
  • Kegel exercises: Kegel exercises help strengthen your pelvic muscles and prepare them for childbirth. Your healthcare provider can tell you how to do these exercises.
  • Yoga: Yoga can increase your flexibility and strengthen your muscles for labor and delivery.
  • Tennis: If you are an active tennis player, you can probably keep playing unless you have special problems or feel unusually tired. Just be aware of your change in balance and how it affects quick movements.
  • Jogging: If you regularly jog for exercise, you may be able to keep jogging as long as you feel comfortable doing it. Avoid getting overheated, and stop if you feel uncomfortable or tired. Remember to drink plenty of water.
  • Golf and bowling: Both of these sports are OK. You will need to adjust to your larger belly. Be careful not to lose your balance.
  • Snow skiing, water skiing, surfing, and horseback riding: These sports can be dangerous because you can hit the ground or water hard. Falling while traveling at fast speeds could hurt your baby. Talk to your healthcare provider before you do any of these activities while you are pregnant.
  • Climbing, hiking, and skiing above 10,000 feet: Elevations above 10,000 feet can keep you and your baby from getting enough oxygen. Avoid strenuous exercise at this altitude, especially if you normally live close to sea level. Walking or swimming may be OK but don’t do exercises that make you short of breath or give you muscle cramps.

What are the guidelines for exercising during pregnancy?

  • An active warm-up, such as walking slowly for 5 to 10 minutes, before starting your workout, may make your muscles more flexible and less at risk for injury. After your workout, cool down for 5 to 10 minutes by walking slowly and doing some stretches.
  • A good exercise goal is at least 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) a week of moderate exercise if you have no medical problems or problems with the pregnancy. Moderate exercise means you’re working hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat. Spread your total workout time over the week. For example, you might do 30-minute workouts 5 times a week.
  • Check your pulse. Slow down if your heart starts beating faster than the target range recommended by your healthcare provider. Exercise that is too strenuous may speed up the baby’s heartbeat to a dangerous level. In general, if you are able to talk comfortably while exercising, your heart rate is probably OK.
  • Don’t try to do too much. Remember that the extra weight you are carrying will make you work harder as you exercise. Stop right away if you feel tired, short of breath, or dizzy.
  • Drink water often before, during, and after exercise to prevent dehydration. Take a break in your workout to drink more water if needed.
  • Don’t do sports or exercise that might cause you to fall or be bumped. Don’t exercise on or around slippery or wet areas such as snow, or ice.
  • Be very careful with your back. Avoid positions and exercises that cause you to bend backwards. They put extra stress on your stretched belly muscles and might hurt your spine. Avoid deep knee bends, full sit-ups, double leg raises, and straight-leg toe touches that may hurt the tissues that connect your back joints and legs.
  • After the first 3 months of pregnancy, don’t do exercises while you are lying on your back because they can decrease the oxygen your baby gets from your blood.
  • Your exercise program may need to change somewhat after 20 weeks of pregnancy because of your larger belly and possible problems with balance.
  • Don’t get overheated. Avoid outdoor exercise in hot, humid weather. Also avoid hot tubs, whirlpools, or saunas. Getting overheated during pregnancy increases the baby’s temperature. If the baby’s temperature gets too high, it can affect the baby’s nervous system and brain.
  • Don’t exercise if you have a temperature over 100°F (37.8°C).
  • Avoid jerky, bouncy, or high-impact motions and jarring or quick changes in direction that can happen when you play contact sports, jump rope, or jump on a trampoline. These motions may cause back, belly, pelvic, and leg pain. They could also cause you to lose your balance.
  • Wear a well-fitting and supportive bra.

It is very important to discuss your plans for exercise with your provider. Talk to your provider if you have any questions.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-05-06
Last reviewed: 2014-09-21
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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