Whether your previous form of exercise consisted of running marathons or running to the kitchen during commercial breaks, you can benefit from dedicated physical activity during pregnancy.
Studies have shown that expectant moms who exercise have less weight gain, fewer medical complications and decreased musculoskeletal pain during pregnancy, as well as healthier babies and, among other postnatal benefits, a faster return to pre-pregnancy weight.
Although exercise is beneficial for every expectant mother, the choice of activity is not one-size-fits-all — kind of like maternity jeans. You might find that one exercise is better suited to you during the first trimester, whereas another may be easier in the third.
Also keep in mind that it’s often much less daunting to embark on a new activity when you exercise with a buddy. You’re more likely to stick with a workout plan when you have company — plus it’s much more fun!
Here are the types of exercises considered to be safest and most beneficial for the unique body changes that you may encounter during pregnancy.
Many studios offer prenatal yoga classes, which are specially designed to avoid positions that may not be as comfortable or safe for all women at some stages of pregnancy. Regular stretching and yoga may help with musculoskeletal pain and increase flexibility.
Swimming is an excellent total-body workout. You can increase your cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength and endurance, while feeling weightless, which can be especially helpful if you are experiencing back, hip and leg pain.
Varying speeds can help make this basic exercise more vigorous. Walking is a great activity to do with friends or family. If you live in a colder climate, try walking at an indoor mall or even at an airport.
Whether you are taking a class or moving to a video in the privacy of your own home, dancing and/or low-impact aerobics are fun ways to get your blood pumping. Take extra care if you have the proverbial two left feet, as you don’t want to increase your risk of falling! As you get closer to your due
date, your center of gravity will change and your ability to balance may decrease. If you are in an organized class, let your instructor know early on that you’re a mom-to-be, so she can suggest ways to modify your exercise throughout the pregnancy.
Stationary Bike or Elliptical Trainer
These machines are great low-impact options for cardiovascular fitness and for building muscle strength. Being in improved shape may help you tolerate labor more easily.
Everyone should try Kegel exercises, and they certainly won’t make you sweat! Squeeze and hold the muscles that help stop the flow of urine for three seconds and release, then repeat for a total of ten times, three times a day (three sets of ten). You can do Kegels anytime, anywhere — sitting in traffic, in a meeting at work, while cooking dinner and no one will ever know. Among the long-term benefits of Kegel exercises are that they will help to strengthen the muscles of your pelvic floor, which may decrease the likelihood of urine leakage in the future.
Spice It Up
We all know that variety is the spice of life, and exercise regimens should include some diversity to keep you interested. Ideally, you should work towards a goal of 150 minutes a week of moderate-exertion activities. These workouts could include a Zumba class on Monday, a yoga video at home on Wednesday, 30 minutes on the elliptical machine on Friday, and 15 minutes of vigorous walking at lunch or after dinner each night (nothing in excess). Add in your three sets of daily Kegels, and you’re going to be One Fit Momma!
Sports to Skip
There are some types of exercise that pregnant women should avoid. Sports with a high potential for contact — such as hockey, soccer, football and basketball — are not the best choices. In addition, any activity with an increased risk of falling or abdominal trauma — like horseback riding, gymnastics, downhill skiing, rock climbing, etc. — should be put on hold until a few weeks post delivery. Scuba diving is also not safe during pregnancy. And, remember: Before embarking on any new exercise regimen, you should talk to your doctor, as there are some pregnancy complications for which one or all types of exercise should be avoided entirely.
Other Dos & Don’ts
During exercise, it’s important to remember to dress appropriately for the weather or the temperature indoors, to stay hydrated, and to know when to stop. If you are unable to carry on a conversation while you’re working out, you may be expending too much energy to get enough blood flow to the placenta and your baby. If you experience chest pain, trouble breathing, bleeding, contractions, increased pain, decreased fetal movement or any other concerning symptom, cease your activity immediately, and contact your doctor.
Once you have your doctor’s clearance, pick your favorite activity, grab a friend and get your heart pumping!
Lynsey Caldwell Owen, MD, is an ob/gyn at Malcolm Grow Medical Clinic on Andrews Air Force Base and at Southern Maryland Hospital Center.