A balanced exercise program is an excellent Rx for you & your baby.
Pregnancy is a time of significant physical and emotional change. Even the most physically fit women struggle with maintaining their activity level during this time. Many women just aren’t sure what kind of exercise — if any — is safe during pregnancy or the postpartum period.
Historically, pregnancy has been viewed as a time to rest, take it easy and eat for two. Even some providers have been reluctant to prescribe any type of exercise regimen to pregnant women because of a lack of adequate research or recommendation for physical fitness during pregnancy. As society begins to deal with the epidemic of obesity, scientists and providers are tackling the problem where it starts for many women – in pregnancy.
Most medical societies now recommend a diet and exercise program for pregnant women. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The American College of Sports Medicine and the Department of Health and Human Services advise that women without health or obstetrical complications exercise a minimum of 30 minutes every day while pregnant. This is especially true for obese women, who are at increased risk for potential pregnancy complications, such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia.
Most providers reduce recommended weight-gain goals for their patients to much more modest plans. It’s not necessary to eat for two, and if you are overweight you can safely limit weight gain to 15 pounds — even less if you are obese or suffer from diabetes.
Many women wonder if exercise is safe for the developing fetus or if there is a risk of an early delivery or miscarriage. In the absence of very specific pregnancy-related complications, exercise is overwhelmingly viewed as safe and necessary to curb weight gain and improve overall health. In fact, researchers have found no association with fetal growth restriction, miscarriage or preterm labor.
Regular exercise may also prepare you for the physical and emotional demands of labor and delivery. In addition, it may decrease the risk of postpartum depression, improve sleep quality and boost cardiovascular health.
After giving birth, women who wish to breastfeed can also feel confident continuing or resuming their previous fitness regimens, as exercise does not interfere with the production of breast milk.
First Things First
Before starting an exercise plan, take into consideration the changes that occur during pregnancy that may affect your ability to perform certain activities. Things to consider are the changes in your center of gravity, the effect of weight gain on joints, a decreased ability to quickly change direction and the risks of abdominal trauma late in pregnancy.
Exercise should activate large muscle groups. Consider swimming, walking or jogging, aerobics or rowing. Cycling can be safe early in pregnancy, but consider transitioning to a stationary bike later in pregnancy.
A balanced fitness program while pregnant is one of the best prescriptions for expectant mothers and their babies. Talk to your provider. Obtain a pre-exercise obstetrical screening before beginning any exercise regimen. Together, you and your provider can find the best fitness solution to optimize your health for pregnancy and life beyond.
Chemen M. Tate, MD, is a practicing physician and Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at The Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis.