Blog

Prenatal Exercise

Getting into an exercise routine can be really tough. Finding the time, the energy, the motivation. And that's for the average adult. Never mind having the added factors of growing another person. "This time and energy you speak of....???"

Or maybe you're ready to go, but don't know how to proceed. Is it safe? Will I hurt the baby? What am I allowed to do? Some people say to not do anything, others say to throw caution to the wind and just do whatever you were doing before you got pregnant.

Depending on your doctor, and the personal experiences of your friends, you may be getting a wide variety of conflicting advice! Let's drill down to some of the facts. 

Benefits

Many of the benefits to exercise for a pregnant woman are the same as those of a non-pregnant adult. But some are unique to the way your body is changing, or you may find the perceived benefit increases when you are pregnant.

  • higher energy and improved move
  • better sleep quality
  • improved strength and endurance
  • better posture, relief from pregnancy-associated back pain
  • less bloating and swelling
  • decreased risk of, and improved control of gestational diabetes and pregnancy-related hypertension
  • prevention of excess weight gain and long-term obesity

Reality of the Guidelines

What are the guidelines? Surprisingly, they are the same as those for all adults - 30 minutes per day, most days of the week, totaling at least 150 minutes per week.

The American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine released a 2013 study that revealed 85% of pregnant women (in the US) don't meet the current minimum exercise guidelines while they are pregnant. This, despite the proven benefits listed above. 

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) are great resources for guidelines and recommendations. These are trusted resources that are continuing to seek out the latest research.

Caveats

All right, but what about the unique nature of pregnancy? So far, all we've come up with mirrors other adults. Shouldn't the fact that you're pregnant factor into things?! Indeed.

Before you begin any exercise routine (or one-time adventure):

  1. Get a full health evaluation. Make sure you know what medical and obstetric risks you personally have.
  2. Get an individualized assessment of EACH physical activity that you will be doing for any potential pregnancy risks.
  3. Avoid any activity that involves a high risk of falling or trauma to your abdomen.

You should be prepared to modify activities as appropriate. For the recreational and competitive athletes with an uncomplicated pregnancy, just modify specific moves or actions according that individualized assessment I mentioned.

For the physical active woman with a history of preterm labor or fetal growth issues - activity reduction is going to be necessary in the second and third trimesters.

If you haven't been physically active prepregnancy, you can become active during pregnancy! Just make sure you've talked with your doctor and know about any limitations you may have.

Recommendations

  1. Weight-bearing activities are still ok, as long as they are comfortable (walking, jogging, low-impact aerobics).
  2. Non-weight-bearing activities like swimming and stationary cycling are good options. However, riding a regular bike in trimesters 2 and 3 isn't recommended, because of the increased risk of falling (your balance is totally messed up!).
  3. Your intensity should be monitored based on perceived exertion. This means that you may not be able to do what you did before you got pregnant. If you used to be able to carry on a conversation with a friend while running a 9-min mile, aim for that same "talkability", even if you're running a 10- or 11-min mile instead. 
  4. Avoid activities that require straining (like heavy weight lifting) or air pressure extremes (SCUBA or high-altitudes).
  5. Avoid activities that pose significant risks to the abdominal area, and anything that puts you prone or supine (on your stomach or on your back) should be avoided after the end of the first trimester.
  6. New to exercise? Get a trainer or instructor who is trained in PRENATAL EXERCISE (not just any old trainer at the gym). Or, check out a DVD that follows the ACOG/ACSM guidelines. Andrea Orbeck has a few that I'd recommend.
  7. Be mindful of your fluid intake and the temperature. You want to avoid dehydration and heat stress. 
  8. Stop exercise if medical problems or regular contractions occur after exercise. And go see your doctor!

Final Thoughts

Use some common sense as you approach this. Don't forget that you are the expert on your body. You know what feels normal, what doesn't. If a "guideline" says it's ok, but something isn't quite right - trust that instinct.

That said, you are not the expert on the HUMAN body or on PREGNANCY. Let your ob/gyn be your guide. Inform them of your desire to remain or get active during your pregnancy. If it's not something they can support, they should have a good medical reason. If not, it's time to consider a new doctor!

Any moms or moms-to-be have any other advice or questions on the topic?