Monday, March 15, 2010

Pregnancy and Exercise – Learn the Benefits, Limitations and What to Avoid

If you are pregnant and the terms “shorter, less painful labor” and “faster weight loss after delivery” mean anything to you, it may be time to drop the motto “Rest is Best” that traditionally applies to pregnant women. According to Kate Kelly, Managing Editor for American Baby magazine, “Labor is a marathon, and you should never go to a marathon without any training.”

First Things First
For all women concerned about their own health and the health of their baby, be sure to visit your doctor to discuss these concerns prior to continuing an old exercise routine or starting a new one.

The Facts about Pregnancy, Exercise and Potential Dangers
Contrary to popular belief, exercise during pregnancy does not increase the risk for miscarriage, low birth weight or preterm delivery in normal, low-risk pregnancies. In fact, moderate exercise is actually beneficial for not only the pregnant mother, but also her baby.

Exercise is good for your baby’s fetal heart rate and helps you stay motivated to remain healthy during your pregnancy. Exercise also builds stronger muscles and a fit heart that ease both labor and delivery – and some studies show it may even lower your risk of complications like preeclampsia and gestational diabetes.

More Benefits
Exercise releases endorphins, otherwise known as the “feel good” chemicals in the body – and your body needs these chemicals even more during pregnancy. Daily exercise for a duration of about thirty minutes (i.e., walking on the treadmill, biking, Pilates) is medically proven to reduce stress, boost energy and minimize bouts of moodiness commonly linked to pregnancy. Exercise also builds confidence, a character trait desired by all women – pregnant or not.
Exercise during pregnancy also helps you look better by increasing the blood flow to your skin to produce a healthy glow while preventing excess fat from accumulating around the body.

Common Concerns
Some women may be concerned about their physical ability to exercise during a pregnancy. However, studies show that if you were athletic before you became pregnant, you can most likely continue your regular routine throughout your pregnancy. Therefore, runners can still run, bikers can still bike and yoga enthusiasts can still participate in classes – you may even want to try swimming as an exercise.

Women who are hesitant to exercise during pregnancy should find out if their gym hosts prenatal exercise classes but be sure to consult with your doctor before starting any new routine.


If you are just starting an exercise program to improve your health during your pregnancy, listen to your body - as it will tell you if it is time to reduce your level of exercise. Always be sure to ease into any routine and not to overexert yourself. A great indicator of overexertion is exhaustion or breathlessness – two signs that your body and your baby cannot get their necessary oxygen supplies. Other signs that your body has had enough include dizziness, fatigue, heart palpitations and pain in your back or pelvis.

You may also need to limit your exercise if you have early contractions, pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, vaginal bleeding or premature rupture of your membranes (also known as water breaking). Always discuss these issues with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.

During your workouts, take frequent breaks between exercises and drink plenty of fluids. Remain conscious of your diet during your pregnancy and always incorporate plenty of fruits, vegetables and complex carbohydrates to remain healthy.

What to Avoid
Despite recent studies on the importance of physical exercise during pregnancy, there are some activities to avoid. Typical limitations include downhill skiing, horseback riding and scuba diving, as well as high impact activities, contact sports and back or abdominal stretches. Never exercise in extremely hot temperatures while pregnant, according to Nemours’ KidsHealth website, as becoming overheated with your body temperature being greater than 102.6° Fahrenheit (39° Celsius) can cause problems with the developing fetus (especially in the first trimester), potentially leading to birth defects.
Avoid exercises that involve lying flat on your back during the second and third trimesters, as these exercises decrease blood flow to your womb. Obviously, this includes most abdominal exercises, so try gentle standing pelvic tilts, seated belly breathing or tightening, holding then releasing your abdominals as an alternative to keep them in top condition.

Whether you are an athlete looking to continue your training throughout your pregnancy or a woman of an average fitness level looking to ease the pain of labor and realize faster weight loss after delivery, exercise during pregnancy under these restrictions, limitations and warnings is not only healthy – but recommended. Do not be afraid to lace up your Nikes and hit the treadmill - you and your baby are in store for numerous benefits throughout the pregnancy.

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