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Benefits of Exercising during Pregnancy

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

Should You Exercise in Pregnancy?

Learn the benefits of exercising throughout your pregnancy.

Should you exercise in pregnancy? The answer is yes. While you may not have the energy to run a marathon, exercise during pregnancy is important for mom and baby alike. Most women reap tremendous benefits from exercising throughout their pregnancy.

Exercise in pregnant women helps them feel better, prepares their body for labor and delivery, and it may even alleviate many of their pregnancy aches and pains – including swollen ankles and backaches. Pregnancy exercise is a win-win for both mom and baby, and it is something you should discuss with your doctor. Your doctor or healthcare provider can give you recommendations on safe pregnancy exercises for your individual case.

As a rule of thumb, if you have been exercising regularly prior to your pregnancy, then chances are you can engage in an exercise plan quite easily after becoming pregnant. You may need to modify your routine slightly to accommodate your growing figure. For example, you will probably want to avoid exercising at your pre-pregnancy level, so just exercise at a comfortable level.

If you are new to exercise and you did not exercise before you became pregnant, be sure to check in with your doctor or healthcare provider to ensure your health and well being prior to starting an exercise routine. Fortunately for most women starting an exercise program during pregnancy is perfectly safe and very beneficial. If you are exercising for the first time in pregnancy, you will want to avoid starting a new, strenuous exercise. Instead, you may want to consider walking as your pregnancy exercise of choice.

Why Exercise During Pregnancy?

Exercising during pregnancy carries with it many benefits. Here are just a few of the more commonly reported benefits of pregnancy exercise:

  • Fatigue is a common pregnancy complaint, but exercising during pregnancy can help boost your energy level and reduce fatigue during pregnancy. You may feel like you are too tired to work out, but once you do you'll quickly find your efforts well worth it. Exercise in pregnant women helps boost the levels of endorphins in their body and helps get the blood circulating throughout the body. Exercise in pregnancy also strengthens your cardiovascular system, and it gives you strong and toned muscles, so you need less effort to do everyday tasks and chores. Less effort means that you don't tire as quickly.

  • Exercising during pregnancy can help relieve pregnancy backaches and help strengthen and tone the muscles in the body. With stronger muscles, your body can cope better with your pregnancy-related aches and discomfort.

  • Exercise in pregnant women helps stimulate the bowels and helps reduce constipation during pregnancy.

  • Pregnancy exercise can help promote adequate circulation and decrease complications associated with varicose veins. Walking is one of the best exercises to improve your circulation when pregnant.

  • Exercise during pregnancy helps promote better sleep and helps combat insomnia. That's because regular exercise in pregnancy helps you work off excess energy, and it makes you more exhausted at the end of the day, giving you more comfortable sleep.

  • Exercising during pregnancy provides an ideal outlet for reducing tensions and anxiety during pregnancy. When you exercise when pregnant, this triggers the release of serotonin – the brain chemical linked to improving mood, so you feel better after you engage in a pregnancy exercise.

  • Exercise will help you feel better about your body during pregnancy and can help you maintain a healthy weight gain during pregnancy.

  • Exercising during pregnancy will help promote your endurance and prepare your body for the rigors of labor. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. The stronger your body is, the easier and even shorter your labor and delivery will be.

  • Women who exercise during pregnancy will typically regain their pre-pregnancy shape must more quickly than those who do not. When pregnant women exercise regularly, their body has an easier time bouncing back to its pre-pregnancy shape and size.

Pregnancy and Exercise: Get Your Doctor's OK First

Before you start any pregnancy exercise program, you need to discuss your plans with your healthcare provider. In most cases, exercising in pregnancy is perfectly safe and beneficial. However, if you have a high-risk pregnancy, your doctor may have specific recommendations on what exercise routine is best for you.

Women who have a history of poorly controlled diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or placenta previa should proceed with caution and talk to their doctor before exercising.

Some pregnant women will be advised NOT to exercise during pregnancy. You should avoid aerobic exercise in pregnancy if you have any of the following conditions:

  • Heart disease

  • Lung disease

  • Multiple pregnancy (you are pregnant with more than one baby)

  • You're a risk for pre-term labor

  • Persistent bleeding in the second or third trimester of pregnancy

  • You suffer from placenta previa after week 26 of pregnancy

  • Chronic hypertension or preeclampsia (high blood pressure and protein in the urine during pregnancy)

  • Severe anemia

  • Cervical problems, such as cervical insufficiency

Exercise Safety During Pregnancy

It is important that you take some safety precautions when exercising during pregnancy. When you're pregnant, your body produces a chemical called relaxin, which helps lubricate and loosens your joints to make labor and delivery easier. Unfortunately, relaxin may make your body more susceptible to injury.

That's why you should practice exercise safety when pregnant. You will want to warm up and stretch before and after exercise to help protect your joints and muscles. It is a good idea to start each pregnancy exercise session with a five or ten minute warm-up session.

When you exercise in pregnancy, you will want to wear loose-fitting, breathable clothes. You may want to dress in layers, just in case you feel too hot during your exercises. To prevent dehydration, you will want to drink water and keep hydrated before, during, and after your pregnancy exercises.

Another tip for exercising safely during pregnancy is to don't overdo it. Don't exercise until you are exhausted. Instead, when you find that it's hard to carry on a conversation, slow down. Listen to your body when you exercise in pregnancy. If you start to hurt, stop exercising immediately. This usually means that something is wrong.

When you exercise when pregnant, you will want to choose forms of safe exercises. There are certain sports and exercises that are safe during pregnancy, even for beginning exercisers. These include:

  • Walking – This is a perfect exercise for pregnant women. A brisk walk around the block or neighborhood will give you a total body workout, and it is also easy on your joints and muscles.

  • Swimming – Take a splash in the water during pregnancy. The water supports your weight, so you can avoid injury and any muscle strain. Plus, swimming works all your muscles, making it wonderful for your pregnant body. Another perk of swimming during pregnancy is that it keeps you cool and it prevents your legs from swelling.

  • Cycling – While riding a bicycle is out of the question for pregnant women, due to the risk of falling, you can still get a great aerobic workout from cycling on a stationary bike.

When You Should Stop Exercising in Pregnancy

In some cases you may need to limit your exercise. Here are some warning signs that exercise during pregnancy may not be safe:

  • Contractions that are regular and uncomfortable during physical activity.

  • High blood pressure.

  • Vaginal spotting or bleeding during or after exercise.

  • Leaking or premature rupture of the membranes.

  • Decreased fetal movement.

  • Excessive dizziness or nausea and vomiting.

  • Calf pain or swelling

  • Headache

  • Chest pain

If you experience any of these symptoms stop immediately and contact your physician.

Remember that ultimately exercise should make you feel good during pregnancy, not sick or uncomfortable. As mentioned above, some excellent choices while pregnant include yoga, walking, swimming, prenatal aerobics and stretching.

Many physicians now offer prenatal yoga, pilates and aerobics classes geared specifically toward pregnant women. If you aren't a member of a gym check out your local recreation center. You are bound to find one or two classes you might like to try. Some women prefer to buy an exercise video or two they can use from the comfort of their own home.

Regardless of the method of exercise you choose, remember that exercising during pregnancy is an important aspect of your health and well-being. Your body and your baby will thank you for your efforts.

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