Exercise during pregnancy is not only safe, it’s increasingly recommended. The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends that healthy women get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise a week. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), 30 minutes per day of moderate exercise on most if not all days of the week is recommended for pregnant women who have no medical or obstetric complications.
The Benefits of Exercising During Pregnancy
Some benefits of exercising regularly during pregnancy can include:
- Weight control
- Stronger abdominal and back muscles, which improves posture and may lessen back pain
- Increased energy levels
- Improved mood
- Preparation for the physical demands of labor
- Enhanced quality of sleep
The best exercises for pregnancy are those that put minimal stress on the joints, involve smooth movements, and have a low risk of falling or body contact. Great exercises include swimming, walking, stationary biking, and elliptical machines.
Activities to Limit or Avoid
Some activities pose increased risks in pregnancy and should be limited or avoided. These include:
- Scuba diving
- Activities that present an increased risk of falling such as skiing and skating
- Sports with a high potential for contact such as ice hockey and soccer
- Activity that involves lying flat on your back
- Resistance training with heavy weights
Exercise Duration and Frequency
Exercising for 30 minutes a day on most days of the week is all that’s needed to maintain fitness and achieve related benefits. Women who wish to exercise for longer than 45 minutes should speak to their doctors before doing so. Getting your exercise in 10-minute spurts is also fine. As long as you exercise at a moderate or vigorous pace for at least 10 minutes, these short bursts of exercise can count toward your overall goal.
Other Factors to Consider
Balance: As your body shape changes, so does your balance, which could put you at a greater risk of falling.
Temperature regulation: Exercising in a controlled, air-conditioned environment will help keep temperature levels in check. It's a good idea to wear layers of clothes and exercise during the cooler hours of the day. Also, drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.
Nutrition: Women who are pregnant need an extra 300 calories per day during the last six months of pregnancy. Exercising may further increase your calorie needs.
Altitude: High altitudes may cause problems. If you visit or live in a high altitude area, then talk to your doctor about how to modify your exercise routine.
If you were sedentary before pregnancy, do not despair. You can still reap the benefits of exercise by gradually working up to 30 minutes per day. Realize that pregnancy is not the time for making significant gains in your fitness level—or for athletic competition. Competitive athletes who wish to maintain a more strenuous exercise schedule throughout pregnancy should do so only under the close supervision of their doctors.
Before You Begin
Talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise program during pregnancy and be sure to follow up with regular check-ups. Additionally, if you notice any of the following symptoms, stop exercising right away and contact your doctor:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Muscle weakness
- Calf pain or swelling
- Preterm labor
- Unusual change in your baby’s movement
- Amniotic fluid leakage
Although it may be wise to proceed with a little more care then usual, pregnant women who are medically cleared should feel free to partake in a wide array of activities. Exercising during pregnancy has many benefits, including an improved sense of well-being. It’s probably the best way to prepare for the physical demands of motherhood.
After Baby Arrives
Regular exercise can also be helpful after your baby has arrived. Exercise during the postpartum period can boost your mood and help you maintain a healthy weight.
Last reviewed April 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
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