Benefits of Exercise in Pregnancy
Exercise helps promote healthy weight gain and may reduce your risk of having a baby who is large for their gestational age. It can stabilize your blood sugar and may decrease your risk for gestational diabetes.
As your pregnancy progresses, your uterus enlarges, and your center of gravity shifts forward. This can bring trigger back pain. Regular stretching and exercises to maintain or strengthen your core can help reduce back pain. These movements can also keep your hips flexible and mobile, which helps prepare you for movement during labor and birth.
Regular exercise helps keep you, well, regular! Constipation during pregnancy is common: pregnancy hormones actually slow down your digestion, supplements you may be taking to prevent or treat anemia can affect your bowel habits, and your growing uterus puts more pressure on your intestinal tract. Getting regular movement into your day, as well as drinking more liquids and eating a higher fiber diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains can help prevent or treat constipation.
Regular exercise is also important for your heart health, as it boosts your circulation and strengthens your ticker—all of which helps you prepare for baby’s labor and birth. Some research has shown that regular exercise may shorten the length of labor and reduce the risk of cesarean birth.
Exercise Regularly in Pregnancy
Moderate-intensity means exercise that increases your heart rate and is intense enough to make you sweat, but does not make you so winded that you cannot talk normally. This may be easy to do if you have already been exercising regularly prior to pregnancy. However, if you are just beginning to exercise, build up slowly to moderate-intensity exercise by starting with 5 or 10 minutes a day and adding more time each week until you are up to an average of 30 minutes on most days of the week.
Certain changes in pregnancy may increase your risk for injury or falling during exercise:
- Pregnancy hormones loosen the ligaments in most of your joints to allow space for your growing uterus and for the birth of your baby, but may also increase your risk of injury to your joints.
- Just as the shift in your center of gravity because of your growing uterus may cause back pain, it can also make your more prone to falling or bumping your uterus during exercise.
- Many women experience shortness of breath with increased activity or exercise during pregnancy. Your need for oxygen increases during pregnancy and your lungs are eliminating the carbon dioxide for both you and your baby.
- As your pregnancy progresses, your growing uterus puts pressure on your diaphragm and rib cage, which may increase your breathing rate even at rest.
Best Exercises in Pregnancy
- Walking – you can achieve a moderate-intensity workout with walking, and it is easier on your joints than jogging or running.
- Jogging or running, especially if you are an experienced runner or in have been regularly jogging or running prior to pregnancy.
- Swimming or other water workouts – water provides buoyancy that can relieve some of the discomforts of pregnancy and can help prevent other strain or injury to your joints.
- Modified yoga – can improve your balance, helps you practice helpful breathing techniques and improves the flexibility of your joints.
- Modified Pilates – can provide an overall workout that strengthens your core muscles and helps reduce back pain.
- Bicycling – especially using a stationary bike which reduces your risk of falling off the bike.
Exercise Tips in Pregnancy
- Chest pain
- Calf pain or swelling
- Vaginal bleeding
- Leaking of amniotic fluid
- Preterm labor
- Decreased fetal movement
- Shortness of breath before exercising
In addition to these reasons to stop exercising, your healthcare provider may recommend that you avoid exercise if you have certain health or pregnancy complications.
- Placenta previa after the second trimester, or if you experience vaginal bleeding
- Preterm labor or a pregnancy that is at higher risk for preterm labor, for example, multiple pregnancy or a history of preterm birth with a prior pregnancy
- Shortened or prematurely dilated cervix or having a cervical cerclage in place for incompetent cervix
- Certain heart or lung conditions
- Gestational hypertension or preeclampsia
Regular moderate-intensity exercise can be a key component of a healthy pregnancy. Partner with your healthcare provider to review your exercise plans and find the type and level of exercise that are safe for you and your pregnancy.
Jamie Vincent, MSN, APRN-CNS, RNC-OB, C-EFM, C-ONQS
Jamie Vincent, MSN, APRN-CNS, RNC-OB, C-EFM, C-ONQS, is a perinatal clinical nurse specialist at a community hospital in Northern California.
The information contained on this article should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your health care professional.