We all know exercise is good for health, but many of my patients wonder whether they can continue their exercise regimen when they’re pregnant.
If you’ve been wondering the same thing, I’m here to assure you that physical activity during pregnancy is safe and recommended. In addition to the usual health benefits, a pregnancy exercise program can improve pregnancy outcomes and reduce complications.
What are the benefits of exercise during pregnancy?
Continuing your regular exercise program or starting a pregnancy exercise routine can improve muscle tone, strength, and endurance, potentially making labor and delivery easier.
Other benefits of exercising when pregnant include:
- Reduced swelling, bloating, back pain, and constipation
- Improved mood
- Improved sleep cycle
- Less time spent in labor
- Lower risk of cesarean section or medical intervention during delivery
- Lower risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and postpartum depression
What are the guidelines for exercise during pregnancy?
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that if you exercised before becoming pregnant, you should continue at least some form of physical activity when pregnant. If you don’t currently exercise, you can safely ease yourself into an exercise routine during pregnancy. However, we should discuss your medical history, pregnancy, and health goals to ensure you are exercising at a good pace and not straining yourself.
When you’re pregnant, the ACOG recommends you get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity, low-impact aerobic activity split up across five to seven days of the week. Aerobic exercises involve moving the body’s large muscles without intense slamming, jumping, or jarring. You should be working out intensely enough to raise your heart rate but still be able to carry on a conversation.
If you’re new to exercising, start slowly with an easy routine and gradually increase the intensity. You can begin with as little as five minutes a day and increase by five minutes per session every week.
What exercises are safe during pregnancy?
Safe, moderate exercise can take many forms, but medical experts agree that the following are the safest for pregnant women:
- Brisk walking: a full-body workout that’s easy on the joints.
- Swimming: water helps support your extra weight, decreasing your risk of injury.
- Indoor cycling: a stationary bike allows for great cardio exercise without risking falling.
- Strength training: light weightlifting can help keep muscles and bones strong during pregnancy.
- Prenatal yoga and pilates: specialized exercises for pregnant people increase strength and flexibility and can help reduce backaches.
Should I do kegel exercises during pregnancy?
Kegel exercises involve contracting and relaxing the pelvic floor muscles, which support the pelvic organs, such as the bladder, uterus, and colon. Pelvic muscle weakness can increase your risk of uterine or vaginal prolapse or make vaginal delivery more difficult.
Doing kegel exercises during pregnancy and after delivery can improve these muscles’ strength and endurance, helping maintain bladder and bowel control.
How does pregnancy affect my ability to exercise?
Your body undergoes significant changes during pregnancy, and before beginning or continuing an exercise routine, it’s important that we discuss the changes your body is going through.
The following changes affect your ability to exercise:
Hormones produced during pregnancy relax the ligaments that support your joints, making them more flexible and injury-prone. Jerky, bouncy, or high-impact exercise should be avoided.
The extra weight at the front of your body shifts your center of gravity, causes issues with balance, and can result in an increased risk of falling. It also stresses the joints and muscles in the pelvis and lower back.
Studies have shown that pregnant women consume more oxygen at rest, and the air in and out of the lungs increases by 30 to 50% during pregnancy.
As the uterus enlarges, there is less room for the diaphragm to move, which may lead to shortness of breath. Although this doesn’t seem to impact the amount of oxygen available for exercise or other physical activity, it may affect the ability to do strenuous or high-intensity exercise.
Blood vessel compression
Lying flat on your back for floor exercises compresses the vena cava, a large blood vessel to the lower body, decreasing blood flow and lowering blood pressure. This can cause dizziness or loss of consciousness.
After the first trimester, we don’t recommend doing exercises that involve lying on your back. However, lying on your left side may relieve dizziness.
What are the exercises to avoid during pregnancy?
The fetus is well-protected by the uterus, and within the uterus, it’s surrounded by fluid in the amniotic sac. However, the uterus isn’t an impenetrable safety bubble, so you still need to be careful with your pregnancy exercise.
The American Pregnancy Association recommends avoiding these types of exercises:
- Activities with a high risk of falling, such as downhill skiing, horseback riding, and gymnastics.
- Contact sports, such as ice hockey, basketball, and volleyball.
- SCUBA diving due to the pressure changes.
- Exercise at high altitudes due to the lack of oxygen.
- Exercise in high-heat environments, such as hot yoga, especially in the first trimester.
What medical conditions make exercise unsafe during pregnancy?
The ACOG recommends not exercising during pregnancy if you have the following conditions:
- Some heart and lung diseases
- Cervical cerclage
- Carrying more than one fetus
- Placenta previa
- History of preterm labor
- Pregnancy-induced high blood pressure
- Severe anemia
However, everyone is different, so consult a healthcare provider to determine what exercise levels are safe for you.
Make Dr. Aliabadi your Los Angeles OB/GYN
As one of the nation’s leading OB/GYNs, Dr. Thaïs Aliabadi offers the very best in women’s health and well-being. With her warm, professional team, Dr. Aliabadi supports women through all phases of life. She fosters a special one-on-one relationship between patient and doctor.
An expert in obstetrics and gynecology, Dr. Aliabadi has been a practicing OB/GYN in Los Angeles since 2002. She serves as an official gynecologist for many royal families and celebrities and instructs Cedars Sinai Medical Center residents and medical students at the University of Southern California.
We invite you to establish care with Dr. Aliabadi. Please make an appointment online or call us at (844) 863-6700.
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