It used to be that pregnancy finally offered a good reason to sit down and put your feet up. But times have changed. Most pregnant women in good health should try to get 30 minutes of aerobic exercise (walking, swimming, dancing) on most, if not all, days. Dang! No excuse to snooze here!
Most of us are aware of the many benefits of exercise, but when you’re pregnant and feeling wiped out? Actually, regular exercise gives you a healthy buzz helping you feel better physically and emotionally, and the calories burned help prevent outrageous weight gain. Exercise can relieve stress (what stress?) and build up stamina needed for labor and delivery. It can help prevent gestational diabetes, a form of diabetes that sometimes develops during pregnancy. It can also help women cope during the postpartum period (did someone say stress again?) Exercise can help new moms keep the “baby blues” at bay, regain their energy and lose the weight they gained during pregnancy. All good stuff, so go for it!
But before you go out and run a marathon, talk with your health care provider. Not all pregnant women should exercise, especially if they are at risk of preterm labor or suffer from a serious ailment, such as heart or lung disease. So check with your doc or midwife before you start an exercise program.
Next, pick things you think you’ll like. Who’s going to stick with a routine that’s a total drag, even if it is good for you? Make it fun – try several things. Check out running, hiking or dancing, if you like. (Belly dancing for pregnant women is an absolute hoot!) Brisk walking for 30 minutes or more is an excellent way to get the aerobic benefits of exercise, and you don’t need to join a health club or buy any special equipment. I found swimming at the local YWCA a great sport, especially in the third trimester when my knees were hurting me. The water supports the weight of your growing body, protects your joints and provides resistance that helps bring your heart rate up. Our colleague Anne got a real charge out of yoga classes designed for pregnant women. You may find that a variety of activities helps keep you motivated to continue exercising throughout your pregnancy – and beyond.
Be careful when choosing a sport. Avoid any activities that put you at high risk for injury, such as horseback riding or downhill skiing. Stay away from sports in which you could get hit in the belly, such as ice hockey, kickboxing or soccer. Especially after the third month, avoid exercises that require you to lie flat on your back. Lying on your back can restrict the flow of blood to the uterus and endanger your baby. Finally, never scuba dive. As great as the water feels to you, this sport may lead to dangerous gas bubbles in the baby’s circulatory system.
When you exercise, pay attention to how you feel. Don’t overdo it—try to build up your level of fitness gradually. If you have any serious problems, such as vaginal bleeding, dizziness, headaches, chest pain, decreased fetal movement or contractions, stop exercising and contact your health care provider immediately.
With a little bit of caution, you can achieve or maintain a level of fitness that would shock your grandmother. You’ll feel and look better. And yes, you can still put your feet up—after you’ve come back from your walk.
For more information, read the March of Dimes fact sheet Fitness for Two.