6 Best Exercises During Pregnancy

If you’re pregnant, you’ve probably been told by your OB/GYN that exercising during your pregnancy is a great idea, even highly recommended, for a number of reasons. At Westchester Health, we agree. Regular exercise during all three trimesters can improve health, reduce the risk of excess weight gain and back pain, and make delivery easier. It also can give your newborn a healthier start in life.

But before you dive into an exercise program, either light, moderate or vigorous, it’s very important to discuss your plans with your healthcare provider to make sure you do the right kind of exercise at the right stage of your pregnancy.

The many benefits of exercising during pregnancy

Lisa Roth-Brown, MD, FACOG

For your baby:

Research shows that when pregnant women exercise, the baby’s heart rate is lower. Newborns whose moms exercised may also have a healthier birth weight, a lower fat mass, improved stress tolerance and advanced neurobehavioral maturation.

For you, exercising while pregnant can:

  • increase heart rate
  • improve heart health and stamina
  • improve circulation
  • decrease fatigue
  • decrease constipation
  • keep your body flexible and strong
  • boost mood and energy levels
  • maintain healthy weight gain
  • improve muscle strength
  • prepare your muscles for labor and birth
  • shorten the labor process
  • increase the chances of a natural birth
  • decrease the need for pain relief
  • speed up recovery after delivery
  • reduce the risk of gestational diabetes and hypertension
  • decrease the likelihood of preterm labor and birth

What to keep in mind

  • If you were exercising regularly before getting pregnant, and are healthy during your pregnancy, you should be able to continue exercising as before, with slight changes depending on your trimester.
  • Women who have not been exercising before pregnancy should choose a low-intensity program and gradually move to a higher activity level.
  • Exercise is recommended for 20-30 minutes each day, several days a week. Most exercises are safe to perform during pregnancy if done with caution.

How to exercise safely

Regular physical activity can boost maternal and fetal health and can make pregnancy, labor and post-delivery recovery easier. However, it is important to stay safe during exercise.

Here are some tips for staying safe while you exercise.

Always:

  • Begin by warming up for 5 minutes and stretching for 5 minutes
  • Finish with 5-10 minutes of gradually slower exercise that ends with gentle stretching
  • Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothes and a good support bra
  • To help prevent injury, wear supportive shoes designed specifically for the exercise you’re doing
  • Exercise on a flat, level surface to avoid injury
  • Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day
  • Don’t exercise for at least 1 hour after eating
  • Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise to keep hydrated
  • Stand or sit up slowly and gradually to prevent dizziness

Remember:

  • The body needs more oxygen and energy during pregnancy
  • The hormone relaxin, produced during pregnancy, causes the ligaments that support the joints to stretch, increasing the risk of injury
  • Your changing weight will alter your center of gravity, putting extra strain on the joints and muscles in the lower back and pelvis, increasing the chance of losing your balance

What to avoid when exercising:

  • Avoid overheating
  • Avoid exercising in high humidity
  • Avoid heavy weightlifting and activities that require straining
  • Avoid exposure to extremes in air pressure, such as high altitude exercise or scuba diving
  • Avoid activities that increase the risk of abdominal trauma
  • Never exercise to the point of exhaustion
  • If you cannot talk while exercising, slow down the activity

Who should not exercise

Exercise is rarely harmful during pregnancy but anyone with a medical condition, such as asthma, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes or a pregnancy-related condition should speak to their healthcare provider first.

You may be told not to exercise if you have:

  • vaginal bleeding or spotting
  • low placenta or low-lying or placenta previa
  • a history or possibility of miscarriage or preterm delivery
  • weak cervix

Stop exercising if you:

  • feel very fatigued
  • develop persistent pain
  • experience vaginal bleeding
  • have regular contractions more than 30 minutes after exercise, as this may be a sign of pre-term labor

6 best exercise to keep you fit and healthy

These 6 exercises carry little risk of injury, benefit your entire body, can be done until delivery and can help prepare you for labor.

  1. Brisk walking

If your pre-pregnancy exercise level was low, a quick stroll around the neighborhood is a good way to start. This will give you a cardiovascular workout without too much impact on your knees and ankles. It can be done for free, almost anywhere, and at any time during your pregnancy.

Safety tips: As your pregnancy progresses, your center of gravity changes, possibly causing you to lose your sense of balance and coordination. Therefore, choose smooth surfaces, avoid potholes, rocks, and other obstacles, and wear supportive footwear.

  1. Swimming

Swimming, walking in water and aqua aerobics all give you a good range of motion without putting pressure on your joints. Plus, the buoyancy provided by the water may give you some relief from the extra weight.

Safety tips: Choose a swimming stroke that feels comfortable and that does not strain or hurt your neck, shoulders or back muscles (for example, breaststroke). A kickboard is a great way to help strengthen the leg and buttock muscles.

Additional tips:

  • To prevent slipping, use the pool railing for balance when entering the water
  • Avoid diving or jumping—this could impact the abdomen
  • To minimize the risk of overheating, avoid warm pools, steam rooms, hot tubs and saunas
  1. Stationary cycling

Cycling on a stationary bike, aka spinning, is usually safe even for first-time exercisers. It’s particularly beneficial because it helps raise your heart rate without putting too much stress on your joints, helps support your body weight, and because it is stationary, the risk of falling is low

  1. Yoga

A lot of our pregnant patients at Westchester Health love prenatal yoga classes because they keep their joints limber and help maintain their flexibility. In addition, yoga strengthens muscles, stimulates blood circulation and enhances relaxation, all of which may contribute to healthy blood pressure during pregnancy. The techniques you learn in yoga classes might also help you stay calm and in control during labor.

Safety tips: As your pregnancy progresses, skip positions that could cause you to overbalance. From the second semester on, avoid poses that involve lying on the abdomen or flat on the back (can cause the weight of the fetus and the uterus to put pressure on major veins and arteries and decrease blood flow to your heart). Don’t overstretch—this could lead to injury.

  1. Low-impact aerobics

Aerobic exercise strengthens the heart and lungs and helps maintain muscle tone. By low-impact aerobics, we mean that you should not be doing jumping, high kicks, leaps or fast running. Also, in low-impact exercise, one foot should stay on the ground at all times.

Benefits of low-impact aerobics:

  • limits stress on the joints
  • helps maintain balance
  • reduces the risk of weakening the pelvic floor muscles (a weak pelvic floor increases the chances of urine leakage)

Some aerobics classes are designed especially for pregnant women and can be a good way to meet other pregnant women, as well as exercising with an instructor who is trained to meet your specific needs. If you already attend a regular aerobics class, be sure to let the instructor know that you are pregnant so he/she can modify the exercises and advise you on which movements would be right for you.

  1. Preparing for labor: squatting and pelvic tilts

The American Pregnancy Association recommends the following exercises specifically for pregnancy, as they prepare the body for labor and delivery.

Squatting: During labor, squatting helps open up the pelvis

  1. Stand with your feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart, back straight
  2. Lower yourself slowly, keeping your feet flat and your knees no further forward than your feet
  3. Hold for 10-30 seconds, then slowly push up.

Pelvic tilts: These strengthen the abdominal muscles and help reduce back pain

  1. Go down on your hands and knees
  2. Tilt your hips forward and pull your abdomen in, arching your back
  3. Hold for a few seconds
  4. Release, let the back drop
  5. Repeat this up to 10 times

When to stop exercising

Stop exercising and consult your healthcare provider if you:

  • experience pain, including abdominal, chest or pelvic pain
  • have muscle cramps
  • feel faint, dizzy or nauseous
  • feel cold or clammy
  • notice vaginal bleeding
  • have a sudden gush of fluid from the vagina or a trickle of fluid that leaks steadily, possibly indicating a rupture of the amniotic membrane
  • have an irregular or rapid heartbeat
  • notice sudden swelling in the ankles, hands, face or all of three
  • experience increased shortness of breath
  • have persistent contractions that continue after rest
  • have difficulty walking

Have questions about exercising during pregnancy? Come see us.

If you’d like more information about how much exercise you should be doing during your pregnancy, and which ones to do and not do, please make an appointment with Westchester Health to see one of our OB/GYNs. After examining you and determining your fitness level, he/she will advise you on the best exercise plan for you and your growing baby so that both of you can be as healthy as possible. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.

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By Lisa Roth-Brown, MD, FACOG, an OB/GYN with Westchester Health, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners

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