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Safe Exercise During Pregnancy

By: Ossie Sharon - Updated: 6 Jun 2012 | comments*Discuss
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Whether you were always active or wish to take it on to lift your spirits or general fitness level, physical exercise is a wonderful addition to your health regime during pregnancy. Contrary to what was once thought, research and experience have taught us that there are ways in which to assure safety for baby and mother alike. More importantly, there can be significant advantages to both when done properly, including easier pregnancy and labor for mother and better health for baby.

First and foremost, it is critical you obtain approval from your doctor before beginning, particularly if you have a medical condition. Further, it is good to reconfirm at each visit that it is still safe. Second, exercise during pregnancy cannot be at the intensity of professional or competitive sports or training, regardless of your skill level.

Below are general recommendations, with some specifics for each major stage of pregnancy that carry over to the next. Keep in mind that though well-supported, they are only suggestions and you must listen to your body.

Throughout Pregnancy

  • As in any condition, stretching before and after exercising is key to preventing injury and soreness.
  • Pay attention to your breathing and heart rate (safe upper limit of 140 beats/minute) - either via a monitor or by counting. Baby's heart activity reflects your own, and he/she can only get as much oxygen as you have to give.

It is important to avoid exercise in challenging environments, including the following:

  • Extreme altitude, where the oxygen level may be low. This can lead to fatigue and dizziness for you, but more importantly, interferes with baby's development.
  • Changing underwater depth, as in S.C.U.B.A.-diving can lead to circulatory disruption. Snorkeling does not carry the same risks.
  • Intense heat increases risk of overheating, threatening the well-being of you and baby. During summer months, it is best to seek indoor activities and drink more water.
  • Pollution has more of an influence during exercise. Therefore, try to seek venues away from high-traffic, industrial, or smoky areas.
The average need for fluids in pregnancy is higher than normal, about 8-12 glasses of water per day depending on temperature, mother's build, and physical activity. It is important to drink before thirst and even if you do not feel "sweaty". If you are suffering from severe morning sickness or vomiting for any other reason, running a fever or otherwise at risk for dehydration, medical attention must be sought before continuing on.

In the following cases, it is critical to stop exercising and seek medical counsel before beginning again:
Vomiting, continual dizziness and/or shortness of breath, blurred vision, unusual fatigue, headaches, chest pain, abdominal pain, calf pain or swelling, vaginal bleeding, decreased fetal movement, uterine contractions, leaking amniotic fluid.

First Trimester

  • For those already following a regular light or moderate exercise regimen most can continue. If you are just getting started, begin gradually, choosing activities you believe suit your capabilities. This means easier exercises for shorter periods, increasing in time and difficulty/intensity every few sessions if you continue to feel well.
  • It is universally advised to avoid sports involving contact with another person or a flying object that may cause pressure or impact, and those with high risk of falls or dramatic position changes, such as gymnastics, diving, downhill skiing, and skating. Examples of safer alternatives include aerobics/calisthenics, swimming, and cross-country skiing.
  • As your body adjusts to changes in blood volume, breathlessness and faintness are signs to make adjustments - whether you need to reduce intensity or time, change format, or simply rest.
  • Hormonal changes often cause a sensation of increased flexibility. However, this does not protect against strained muscles and ligaments if you try to exceed your natural limits.

Second Trimester

  • Intensity of exercise should be gradually reduced as you surpass the 12th week. You may even feel this is necessary as the increasing weight of baby makes each movement more challenging.
  • With each week, it becomes more important to ensure bloodflow to your womb and baby. Therefore, it is advisable to avoid the following, which can interfere:Lying on your back during exerciseStanding for long periods

Third Trimester

  • Here it is best to avoid movements that cause bouncing, such as jumping, dancing, running, or bicycling on unpaved trails. These can be exchanged for swimming, water aerobics, walking, stationary bicycling, and similar methods that involve steady movement or additional source of support for the added weight.
  • Weight training can be continued throughout, keeping in mind that the amount you can lift may decrease as baby's size increases.

While it may seem daunting at first to take so many specific precautions, proper exercise can be highly rewarding for both mother and baby - well worth the effort!

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