I am often asked about the limitations, risks and benefits of exercise in pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that in the absence of medical or obstetric complications, pregnant women should exercise at moderate level for 30 minutes or more a day on most, if not all, days.
Although these are general guidelines, a plan should be tailored to each woman based on her general physical condition and exercise history. Exercise is not recommended during pregnancy if the mother has restrictive lung disease, cardiac disease, placental abruption or previa, premature labor, pre-eclampsia or ruptured fetal membranes.
In many cases, however, the benefits of exercise during pregnancy are plentiful. It has been shown to help prevent and treat gestational diabetes.
Pregnant patients who exercise also have demonstrated less back pain, less constipation, less swelling, better sleep and better mood control. Exercise can help in achieving the proper weight gain recommendations in pregnancy. Maintaining an exercise program in pregnancy also can help during labor and result in less pushing time.
There are many forms of exercise acceptable in pregnancy. Some of these include walking, cycling, aerobics and prenatal yoga. If a pregnant patient was a runner before she became pregnant, she may continue to run, although she might need to modify her routine. Swimming is an excellent choice as forces on weight-bearing joints are reduced, body heat is dissipated in the water, and balance or falling are not issues.
There are some activities that should be avoided. These include contact sports that might cause injury to the patient and/or fetus, scuba diving, any activity that affects balance or increases risk of falling, and exercising at high altitudes. Lying directly on your back should also be avoided in the second half of pregnancy because it can lead to episodes of low blood pressure.
You should try to avoid overheating while exercising by staying hydrated, wearing cool clothing and exercising in a climate-controlled environment. Warning signs that you should stop exercising include vaginal bleeding, fluid leaking from the vagina, dizziness, chest pain, uterine contraction and decreased fetal movement.
After delivery, women are eager to return to their pre-pregnancy weights and shapes. Pre-pregnancy exercise routines may be resumed based on each individual's physical capacity. Mothers who exercise have been shown to be less likely to suffer from postpartum depression.
In general, exercise is beneficial and recommended during pregnancy. For information about a program that is right for you, contact your obstetrician.