In years past, women were told to “lie low” during pregnancy. Instead of continuing their active lives, they were “confined”—to the house or even the bed. Did you know that because the heart rate increases by 20 percent even in the first trimester, just being pregnant causes a woman’s body to perform a low- level of aerobic exercise?
If you have a healthy pregnancy, you can generally plan on maintaining an active lifestyle—including exercise—with time out for napping. Even in your last trimester, when your form seems less than stable to the eye, you can still exercise to enhance your well being—as long as you are careful! Let the following tips help you to stay fit during pregnancy:
- Consult your doctor. Before you sign up for an exercise program, talk to your doctor. Explain the type of exercise you will be doing—or program you will join. The following conditions or problems will affect choices you make about an exercise routine—anemia, heart problems, asthma or lung problems, hypertension, diabetes, seizures, thyroid problems, muscle or joint problems, extreme under- or over-weight, history of miscarriages, carrying multiples, history of premature labors, persistent bleeding, incompetent cervix, placental abnormalities (placenta previa), a previous sedentary lifestyle (couch potato).
- Determine your personal fitness level. Did you exercise frequently before pregnancy? How did your instructor rate your fitness level? If you are fit when you enter pregnancy, there is no reason to safely continue your prepregnancy levels of exercise, although the movements may have to change (i.e., NO jarring movements). Keep in mind that you are now exercising for two. If you are a two-mile per day jogger, that little one inside you may not want to go that far! Reduce your mileage to protect baby’s health. Walking four miles may be better for mom and baby. If you were not active prepregnancy, then start slow and gradually build up the time and intensity of exercise. Warning—do not try to lose weight through exercise during pregnancy because of harmful effects on the fetus from the byproducts of fat and stored toxins when they breakdown.
- Dress for the occasion. Wear loose-fitting pants with a loose elastic waistband. Avoid overheating by layering your clothes. Wear supportive shoes that allow swollen feet to “breathe.” See if a special runner’s bra may help prevent chaffing on your nipples, or try a protective emollient such as Lansinoh.
- Exercise regularly. Short regular exercise routines are healthier than being a weekend warrior! Begin with 10 to 15-minute sessions twice daily, three times a week. Gradually build from this time until you are doing 30 to 45 minutes of medium-intensity exercise at least three times a week.
- Know your limits. The key to exercising safely during pregnancy is to work your body without stressing it or your baby’s. A general guide is—if it’s too strenuous for you, it’s too strenuous for baby. Check your heart rate. Can you talk during exercise? Or are you out of breath? You know which is best for your health—and baby’s. If you are too winded to carry on a conversation, ease up until you can comfortably converse.
- Go easy on your joints. Due to the influence of relaxin and other pregnancy hormones, making your joints less stable and more prone to injury. Use light weights (five-pound is safe). Gymnastics is OUT. Avoid jarring movements in tennis and racquetball.
- Don’t shake the baby. For now, baby is safely snuggled in her own pool, so exercise is unlikely to bother baby. But, avoid jarring exercises and sudden stops—such as jumping or changing directions. Go softly on your feet. Avoid running on hard surfaces. Upright weight-bearing exercises are more likely to bother baby’s heart rate that non-weight bearing exercises such as swimming. Avoid hopping and jerking exercises.
- Realize you are now off-center. Your enlarging breasts and uterus change your body’s center of gravity, increasing your chances of falling during workouts. Avoid risk ventures that require precise balance (gymnastics and downhill skiing).
- Rehydrate and refuel. To avoid dehydration, drink two 8-ounce glasses of juice or water before and after exercising. Dehydration makes muscles tire more easily. A before and after exercise snack may protect your body and baby from hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
- Keep cool. In the first trimester, prolonged body temperatures above 102 degrees F. can hard baby’s development. Avoid exercising in hot and humid weather. Keep the room cool or well ventilated. Wear loose clothing to allow body heat to be released.
- Warm up and cool down. During pregnancy your body’s extra blood supply knows its priorities: your uterus and its resident. It takes time for your cardiovascular system to ease into the extra demands of exercising muscles. Ease into exercise. Take five minutes to build up to your peak, and then take time to cool down from your peak.
- Choose the right sport. Swimming is the number one recommended baby- friendly exercise for pregnant women. Brisk walking is much less jarring to joints and uterus than bouncy jogging. Street cycling is great during the first trimester, but because you get more off-balanced, it would lead to a risky fall in later months.
- Mommy slows as baby grows. In the final months, your baby and uterus need more of your blood in order to grow. Your heart has to work even harder when you are resting. There is less reserve blood supply for exercising muscles, so slow the intensity of your exercise routine.
- Keep off your back. After month four, avoid exercising while lying on your back. By this stage of pregnancy, your uterus is large enough to compress the major blood vessels (vena cava and aorta) that run along the right side of your spine. Allow your body and baby to REST after exercise, but lie down on your LEFT SIDE. This prevents your uterus from pressing on the major blood vessels and promotes circulation to your uterus.