Going for run or sticking to your regularly scheduled lunch hour spin class might be the last thing on your mind right now if you're in your first trimester of pregnancy - you're beyond exhausted and feeling queasy after all. But fitting in exercise now and throughout your pregnancy can benefit both you and your baby-to-be big time. In fact, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) guidelines now recommend 30 minutes or more a day of moderate exercise during pregnancy. That being said, you may have to alter your exercise program now that you're pregnant. So we asked Jenny Skoog, a New York City-based pre- and post-natal fitness trainer and DONA International Trained Doula, for advice. Here are some important guidelines to follow for working out during your first trimester and throughout the rest of your pregnancy. Remember, you should always check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program, especially during pregnancy. Risk factors for premature labor, a complicated pregnancy or high blood pressure for example, may make some or all exercise during pregnancy unsafe.
Exercise Benefits for You During Pregnancy
“Physical exercise is a great way to beat morning sickness symptoms and help bring some ‘normalcy’ to life during changing times,” says Skoog. Regular exercise can help you handle the pain and endurance required of labor and set you on the right path to bounce back quickly after giving birth. Exercise during pregnancy should never be about losing weight though, instead you should focus on feeling stronger and healthier.
ACOG lists many benefits of exercising during pregnancy:
- Helps reduce backaches, constipation, bloating, and swelling
- May help prevent or treat gestational diabetes
- Increases your energy
- Improves your mood
- Improves your posture
- Promotes muscle tone, strength, and endurance
- Helps you sleep better
Exercise Benefits for Your Baby-to-Be
You’re probably well aware that exercising has cardiovascular benefits for you, but did you know it has cardiovascular benefits for your developing fetus? Studies suggest that regular aerobic exercise can be good for developing babies in the womb and may even lead to healthier lives after birth. One study found that being exposed to exercise in the womb can help improve involuntary nervous system function like the heart, blood pressure and breathing rate. So while you’re jogging, swimming, or dancing, even if your baby-to-be isn’t doing the same inside the womb, she may be getting the same types of training benefits that you are.
Exercises You Can Do During Pregnancy
For the most part, you can continue doing the same exercises you did before you were pregnant during pregnancy, as long as the exercise feels good says Skoog. If you did it before you were pregnant, it’s probably safe to still enjoy it (except for higher-risk activities like boxing or snowboarding). Also, you should work within your current level of fitness. Pregnancy is not the time to start shaving seconds off your fastest 5K time or try a high-intensity interval training boot camp for the first time. To be on the safe side, use the talk test when you’re working out during pregnancy — you should be able to talk while you’re exercising, rather than being totally breathless.
Prenatal yoga, weight training, walking, aerobics, cycling, swimming, dancing, and even running are all healthy workout options for women during pregnancy. However, you should always listen to your body — a workout that felt good yesterday, might not feel so great today. This can be especially true during the first trimester when morning sickness and exhaustion are commonplace.
So what if you don’t have a gym membership and you never took up a sport. Does that mean you can’t start a healthy exercise regime now that you’re pregnant. No! While you shouldn’t take up a strenuous sport or start training for a 10K, there are plenty of safe pregnancy exercises for beginners, too. Walking, prenatal yoga, low-impact aerobics, swimming and cycling are particularly good choices if you’re just getting started. You may also want to consider hiring a certified prenatal personal trainer to help you get started, create a program for you and keep you safe and motivated all the way through your ninth month.
Exercise to Avoid During Pregnancy
While you can continue doing most of the same exercises you did before pregnancy, there are a few things you should avoid. If you’re a fan of Bikram yoga, or hot yoga, you’ll have to give it up due to the extreme temperatures in the room. Similarly, you should avoid exercising outdoors during extremely hot weather.
Also, while Pilates and other exercises that require you to lie on your back are safe during your first trimester, the ACOG recommends avoiding any exercise on your back in the second and third trimesters. Why? When lying on your back, your expanding uterus presses against your spinal cord, which in turn limits blood flow.
You’ll also have to stop playing any contact sports and leave any sparring martial arts for post-pregnancy. Any activities that require a quick change of your center of gravity or could cause falls are also hazardous. That means skiing, surfing, rollerblading and the like should skipped until after pregnancy. And finally, be sure to avoid power-lifting where you have to forceably exhale or the ‘valsalva maneuver,’ (i.e. holding your breath for more than 6 seconds) during any fitness activity, which can raise blood pressure.
Exercise Safety During Pregnancy
First and foremost, don’t begin a new exercise program without consulting your doctor first. Every woman and every pregnancy is different so only your doctor will know the best fitness plan for you. If you have any risk factors for preterm labor or high blood pressure for example, your exercise regimen will be drastically different from a marathon runner mom-to-be’s plan. Aside from the previously mentioned safe and un-safe exercises for pregnancy, the ACOG also gives other guidelines to make sure your fitness regimen is safe for your developing baby. Be sure to follow these important pregnancy exercise safety guidelines:
- Avoid brisk exercise in hot, humid weather or when you have a fever.
- Wear comfortable clothing that will help you to remain cool.
- Wear a bra that fits well and gives lots of support to help protect your breasts.
- Drink plenty of water to help keep you from overheating and dehydrating.
- Make sure you consume the daily extra calories you need during pregnancy.
In addition, ACOG says you should stop exercising and call your doctor if you experience any of these warning signs:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Dizziness or feeling faint
- Increased shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Muscle weakness
- Calf pain or swelling
- Uterine contractions
- Decreased fetal movement
- Fluid leaking from the vagina
How Exercise Can Make Labor & Delivery Easier
After training many clients through their pregnancies and being by their side through their labor and delivery as their doula, Skoog says she now realizes the importance of exercising during pregnancy. “Staying physically fit during pregnancy can make all the difference between a tired, draining birthing process and a strong, healthy labor,” she says.
Skoog compares the physicality of pregnancy to that of running a marathon:
“Imagine the work it takes to train for a marathon. Leading up to the big race, the athlete must improve her cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength, flexibility and nutrition. Similarly, the pregnant woman trains for labor and delivery. In the weeks and months leading up to her due date, she can attain a higher rate of cardio, strengthen the muscles she’ll need for giving birth and toting around the new little person and do stretches to ease discomforts and open the body in preparation for delivery. Additionally, she needs proper nutrition to give her baby the best chance of a healthy life ahead.
On marathon day, the athlete fuels up, stretches and warms up before the race. Similarly, the laboring woman should fuel her body for the enduring task ahead. She can drink coconut water or a sports drink to keep energy storage at optimum levels. She should warm her muscles up and stretch her legs for the hundreds of squats, long walks in the hallway and exhausting pushing sequences that lie in front of her.
With proper training, the delivering mother will feel empowered during one of the most challenging times of her life. She will have confidence knowing that she put the hours of training in to have a successful birth!”
Lead image © Ambro via SXC