One of the most common and important questions we get from newly pregnant women is about exercise. We know that regular exercise is critical for maintaining good heath in general, and the same benefits apply during pregnancy. Exercise helps to regulate weight gain and to alleviate some of the aches and pains women experience throughout gestation.
One of the problems with pregnancy exercise guidelines has been the lack of evidence specifically addressing fetal safety during pregnancy-related exercise.
Let’s start with common misconceptions:
- If I exercise while pregnant, I should not let my heart rate exceed 140 beats per minute.
- If I have not been a regular exerciser, I should not start exercising during pregnancy.
- If I am a vigorous exerciser, I should scale back on the intensity of my exercise while pregnant.
Now, thanks to a recent study specifically addressing exercise and fetal safety, there is good evidence that women who were inactive prior to becoming pregnant can safely engage in moderate-intensity exercise and that women who were very active prior to becoming pregnant can continue vigorous exercise programs without specific heart rate restrictions.
- Healthy pregnant women should exercise 30 minutes or more most or all days of the week.
- Moderate exercise may be beneficial in the primary prevention of gestational diabetes.
- A wide range of activities are safe. Avoid contact sports or activities with risks of falling.
- No scuba diving.
- If you have a history of preterm labor or a growth restriction in a previous pregnancy, activity should be reduced in the second and third trimesters.
- Exercise is safe at altitudes up to 6,000 feet.
- Postpartum exercise decreases incidences of depression if the exercise is stress-reducing.
- The optimal time for resuming exercise postpartum varies from woman to woman, but in some cases can be within days of delivery.
- If it hurts, don’t do it.
- If you are uncomfortable after exercising, modify your exercise program.
- Don’t get dehydrated.
- Don’t get overheated.
Here are some warning signs to stop exercising during pregnancy:
- Vaginal bleeding;
- Shortness of breath prior to exercise;
- Chest pain;
- Muscle weakness;
- Calf pain or swelling;
- Preterm labor;
- Decreased fetal movement; or
- Amniotic fluid leakage.
The following are absolute contraindications to exercise during pregnancy. In other words, don’t exercise if you experience any of the following:
- Significant heart disease;
- Restrictive lung disease;
- Incompetent cervix or cerclage;
- Multiple gestation at risk for preterm labor;
- Persistent bleeding in the second or third trimester;
- Placenta previa after 26 weeks;
- Preterm labor in current pregnancy;
- Ruptured membranes; or
- Pregnancy-induced hypertension or pre-eclampsia.
If you have a medical condition, check with your doctor to make sure that exercise is safe for you. And use common sense regarding your exercise routine.