Dos and Don'ts of Exercise During Pregnancy

There was a time when pregnancy was widely regarded as a delicate condition. Pregnant women were routinely advised to rest often and avoid any type of exertion. Today, we know that exercise is not only safe for most pregnant women, but it’s generally recommended.   

As a board-certified OB/GYN with three decades of experience, Dr. Sharon Breit at the Center for Women’s Health in Wichita, Kansas, knows just how beneficial prenatal exercise can be, provided it’s done safely. Here are her recommended guidelines for safe exercise during pregnancy:

Prenatal exercise dos

Get your obstetrician’s permission before beginning any prenatal exercise program, even if you were active before becoming pregnant. Dr. Breit will let you know if you have a condition that requires following a more modified program or avoiding exercise completely.   

Stick with low-impact or no-impact activities like walking, swimming, water aerobics, or indoor cycling. If you were an avid runner before your pregnancy, you should be able to continue the activity as long as Dr. Breit approves. Group fitness classes, such as prenatal yoga and prenatal strength training classes, are often an excellent choice.  

Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothes, a supportive bra, and supportive shoes that are designed for the type of activity you do.

Give yourself ample time to warm up and cool down. Start your session slowly, giving yourself at least five minutes to build yourself up to a moderate intensity. End your session the same way, giving yourself a least five minutes to gradually wind down before your workout ends.

Keep your intensity level moderate. This means you should always be able to carry on a conversation never find yourself out of breath. On a scale of 1-10, where 1 means you’re at rest and 10 means you’re working as hard as you can, you’ll want to stay somewhere between 5 and 8, or 50-80% of your total power.

Stay well hydrated before, during, and after exercise. You should also try to fuel your body with a high-protein snack like cheese, yogurt, or a handful of nuts about 30-60 minutes before your workout.

Remember to strengthen your core and pelvic floor. Strengthening your core doesn’t mean doing sit-ups when you’re pregnant. Instead, try sitting on a stability ball and holding your arms out to the sides as you balance. Then, as you sit comfortably on the ball, perform a series of pelvic floor exercises, known as Kegels.

Dr. Breit or a prenatal exercise specialist can show you the right way to perform Kegels and keep your core strong throughout your pregnancy.    

Prenatal exercise don’ts

Don’t exceed your pre-pregnancy exercise levels. If you were an avid walker before your pregnancy, now’s not the time to start a running program. For the vast majority of pregnant women, it’s safe to continue exercising at your previous level, as long as necessary adjustments are made from one trimester to the next.  

Don’t choose high-impact activities or activities that increase your risk of falling. While this can be bad news for outdoor cyclists, remember that indoor cycling is a safe alternative. For the months that you’re pregnant, you should avoid horseback riding, skiing, and rollerblading. You should also steer clear of contact sports such as soccer and kickboxing.

Don’t participate in high-intensity training, even if you did so before you became pregnant. This type of training, which uses intense bursts of activity followed by periods of active recovery, is not recommended during pregnancy. Also, this type of workout is more likely to incorporate bouncing, twisting, or jarring movements, which are also not recommended.

Don’t lie on your back for long periods of time, as you might in yoga or Pilates. While it’s generally fine to lie on your back in your first trimester, once you reach the 16-week mark it’s something you should avoid. That’s because the weight of your growing baby puts pressure on your spine and the blood vessel that carries oxygen to your heart.  

Don’t hold your breath. You’d be surprised how common it is for people to hold their breath at certain points when exercising. When you’re pregnant, it’s important to be aware of your breathing. Holding your breath momentarily decreases the supply of oxygen to your baby and increases pressure on your pelvic floor.

Don’t overdo it. Your workout should never leave you gasping for breath or unable to continue for more than a few minutes. Likewise, any time you feel uncomfortable or uncoordinated, you should discontinue your workout. You should also stop exercising and call Dr. Breit if you experience vaginal bleeding, amniotic fluid leakage, chest pain, or contractions.

If you want to know more about safe exercise during pregnancy give us a call or schedule a visit at Women’s Health Center in Wichita, Kansas. We’re ready to help.

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