Exercise During Pregnancy: Your Wellness Depends on It
Exercise During Pregnancy: Your Wellness Depends on It

by Dana Sullivan

Learn what exercise you need while you're pregnant -- and what's physically safe

Exercising during your pregnancy is one of the best things you can do for your wellness … and your baby. Regular exercise (e.g., walking or swimming for 30 minutes three or more times a week) will help you control your weight, reduce the risk of some illnesses that are associated with pregnancy, and may also help you sleep better at night. Add some strength training to keep your muscles strong and to help with your posture as your center of gravity shifts along with your growing belly.

The latest research shows that exercising regularly during pregnancy not only is smart and safe for pregnant women, but also may enhance their pregnancy wellness. "Many women say that exercise reduces the aches and pains associated with pregnancy, and it boosts their energy levels and self-esteem," says prenatal fitness expert Larry A. Wolfe, Ph.D., director of the clinical exercise physiology laboratory at Queen's University in Ontario, Canada.

Wolfe says that while there's no proof that exercise shortens labor or makes it less painful -- or that it will prevent certain complications -- many women who have participated in his research have told him that it gave them the stamina they needed to endure labor. Women also said that being in shape made recovery from childbirth easier.

Even if you hadn't been exercising before your pregnancy, there's no reason you can't start a mild program now (with your physician's approval, of course). In fact, if there are no complications associated with your pregnancy, your physician will probably recommend it. "Our research suggests that regular exercise may reduce a woman's risk of developing two of the most dangerous illnesses associated with pregnancy: gestational diabetes and preeclampsia," says Wolfe.

That's reason enough to ask your physician to recommend a prenatal fitness class. Remember, this isn't a time to train hard; your goal should be to maintain a fitness level you feel good about so you can reap the physical and emotional benefits during your pregnancy, withstand labor and recover from childbirth more quickly.

Exercise During Pregnancy: Wellness Rules for Moms-to-be

Regular exercise gives you energy and keeps you healthy during pregnancy. It also helps you feel better during a time when your body is undergoing tremendous change. But it's not a time to overdo it.

Here is a summary of the current pregnancy exercise guidelines from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists:

- Continue a mild or moderate exercise routine at least three days a week.

- After 20 weeks, avoid doing exercises on your back, since they can decrease blood flow to the uterus.

- Never exercise to exhaustion.

- Don't exercise in hot, humid weather or when you're sick with a fever.

- Drink extra water on the days you exercise.

- Avoid activities that may cause you to lose your balance, especially during your third trimester.

- Stop exercising immediately and call your physician if you experience any of the following symptoms: pain; vaginal bleeding; dizziness or lightheadedness; increased shortness of breath; rapid heartbeat; difficulty walking; uterine contractions and chest pain; or fluid leaking from the vagina.

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Women's Health: Exercise During Pregnancy: Your Wellness Depends on It