Beginning an Exercise Program During Pregnancy

I will talk a lot of about the benefits of continuing exercise during pregnancy…see my first post here about some of the numerous reasons to workout when you are expecting.  But some of you may feel a little daunted or overwhelmed or even guilty because, previous to becoming pregnant, you didn’t really make exercise a priority in your life.  You may be wondering if it’s too late to enjoy some of the many benefits or whether it is even safe for you to start exercising now.  Fortunately, even if your well-meaning friends/family/unwarranted-advice-giving strangers caution you against beginning an exercise program at this point, there is no evidence to support that such advice is justified.  In fact, there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that even beginners can reap the same benefits from exercise as those who were already exercising before pregnancy…provided you follow a few safety guidelines and always, ALWAYS listen to your body!

Before Beginning

Get your doctor’s ok before you begin.  Now is not the time to try to lose weight or to dive head-first into a vigorous workout regime.  But, as long as you don’t fall into any of the high-risk categories, you should be able to safely start a mild to moderate intensity exercise program.

Absolute Contraindications to Aerobic Exercise During Pregnancy:

  • Hemodynamically significant heart disease
  • Restrictive lung disease
  • Incompetent cervix/cerclage
  • Multiple gestation at risk for premature labor
  • Persistent second- or third-trimester bleeding
  • Placenta previa after 26 weeks of gestation
  • Premature labor during the current pregnancy
  • Ruptured membranes
  • Preeclampsia/pregnancy-induced hypertension

Start Slowly

Beginners can start with just 10 mins of exercise a day and gradually build to 30 minutes per day on all or most days of the week.  Even as you are gradually increasing the duration of your workouts, keep in mind that you break up your workout into mini sessions throughout the day.  In other words, you could do a single 30 minute session, 2 15 minute sessions, or 3 10 minute sessions.  Multiple smaller sessions may be easier to fit into your busy schedule and might help you stick with it!  Also, don’t exercise until exhaustion.  A good rule of thumb is that if you are unable to comfortably carry on a conversation, you should slow down.

Make sure that you continue to eat properly and get plenty of fluids.  In addition to the calories burned by exercise, pregnancy itself requires approximately an extra 300 calories per day.  Your baby needs energy from the food you eat to grow and develop properly so you need to be careful to provide enough food for you, your baby, and your workouts.

Be cautious of over-heating during your workouts.  Workout in an air conditioned space if possible.  Wear lightweight, breathable, comfortable workout clothing.  Always have a bottle of water nearby and take water breaks throughout your workout.  If you are exercising outside, be sure to apply sunblock as pregnancy makes your skin more sensitive.

Exercise Type

In general, participation in a wide variety of physical activities appears to be safe for pregnant women.  However, participation in recreational sports with a high degree of contact such as hockey, soccer, basketball, etc. is not recommended as there is increased risk of trauma to the mother or the baby.  Similarly, activities with an increased risk of falling such as gymnastics, horseback riding, skiing, etc. should also be avoided during pregnancy.  Here are some safer activities for an expectant mom to enjoy:

Walking: It’s safe, easy, and requires no equipment.  Walking is one of the best ways to get started with exercise.  Experiment with different types of interval walking workouts to add variety and gradually introduce a little more intensity.

Swimming/Aquatic Exercise: Swimming is a great whole-body form of exercise.  Plus, the water will make you feel light even weightless (which is a welcome feeling for many women as they start to gain pregnancy pounds).  Aquatic exercise also helps improve circulation and supports your joints and ligaments as you exercise helping to prevent injury.

Aerobic Classes/Fitness Dvd’s: Look for classes or programs that cater specifically to pregnant women. Classes are fun and will introduce you to other women and a teacher will make sure you are doing the exercises properly (although they may not specifically have experience training pregnant women if it’s not specified prenatal class).  Fitness dvd’s usually require minimal equipment and can be done in the comfort of you own home.

Prenatal Yoga: Yoga is great for staying flexible and limber during pregnancy.  It can also help you ease tension and stress.  However, I wouldn’t recommend doing only yoga for your fitness program.  Fitness is a three pronged approach: cardiovascular endurance training, resistance training, and flexibility training.  Try combining a few yoga classes with some of the other fitness options for a more well-rounded workout regime.

Personal Training: There are many benefits to having a personal trainer especially when you are pregnant AND new to working out.  A trainer will make sure that you do movements safely and correctly.  They will provide personalized programming and help motivate you when you need it most.  Finding a personal trainer who has experience working with pregnant clients is your best bet.  Personal training is a more costly exercise option, there’s no denying that, but for women who don’t know where to start or are worried about performing movements safely, it can be worth every penny!

Symptoms to Watch Out For

This list comes directly from the ACOG.  If you notice any of these symptoms, stop exercise immediately and schedule an appointment with your physician.

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Dyspnea prior to exertion
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Chest pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Calf pain or swelling (need to rule out thrombophlebitis)
  • Preterm labor
  • Decreased fetal movement
  • Amniotic fluid leakage

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me!!!

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