Health & Fitness

Guidelines for exercise during pregnancy

Katie Sutton
Katie Sutton Courtesy of Ric Wolford

One of the most common questions patients ask me is whether or not they should exercise during pregnancy. The simple answer is yes, definitely, with a few considerations.

First of all, do not exercise if you have a high-risk pregnancy, heart or lung disease, high blood pressure, multiple babies, preterm labor, bleeding during pregnancy, or a seizure disorder. These are only some of the health conditions that would make exercise inadvisable. Be sure to talk with your doctor before beginning an exercise regimen.

In general, healthy pregnant women should exercise about 30 minutes on all or most days of the week. The exercise can be divided into more than one session.

If you already have an exercise routine, you may be able to continue it with a few adjustments. Avoid exercises which require you to lie flat or stand for long periods of time. Give up downhill skiing, contact sports, scuba diving and gymnastics. Make sure you stay hydrated and don’t get overheated.

The best exercises are walking and swimming. Jogging and running are okay if you are used to doing them, but don’t overdo them. If you don’t have enough breath to talk while exercising, you need to cut back. Lifting light weights is acceptable, but heavy weights put you at risk of back injury or falling.

Don’t do any exercise that causes pain. Stop exercising and call your doctor if you experience difficulty breathing, headache, chest pain, muscle weakness, contractions, blood or fluid leaking from the vagina, decreased fetal movement or any swelling, pain, redness or warmth in your legs. Becoming light-headed or dizzy is also a sign of a potential problem.

Overall, exercise provides many benefits during pregnancy. It can decrease back pain, constipation, bloating, swelling and may help prevent or treat gestational diabetes. Your energy and mood will get a boost, and your weight is more likely to stay under control. Exercise can improve your posture and promote muscle tone, strength and endurance. Improved sleep can be another benefit of exercise.

Some women who are physically fit say they have easier labor and childbirth, but there are no studies to support this. However, having a body that is in good condition certainly can’t be a drawback when it comes to the hard work of labor.

If you are physically fit when you have the baby, you are more likely to return to your prepregnancy condition more quickly, especially if you return to your exercise regimen as soon as you are able.

Pregnancy is no longer viewed as a condition requiring women to put their feet up and take it easy for nine months, unless there are complications or underlying health issues. Listening to your body (and your doctor), providing your growing baby with good nutrition, and staying active and getting adequate sleep are best for both you and your baby.