We can all appreciate that pregnancy is a time of great change – physically, mentally, and emotionally. However, did you know that the activity recommendations for healthy adults do NOT change through pregnancy and postpartum? The CDC still recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, and muscle strengthening activities at least 2 days per week. Those who are active prior to pregnancy with higher intensity exercise such as running can often safely continue with those activities as well.
Exercise is one of the easiest and most accessible tools to help improve overall health. It has positive impacts on our cardiovascular system, our muscles and bones, and even our mood and mental health. It is an important part of weight management and metabolic health.
Staying active is equally important for mother and fetus during pregnancy, and can improve the health of both. Did you know that exercise can actually have an impact on the cardiovascular system and brain development of the baby?
Some of the other major benefits of exercise include:
- Improved cardiovascular function, muscular strength and endurance, and flexibility
- Decreased musculoskeletal complaints
- Improved sleep, improved stress management, and decreased risk of depression
- Reduced chances of complications associated with gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia
- Improved chance of decreased labor time and decreased risk of operative delivery
- Improved overall fetal health
Where Do I Start?
Hopefully, you already have some form of exercise as part of your routine. Aerobic exercise is considered anything that elevates your heart rate and challenges your cardiovascular system. This can include cycling, brisk walking, jogging or running, circuit or interval training, or swimming – all of these activities are generally safe to continue with through pregnancy, with possible modifications and precautions.
Ideally, an exercise regimen will also include some strengthening exercises. Strength training is defined as anything that makes your muscles work harder than usual, against an outside weight or force. This can include using body weight and gravity (think push-ups or squats), actual weights with dumbbells or barbells, or more functional activities like climbing or yard work.
If starting an exercise program for the first time, it may be helpful to reach out to a reliable resource such as a physical therapist. Please discuss with your physician prior to starting a new regimen, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or pregnancy complications,
If you’ve been exercising prior to pregnancy – keep going! You may have to modify volume or intensity over the next few months. During the first trimester, you may find yourself limited by fatigue or nausea. By the time you reach your late second or early third trimester, you may find that certain positions or movements are no longer accessible due to your changing shape and size. It’s ok to modify – transition from running to brisk walking, ditch the barbells for dumbbells or kettlebells, switch from interval training to a prenatal pilates class. Do what you enjoy and what feels good for your body.
Helpful Hints & Tips
There are a few things to be mindful of to improve safety, confidence, and enjoyment of exercise through pregnancy.
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after (probably more than you think!).
- Avoid excessive heat – elevating your body temperature can have a negative impact on both mom and baby. Be sure to dress appropriately, avoid overly warm environments like hot yoga or hot tubs, and rest or take breaks as needed.
- Avoid or be extremely cautious with high risk activities including contact sports, activities with risk of falling (ice skating, climbing, etc.), and high altitudes.
- Wear appropriate support including a good supportive sports bra for your likely growing breasts, and potential belly or back support if needed.
- Be mindful of your positions and body mechanics as pregnancy progresses. You will likely need to modify positions or movements.
- You may need to be cautious with supine position (lying on your back) in later pregnancy, as the weight of the fetus can impact blood flow. Avoid the position if you notice any lightheadedness, dizziness, nausea, etc. To best recover, roll to your left side and take a few deep breaths.
- Do what you enjoy! Continue with your current activities, or try something new. There are great prenatal specific fitness classes including yoga, pilates, and strength training available.
Knowledge is Power
To stay confident in your ability to keep moving through pregnancy, you want to be aware of signs to STOP exercising. Please discuss any of the following with your medical provider.
ABSOLUTE contraindications to exercise include the following diagnoses or complications:
- Incompetent cervix
- Ruptured membranes
- Premature labor; multiple gestation at risk of premature labor
- Placentia previa after 26 weeks gestation
- Multiple gestation at risk of premature labor
- Persistent bleeding
- Severe anemia
- Pre-eclampsia /prengancy induced hypertension
- Some heart and lung diseases
STOP if any of the following symptoms occur with exercise (and consult your physician or medical provider):
- Bleeding or excessive fluid from the vagina
- Feeling dizzy or faint during exercise; shortness of breath prior to exercise
- Chest pain
- Muscle weakness
- Calf pain or swelling
- Regular, painful contractions of the uterus
- Fetal changes including a heart rate greater than 180 bpm or dropping greater than 20 bpm from pre-exercise/normal rate OR lack of fetal movement greater than 30 min post-exercise
Get moving and stay moving! If you have any questions or concerns, reach out to your medical provider. If you are limited by pain, can’t do your normal activities or workouts, lack the knowledge or confidence in how to proceed safely, or just don’t feel sure how to start – give us a call! For a thorough evaluation and individualized treatment, contact our Sherwood clinic or our Bethany clinic today.
Melisa Abesa is a California transplant who has come to love the Pacific Northwest. She has practiced in the Portland area since graduating with her Doctorate of Physical Therapy from the University of Southern California in 2014, . She is a huge advocate for patient empowerment, individualized care, and a holistic approach to health and wellness.
As a board-certified clinical specialist in orthopedic physical therapy, she enjoys working with a large variety of orthopedic and sports-related conditions, with special interests including runners, headache treatments, post-operative care, pre- and postpartum individuals, and adolescent athletes.