A Primer on Exercise and Pregnancy

It is unfortunate that many pregnant women choose to forsake exercise and physical training in favor of more sedentary behavior. A large number of myths surround the perceived frailty of pregnant females. These fallacies prevent women from understanding the importance of exercise during their term. For instance, many women believe that abdominal exercises will induce labor or harm the baby. In truth, core exercises strengthen the abdominal musculature which provides support to the uterus during pregnancy. These types of exercises can also strengthen pelvic floor muscles, which can provide many benefits in addition to playing a supportive role during and after pregnancy.

Another common myth surrounds fetal nutrient delivery and limitations imposed by exercise. Some women incorrectly believe that exercising will rob their child of calories or other nutritive properties. The female body will always prioritize energy and alimental needs towards the fetus. Pregnant women that exercise should take care to increase their nutritional status appropriately, but there is no reason to fear exercise-induced fetal malnutrition.

One of the worst and most widespread myths involves previous fitness status and pregnancy exercise. Many women believe that, since they never worked out before, beginning an exercise program while pregnant will produce adverse effects. Although attempting to achieve the best shape of your life is out of the question, consistent, low-intensity exercise holds numerous benefits for both mother and child regardless of your past exercise history. Decreased incidence of gestational diabetes, back pain, excess weight gain and postpartum depression are only a few of the benefits gained when pregnant women exercise. The reduction in gestational diabetes alone is worth the small amount of effort and time required.

However, the right kind of exercise is just as important as understanding exercise’s significance. Complex exercises and sports are barred during pregnancy for obvious reasons, but other, seemingly-innocuous activities can be troublesome. Remember, always obtain approval from your OBGYN before engaging in any exercise program, diet or supplemental addition during pregnancy. Further, know your limitations when performing exercise and don’t expect personal bests or records during your pregnancy. The point of exercise when carrying a child is not strength, beauty or skill, but improved health for child and mother.

Every pregnant woman of good health with an uncomplicated pregnancy should consider walking for a minimum of 15 minutes a day. This exercise should be continuous and at a comfortable pace. Walking is the most basic of aerobic exercises and serves to improve circulation of the cardiovascular and lymph system. Swollen feet are a common occurrence during pregnancy, yet few women recognize the palliative effect that walking can have on edema. Walking is also very relaxing and has been shown to improve mood. For those who would like to walk longer, a maximal limit of 45 minutes is recommended. Brisker paces should be set at your medical provider’s discretion.

Swimming is a great alternative for those who may prefer nonambulatory options. Pregnant women who may not be comfortable walking or performing other exercises are often quite capable of swimming. Water-based aerobics classes provide similar amounts of exercise with an equivalent decrease in exercise-mediated joint stress. Pregnant women who choose to swim or exercise in water should always be accompanied in case of emergency.

Sporting activities hold great promise for pregnant women due to their high enjoyment potential. Many women find their generally non-competitive attitude allows them to take greater pleasure in friendly games. Modestly-competitive activities also reduce feelings of exertion, which tends to makes exercise more tolerable. However, your pregnancy and fitness status will play a role in determining what kind of sport in which you can participate. Sports such as tennis, basketball and soccer should be avoided due to the possibility of falling and collisions.

Women in general will often overlook weightlifting when considering exercise choices. This tends to stem from the perception that weightlifting will lead to “bulky” muscles and masculinizing effects. Many women consider the body type of professional female bodybuilders to be a common side effect of female weight training, but this is simply not the case. Pregnant women can benefit significantly from the metabolic cascades elicited during “toning type” weight training. Moreover, very little joint stress will be incurred during weight training when proper form is kept and adequate exercise choices are made.

Determining if and how you can exercise while pregnant is the most important point to take home. Physical fitness is just as important for the mother as it is for the child. Every expectant mother should better their own health and fitness in order to best ensure a safe delivery and healthy child.