Should You Exercise When Pregnant?

My wife and I are going down the path of trying to have our first child.  One thing we have been discussing lately, is what to do when she gets pregnant regarding her workouts and exercise.  Sure, during the first trimester, there shouldn’t be any major issues, as she won’t even be really showing at this point, but what about later on in the pregnancy.   Can she hurt the baby?  Will exercising cause any developmental issues?  What are the risks? So many questions are out there, we decided to answer a few of them in this post.

First, the NIH (National Institutes of Health) says this on the subject:

Almost all women can and should be physically active during pregnancy. First talk to your health care provider, particularly if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, anemia, bleeding, or other disorders, or if you are obese or underweight. Whether or not you were active before you were pregnant, ask about a safe level of exercise for you. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity (one in which you breathe harder but do not overwork or overheat) on most, if not every day of the week.  See the full article here.

Based on what the NIH states, exercise during pregnancy should be a routine occurrence, as long as you adhere to some proper guidelines.

The Benefits

There are numerous benefits to exercising while pregnant, that can have lasting effects and help you recover faster, after giving birth.  These include:

  • having an easier, possibly shorter labor and recovery
  • boosts mood and energy levels throughout the day
  • significantly lowers the risk of gestational diabetes
  • helps to reduce any discomfort felt during pregnancy such as leg cramping, backaches, bloating, constipation and swelling
  • ensures the proper amount of weight is gained for both you and the baby

Exercising Guidelines

Exercising at home or at the gym is a great idea while you are pregnant, however you will want to follow some guidelines to ensure you are practicing a safe routine or regimen for you and your baby.

Our recommendations include:

  • avoid actions that could cause a sudden fall or jaunt, such as horseback riding, skiing roller skating/blading, and water sports.
  • avoid exercising or doing strenuous activity in hot, humid weather
  • avoid contact sports, or any activity where you could get injured
  • avoid tennis, basketball or any activity where you are performing quick movements or lots of jumping movements
  • avoid high intensity or HIIT training after the twentieth week of pregnancy
  • avoid rocky terrain or unstable ground when running or cycling.
    • Your joints are more lax in pregnancy, and ankle sprains and other injuries may occur
  • During the second and third trimesters, avoid exercise that involves lying flat on your back as this decreases blood flow to the uterus

We have established that it is ok to exercise or workout during your pregnancy, however this is not the time to push yourself to hard, or go to your max.  Getting your rate up is encouraged, but you want to keep your heart rate below 140 beats per minute.

In addition, remember that there are two of you now, so you will want to ensure you are in-taking enough calories to sustain both you and your new baby.  You want to be eating well to help nourish and strengthen your body.  While you are pregnant, you will start to naturally gain weight as your baby is growing, but by follow proper guidelines, you can ensure the weight you gain is the correct weight, and not excess fat.  A good rule to follow is that if you BMI or body mass index is in a healthy range, say 19 to 25, you will then need to eat around 300 or more calories per day, than before you were pregnant. You may even need to eat more, depending on your exercise routines.  As with anything while you are pregnant, it is best to advise your doctor of what you plan on doing, do ensure there are no risks associated with your plans.

One thing you may notice while working out is that you feel out of breath or winded much more easily then before you were pregnant.  One would assume you are just out of shape, if you have just started your workout routine. However, while you are pregnant, you are breathing 20 to 25% more air due to the fact you need to rid yourself of higher carbon dioxide levels in your blood, as well as your baby’s.  Parents.com did a study on this subject, and had this to say on the topic:

Pregnant women often notice that they feel out of breath more quickly than they used to. You may assume this is a sign that you’re out of shape. In fact, during pregnancy you’re breathing 20 to 25 percent more air because you need to get rid of the carbon dioxide levels in your own blood — and in your baby’s. (Babies in utero aren’t breathing on their own, but they’re still producing carbon dioxide, which transfers to the mother’s blood. She needs to breathe more so she can get rid of it.) “So breathing more doesn’t mean you’re any less fit,” explains Dennis Jensen, PhD, lead researcher on a Queen’s University study of exercise and respiratory discomfort during pregnancy. It simply means that your body is adapting exactly as it should.

Jensen’s research found that when pregnant women exercised to fatigue on a stationary bike at 20, 28, and 36 weeks, their maximal aerobic capacity (how hard they could work) was well preserved, even though they were breathing more than normal.  source: http://www.parents.com/pregnancy/my-body/fitness/exercise-during-pregnancy/

In summary, there is a ton of research that has been done on the subject, and all indications point toward exercising while you are pregnant being a very positive thing, for both you and your baby.  With proper care and oversight, you can design a routine that will keep your new baby safe, and help reduce unnecessary weight gain during your pregnancy.

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