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Exercise during pregnancy is
important. It has many benefits for mom and baby. Exercise can:
Improve muscle tone and cardiovascular fitness
Lead to a better appearance and posture
Lessen some of the discomforts of pregnancy
Strengthen the muscles needed for labor and delivery
Make you feel good, too
The exercises you can do during pregnancy depend on your health and how
active you were before you became pregnant. If you were not active
before pregnancy, this is not the time to start an extremely strenuous
exercise program. However, swimming, walking, or prenatal exercise
classes are great places to get started. If you exercised before
pregnancy, there is no reason you cannot continue, within reason.
Before you begin any exercise program, discuss it with your healthcare
provider. The two of you together can plan an exercise program that is
consistent with your current level of fitness and health conditions. If
you experience any problems, such as bleeding, premature labor,
dizziness, severe abdominal pain, or feeling unusually tired, contact
your healthcare provider immediately.
Once you get the okay to exercise, here are some tips to follow:
Be sure to warm up before exercise and cool down
Begin exercising gradually. Take your pulse every 15 –
20 minutes. Try to keep it at around 120 beats a minute. Do not let
your pulse exceed 140 beats a minute. An easy way to calculate your
pulse is to count the number of heartbeats by feeling the pulse in
your neck or wrist for 15 seconds. Multiply by 4. If your pulse
exceeds 140 beats a minute, rest until your pulse drops below 90.
You should be able to talk easily while you exercise. If
you are out of breath, you are working too hard.
Exercise on a regular basis (3 – 5 times a week, 20-30
minutes a session)
Be sure to wear clothing which provides comfort and
adequate breast support. Comfortable shoes are also important.
Exercise only to the point where you begin to get tired.
Listen to your body; it will tell you when it is time to slow down.
Avoid exercising in hot weather.
Do not get overheated.
Drink plenty of fluids.
Avoid hot tubs and saunas.
Your center of gravity changes while you are pregnant.
This can affect your balance. Be careful getting up and lying down.
After the fourth month of pregnancy (16 weeks), do not
lie on your back while exercising. This decreases the blood flow to
the uterus and placenta.
When finished exercising, lie on your left side for 15 –
walking, prenatal exercise classes, and stationary bicycling, low-impact
aerobics, tennis, golf, bowling (be careful of back strain later in
Exercises to AVOID: As your uterus grows and your abdomen gets
larger, your sense of balance may be affected. This is also not the time
for contact spots where you could fall, injure yourself, or be struck in
the abdomen. Therefore, avoid these activities: scuba diving, water
skiing, basketball, softball, baseball, horseback riding, and snow
Exercises and Stretches for Back Pain
Pregnancy can be harsh on ligaments and joints because of the added
weight your body supports. Your back may be one of the major areas where
you’ll notice the ache. Regular stretching and exercise help offset
these effects by improving flexibility, strength, muscle tone, and
reducing the incidence of lower back pain. Try some of the following
exercises and gentle stretches to alleviate back pain.
Full Back Stretch
This stretch is great throughout your entire pregnancy. You can do it
anytime you feel lower back discomfort and all you need is something
stable to hold on to. This stretch targets your deltoids, rhomboids,
lats and erector spinae (an elongated muscle mass that extends from your
neck to the small of your back), while lengthening your back muscles and
easing lower back tension.
Stand with your feet hip-distance apart and hold your knees relaxed.
Holding on to a door, bed frame, or other stationary object for support,
bend your knees and round your back, tucking your chin toward your chest
and your pelvis under. Feel the stretch along the length of your spine.
Hold and repeat.
Lower Back Stretch
This exercise should only be done in your first trimester because it
requires you to lie on your back. It targets your lower back and glutes
(butt muscles) and will start to lengthen your tight lower back muscles
and improve your posture.
Lying on your back, bend both knees with your feet flat on the floor
about a foot apart. Pull your right knee toward your chest and loop a
towel around your right foot. Keeping your foot flexed, bring your knee
up toward your right shoulder, pulling gently with the towel. Hold for a
count of three and then release. Repeat with left leg.
Upper Back Crunch
This variation of the crunch is excellent for your second trimester and
can be done in a sitting position. It targets your erector spinae, lats
and traps, and will help relieve upper back pain caused by your growing
breasts and belly.
Sit on the edge of a chair with your feet flat on the ground a
comfortable distance apart. With your back straight and your abs pulled
in, extend your arms out to your side at shoulder height, your palms
facing backward. Pulse your arms behind you slowly and gently, as if you
were trying to squeeze your shoulder blades together. Repeat.
To strengthen the pelvic floor and prevent incontinence issues, Kegel
exercises are a critical part a pregnant woman’s exercise routine. These
can be done anywhere, and in any position. Do sets of 10, with a 5-10
count hold, 8-10 times a day.
Conditions That Make
Exercise Dangerous During Pregnancy
If you have any of the
conditions below, do not exercise. Check with your health care provider.
• Heart disease
• Lung disease
• Incompetent cervix: The cervix is the narrow, outer end of the uterus. If
it is weak, it cannot hold the fetus in the uterus.
• Preterm labor (before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy)
• Multiple pregnancy (twins, triplets or more) at risk for preterm labor
• Frequent bleeding from the vagina during months 4-9 of pregnancy
• Placenta previa: The placenta connects the baby’s blood supply to the
mother’s blood. Attached to the mother’s uterus, it is an unborn baby’s
lifeline. Placenta previa is a low-lying placenta that covers part or
all of the cervix. This can block the baby’s exit from the uterus.
College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Exercise during pregnancy
and the postpartum period. Obstetrics & Gynecology, volume 99, number 1,
January 2002, pages 171-173.