ABC's of Exercising Safely throughout Pregnancy
In the mid-1980’s, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists developed safety guidelines for exercising safely during and after pregnancy. Since then, there have been many studies documenting the many benefits of exercise to mom and baby as well as safety modifications, warning signs and contraindications.
Experts agree that moderate exercise for most healthy women throughout the childbearing year can help reduce common discomforts of pregnancy, minimize excess weight gain, improve ability to cope with stress and positively impact pregnancy outcome. The key however is to follow the ABC’s: appropriate attitude, behavior that is consistent and common sense.
Prior to pregnancy, many women exercise to lose weight. However, once pregnant, exercise goals need to change. There is no other time in a woman’s life that her body changes so drastically as in pregnancy. So a change in attitude about exercise is essential in assuring a healthy pregnancy. Pregnancy is a perfect time to start listening to your body and honoring these changes to avoid potential problems and improve comfort.
In the first trimester, nausea and fatigue may affect the way you choose to exercise. Taking brisk 10-15 walks after each meal will help digestion as well as improve energy levels. Second and third trimester may alter your balance, increase your heart rate, and decrease your ability to participate in sports and activities that you previously engaged in. Changing your activities and routines to better cope with changes in your body requires a change in attitude.
Another area that needs to be modified during pregnancy is exercising on the back after the first trimester of pregnancy. For some women, this means changing the way they exercise totally and it is not uncommon for these women to experience some resistance. Exercising tends to move blood flow away from the internal organs to the working muscles. And when a pregnant woman lies on her back, the growing uterus puts pressure on the largest vein of the body, the inferior vena cava, reducing blood flow to the baby. So, it is recommended to avoid exercising on the back after the first trimester to assure that blood flow is not diverted away from the developing fetus. There are many ways to achieve fitness goals without exposing the fetus to unnecessary risks. Pregnancy is a great time to find safer ways to achieve these goals.
Researchers agree that exercising on a regular basis is also important for pregnant women. Think of exercise as important as brushing your teeth! Which, by the way, gum care is of utmost concern during pregnancy since periodontal disease tends to be prevalent among pregnant women. So, plan to exercise every day for at least 30 minutes. Even if you break it up into smaller sessions, accumulating 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise on most days of the week is preferable to intermittent activity. Behaving consistently by exercising regularly will afford you and your baby many rewards.
Exercising safely during pregnancy is about using common sense. Before starting any exercise program, consult with your health care provider. He or she will let you know if you have any contraindications for exercising and may even have some suggestions that will best meet the individual needs of your pregnancy.
For women with a history of back problems, aquatic exercise may be preferable to weight bearing exercise. If you are carrying twins, have difficulty sleeping or a history of hypertension, prenatal yoga might be a good choice for you. In any case, it is important to be open to any modifications you need to make in order to have a positive experience.
It is also important to listen to your body during exercise. When you breathe, you are sending oxygen to your baby. If you have difficulty breathing during an exercise session, back off and decrease your intensity. If you have pain in any area of your body, whether during or after an exercise session, seek medical attention. If you feel exhausted after an exercise session, reevaluate your choice of exercise as well as duration and intensity. Heed any warning signs like bleeding or leakage of fluid from the vagina. When in doubt, check it out!
In pregnancy, your body is changing every day! Be flexible and stay away from activities that have a risk of injury to either you or your unborn fetus. The best indication of fetal health is the growth of your baby. Continue to monitor your baby’s growth as well as movement once it is felt. In fact, many obstetricians suggest that you spend an hour each day on your left side counting baby’s kicks. Check with your health care provider with tools you can use to check in with your baby. Typically, after exercise, fetal movement increases, if this does not occur, again, check with your doctor or midwife.
Growing a baby is a huge responsibility. But by adjusting your attitude, practicing healthy behaviors and using common sense, you will be giving your pregnancy the best chance for a positive outcome.