Women are much more aware of their health these days than ever before, even more so during pregnancy. In pregnancy women tend to be highly motivated to make healthy life-style choices, consume a healthier diet, and stay fit by increasing their physical activity. As an obstetrician/gynecologist for the past 18 years, I am asked about exercise in pregnancy almost every day. Whether from a woman who wants to continue her exercise routine or one who wants to start exercise, questions come out often: Is exercise OK during pregnancy? If so, how much and what type is recommended? Is there any type of exercise that could harm my baby and I should avoid?
Benefits of exercise in pregnancy- Aerobic and muscle strength exercises have an essential role in health maintenance of a woman in all stages of life, including pregnancy. In a normal and uncomplicated pregnancy, routine exercise can be extremely beneficial. It is associated with several benefits such as:
*cardiovascular health, muscle strength, physical fitness,
*psychological well-being and energy level,
*improved sense of agility and balance,
*reduction of low back pain and pelvic pain,
*reduction in risk of developing gestational diabetes,
*reduction in risk of preeclampsia,
*reduction in risk of cesarean delivery.
What is a good exercise program? Ideally a typical exercise session begins with 5 to 10 minutes of warm-ups and stretching, followed by the exercise program (30 minutes per session), and ending with 5 to 10 minutes of cool down. Most guidelines suggest 30 minutes of exercise daily, five to seven days per week. Pregnant women who have not been exercising regularly should start slowly, possibly as little as 10 minutes each time and gradually increase the duration of exercise. Women should choose exercises that activate large muscle groups in a rhythmic and continuous fashion and that maintain strength, core muscles, and flexibility. Example of activities that are safe in pregnancy are walking, swimming, aerobic dance, stationary cycling, rowing, low impact aerobics, yoga, Pilates, jogging, running, strength training,
What activities should be avoided in pregnancy and why?-
*The ones with high risk of falling or hitting the abdomen against a hard surface (soccer, basketball, volleyball, horseback riding, skiing, surfing, downhill skiing) - these may cause trauma to the baby and placenta.
*Hard, jerky movements (jet skiing, speed boating) - risk of trauma to the baby and placenta.
*the ones that increase the core body temperature (hot yoga, hot Pilates) - hot temperatures can interfere with the baby’s ability to properly form its organs.
*the ones that require lying on your back. Doing that after the first trimester may cause low blood pressure to mom and passing out. It can also decrease blood flow to the baby.
*Activities that require jumping movements and quick changes in direction (jump robe, gymnastics). These can cause joint injury as ligaments and joints are more relaxed during pregnancy and are supported less effectively.
*scuba diving- risky to the baby due to change in pressure.
When in doubt, Ask your doctor…Exercise may not be recommended or should be modified in case of certain conditions such as extreme obesity, risk of fetal growth restriction, high risk of miscarriage, severe anemia, maternal heart or lung disease, incompetent cervix, and placenta previa. Therefore, before starting an exercise regimen, it is important to consult with your obstetrician. Wish you a happy and healthy pregnancy.
Written by Dr. Haleh Hamidi, physician at Gwinnett OB/GYN.