Move Your Pregnant Body
No doubt about it, exercise is a big plus for both you and your baby. It can help you:
- feel better – At a time when you wonder if this strange body can possibly be yours, exercise can increase your sense of control and boost your energy level. Not only does it make you feel better by releasing endorphins (naturally occurring chemicals in your brain), appropriate
- relieve backaches and improve your posture by strengthening and toning muscles in your back, butt, and thighs
- reduce constipation by accelerating movement in your intestine
- prevent wear and tear on your joints (which become loosened during pregnancy due to normal hormonal changes) by activating the lubricating synovial fluid in your joints
- help you sleep better by relieving the stress and anxiety that might make you restless at night
- look better – Exercise increases the blood flow to your skin, giving you a healthy glow.
- prepare you and your body for birth – Strong muscles and a fit heart can greatly ease labor and delivery. Gaining control over your breathing can help you manage pain. And in the event of a lengthy labor, increased endurance can be a real help.
- regain your prepregnancy body more quickly – You’ll gain less fat weight during your pregnancy if you continue to exercise (assuming you exercised before becoming pregnant). But don’t expect or try to lose weight by exercising while you’re pregnant. For most women, the goal is to maintain their fitness level throughout pregnancy.
What’s a Safe Exercise Plan When You’re Pregnant?
If you exercised regularly before becoming pregnant, continue your program, with modifications as you need them. If you weren’t fit before you became pregnant, begin slowly and build gradually as you become stronger. Whatever your fitness level, you should talk to your doctor about exercising while you’re pregnant.
Discuss any concerns you have with your doctor. You may need to limit your exercise if you have pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, early contractions, vaginal bleeding, premature rupture of your membranes (also known as your water) breaking early.
What Kinds of Exercises Can You Do?
Many women enjoy dancing, swimming, water aerobics, yoga, pilates, biking, or walking. Swimming is especially appealing, as it gives you welcome buoyancy. Try for a combination of cardio (aerobic), strength, and flexibility exercises, and avoid bouncing.
Many experts recommend walking. It’s easy to vary the pace, add hills, and add distance. If you’re just starting, begin with a moderately brisk pace for a mile, 3 days a week. Add a couple of minutes every week, pick up the pace a bit, and eventually add hills to your route. Whether you’re a pro or a novice, go slowly for the first 5 minutes to warm up and use the last 5 minutes to cool down.
Listen to your body’s warnings. Many women, for example, become dizzy early in their pregnancy, and as the baby grows, their center of gravity changes. So it may be easy for you to lose your balance, especially in the last trimester.
Your energy level may also vary greatly from day to day. And as your baby grows and pushes up on your lungs, you’ll notice a decreased ability to breathe in more air when you exercise. If your body says, “Stop!” – stop!
Your body is signaling that it’s had enough if you feel:
- heart palpitations (your heart pounding in your chest)
- shortness of breath
- pain in your back or pelvis
You should keep your heart rate below 160 beats per minute.
It also isn’t good for your baby if you become overheated because temperatures greater than 102.6 degrees Fahrenheit (39 degrees Celsius) could cause problems with the developing fetus – especially in the first trimester – which can potentially lead to birth defects. So don’t overdo exercise on hot days.
When the weather is hot, try to avoid exercising outside during the hottest part of the day (from about 10 AM to 3 PM) or exercise in an air-conditioned place. Also remember that swimming makes it more difficult for you to notice your body heating up because the water makes you feel cooler.
What Exercises Should You Avoid?
Most doctors recommend that pregnant women avoid weight training and sit-ups after the first trimester, especially women who are at risk for preterm labor.
Lifting reduces the blood flow to the kidneys and uterus, and exercises done on your back (including sit-ups and leg lifts) cause your heart rate to drop, also decreasing the flow of oxygenated blood to your body and the baby. It’s better to tone your abdominal muscles while on all fours, by relaxing and then tightening your muscles as you exhale.
It’s also a good idea to avoid any activities that include bouncing, jarring, leaping, a sudden change of direction or a risk of abdominal injury.
Typical limitations include contact sports, downhill skiing, scuba diving, and horseback riding.
Although some doctors say step aerobics is acceptable if you can lower the height of your step as your pregnancy progresses, others caution that a changing center of gravity makes falls much more likely. If you do choose to do aerobics, just make sure to avoid becoming extremely winded or exercising to the point of exhaustion.
And check with your doctor if you experience vaginal bleeding, unusual pain, dizziness or lightheadedness, unusual shortness of breath, racing heartbeat or chest pain, fluid leaking from your vagina or uterine contractions.
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