Exercise safely during pregnancy

August 20, 2010 By Wendy Latshaw, M.D.

All the benefits of regular exercise—strength, stamina, cardiovascular fitness, weight control, stress reduction and improved mood and energy—are particularly important to moms-to-be. Physical activity can help combat backaches, constipation, bloating, swelling and poor sleep. Studies show exercise may also help prevent the serious complications of gestational diabetes and pregnancy-induced hypertension (preeclampsia). Many experts believe fit women tend to handle childbirth better and recover more quickly.

Get moving—safely
Experts recommend that pregnant women engage in 30 minutes or more of moderate physical activity most days of the week. The following are general guidelines:

• Avoid activity that could hurt you or the fetus, such as skiing, scuba diving, mountain climbing or horseback riding.

• After the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, eliminate exercises that require you to lie on your back. This position could reduce blood flow to the fetus.

• Warm up for at least five minutes before exercising to prevent injuries.

• Don't over-stretch. It can damage joints that have become loosened during pregnancy.

• Avoid jumping, jarring or jerking movements, as well as quick changes of direction, which could throw you off balance.

• Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise.

• You should be able to carry on a conversation when you exercise. If you can't, you're exercising too strenuously.

• Check your temperature during or right after exercising. A temperature above 102.6 degrees Fahrenheit could harm the fetus. Avoid exercising in hot, humid weather.

• Stop exercising when you're comfortably tired; don't wait till you're exhausted.

• Cool down for at least five minutes after exercising. Then lie on your left side for a few minutes to increase blood flow to the heart and placenta.

• If you experience pain, bleeding, rupture of membranes, faintness, irregular heartbeat, or dizziness, or if the baby stops moving, stop exercising immediately and call your doctor.

• Have fun. That's the best way to ensure that you'll continue your workouts.

Exceptions to the workout rule
Avoid exercise during pregnancy and follow your doctor's orders if you have:

• preeclampsia (pregnancy-induced hypertension)

• an incompetent cervix that could initiate preterm labor, or cerclage (a stitched-closed cervix)

• multiple gestations at risk for premature labor

• persistent second- or third-trimester bleeding

• placenta previa (the placenta lies over your cervix, blocking the birth canal) after 26 weeks of gestation

• premature labor during current pregnancy

• ruptured membranes

• heart or lung disease

Wendy Latshaw, M.D., is an obstetrician/gynecologist at The Hospital of Central Connecticut and is in private practice with Central CT OB/GYN of Southington, 860.276.6800.