Notes on Women's Health
Notes on Women's Health

Exercise for Pregnant Women: Is it Safe and What You Should Know Before You Start

exercise for pregnant womenUnless you’re practicing hot yoga or scuba diving, most likely you’re not going to get an official excuse from your doctor to miss your workout given the numerous benefits of exercise for pregnant women. But before you continue or start exercising during pregnancy, it’s important to get the green light from your provider, as well as learn the red flags to watch for.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that physical activity in pregnancy has minimal risks and has been shown to benefit most women. If you are healthy and your pregnancy is normal, it is safe to continue or start most types of exercise, but you may need to make a few modifications to your routine to accommodate the normal anatomic and physiologic changes that you can expect with your pregnancy.

Body Changes During Pregnancy and Exercise Risks

While your body undergoes the natural changes of pregnancy, you may have to consider how these changes could affect your exercise routine. Thanks to the additional hormones made during pregnancy, your joints become more mobile, increasing the risk of injury if your exercise includes high-impact motions. Your risk for falling also increases given your body’s shift in center of gravity, making you less stable and more likely to lose your balance.

Benefits of Exercise for Pregnant Women

But don’t let joint mobility, extra body weight and all the other side effects or pregnancy, keep you from realizing all of the benefits that exercise during pregnancy can bring to you and your baby. With consistent exercise, you can:

  • Reduce back pain
  • Ease constipation
  • Decrease your risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and cesarean delivery
  • Promote healthy weight gain during pregnancy
  • Improve your overall general fitness and strengthen your heart and blood vessels
  • Help yourself lose the baby weight after delivery

Precautions and Red Flags When Exercising During Pregnancy

We encourage prenatal patients to listen to their bodies when it comes to exercise during pregnancy, but there are a few precautions you can take to limit the potentially negative side effects.  In addition to drinking plenty of water and avoiding exercise in extremely hot and/or humid conditions, we advise patients to avoid standing still or lying flat on your back as much as possible. Both of these positions can decrease the amount of blood returning to your heart and may cause your blood pressure to decrease for a short time.

At any time during your exercise activities you experience any of the following signs or symptoms, you should immediately stop the activity and contact your healthcare provider:

  • Bleeding or fluid leaking from the vagina
  • Feeling dizzy or faint
  • Shortness of breath before starting exercise
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Muscle weakness
  • Calf pain or swelling
  • Regular, painful contractions of the uterus

To minimize the risk of injury from exercising during pregnancy, we advise our patients to skip activities that put them at risk of getting hit in the abdomen, such as soccer and basketball.  Other activities that put you at risk for falling – downhill snow skiing, water skiing, surfing, horseback riding – should also be avoided.  And while yoga provides is an effective outlet to reduce stress, improve flexibility, and practice focused breathing, “hot yoga” may cause you to become overheated.

Recommended Exercises for Pregnant Women

With certain activities off limits, there are plenty of safe options you can do during pregnancy, especially in the summer months where the urge is high to get outside and enjoy the weather. The following activities are safest for pregnant women:

  • Walking—Brisk walking gives a total body workout and is easy on the joints and muscles
  • Swimming and water workouts— Water supports your weight so you avoid injury and muscle strain.
  • Stationary bicycling—Because your growing belly can affect your balance and make you more prone to falls, riding a standard bicycle during pregnancy can be risky.
  • Modified yoga and modified Pilates— These classes often teach modified poses that accommodate a pregnant woman’s shifting balance.

Don’t let any fears deter you from maintaining your pre-pregnancy physical activity or starting an exercise program. Physical activity does not increase your risk of either, but it is important to discuss exercise with your obstetrician early on in our prenatal visits. If your health care professional gives you the thumbs up to exercise, together you can determine an exercise program that is safe and fits your personal needs and preferences.

Additional Information

If you have any questions about prenatal care, feel free to contact us for more information or schedule a new patient consultation to discuss your particular situation. You can also download the guide, “Prenatal Care Visits – From Pre-Conception to Labor & Deliver.

Prenatal Care Visits Week-by-Week

About the Practice

Dr. John Garofalo, M.D., is an ob-gyn located in Fairfield County, Connecticut. He has more than 20 years of practice and surgical experience covering many facets of obstetrics and gynecology.

Laury Berkwitt, APRN, is a nurse practitioner specializing in women’s health in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Laury has a passion for providing quality women’s health care in a safe and comfortable manner by creating a trusting patient-practitioner relationship. She has been in practice for more than 10 years, caring for women of all ages.

For more information, go to www.garofaloobgyn.com. John Garofalo, MD, and Laury Berkwitt, APRN, can be reached for personal consultations by calling 203.803.1098.