Should you exercise during pregnancy? A good rule of thumb is that if everything is going well, you can do almost any exercise you were doing before you got pregnant. And if you weren't exercising, then now's the time to start. Exercise strengthens and tones muscles, some of which you'll be using during your labor and birth. It also increases the circulation of blood between you and your baby, decreases many of the discomforts you may experience during pregnancy (such as backache), improves your energy level, and helps you feel good emotionally. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that you exercise at least three times a week during pregnancy for optimum health.
While exercise is great for you and your baby, there are a few precautions you should take. Here are some tips from ACOG:
Don't exercise for longer than 30 minutes at a time.
Always include a warm-up and a cool-down period (in addition to the 30 minutes of exercise).
Avoid forced, passive stretches, such as reaching for your toes or doing hamstring stretches. Pregnancy hormones make your joints looser, so overstretching which can cause a muscle injury is a greater risk during pregnancy. Also avoid sudden jerking or bouncing movements or quick changes in position.
Limit aerobic activity to the low-impact variety, especially if you weren't exercising regularly before getting pregnant. Brisk walking, swimming, and riding a stationary bicycle are good choices.
If you take an aerobics class, exercise only on wood or tightly-woven carpeted surfaces, and be sure the instructor knows you're pregnant.
Protect your abdominal and lower-back muscles by using good posture and by avoiding exercises that will strain them, like full sit-ups or raising both legs off the floor at the same time. Instead, do "mini" sit-ups (see below), and when doing leg lifts, raise one leg off the floor at a time, keeping the other leg bent with your foot on the floor.
Measure your heart rate at peak activity to be sure you're not exceeding 140 beats per minute.
Avoid overheating: Drink plenty of water, and don't exercise in hot, humid conditions. And remember, always check with your health care provider before starting any new exercise routine during pregnancy.
You can perform these two easy exercises each day to prepare your muscles for the big job of giving birth.
1. Mini Sit-upsThis exercise tones your abdominals, which provide support for the spine and thus help to decrease low backache. These muscles will also be involved in the work of pushing your baby out during the second stage of labor. Lie on your back, knees bent, with your feet on the floor. Place a pillow under one hip so you're not flat on your back. As you exhale, tighten your abs and raise your head and shoulders off the floor while reaching for your knees with your arms. Inhale and return to starting position. Repeat 10 times, once in the morning and once in the evening.
2. KegelsThis exercise can be done anywhere, anytime, without anyone knowing! It helps the pelvic floor muscles become more elastic so your baby can pass through your pelvis more easily during birth. To do Kegels, contract the muscles around your urethra, vagina, and rectum (imagine you're trying to prevent yourself from urinating). Hold for several seconds, then release. Repeat in sets of 10, several times each day.