If you exercise during your pregnancy, you will reap great rewards. It will assist in labor preparation, it will help with the process of childbirth and it will lift your spirits. However, you need to approach exercising while pregnant with extreme caution. Whether you exercise frequently and you are looking to continue your regimen during pregnancy or you are looking to become active for the first time, follow these 13 rules to keep you and your baby safe.
1. Firstly, contact your medical team
People who exercised regularly prior to becoming pregnant who also have an uncomplicated pregnancy can most likely continue exercising just as before with some slight modifications. In various instances, it is not okay to exercise during pregnancy; therefore, it is imperative to discuss your exercise options with your doctor or midwife to ensure the activities you choose do not put you or your baby at risk. If you did not work out regularly prior to becoming pregnant, reference our pregnancy exercise guide for beginners and speak to your medical team.
2. Consume extra calories
When you exercise, you burn extra calories. It is important to eat well to provide the proper nourishment to yourself and your child and to strengthen your body. While you are pregnant, you will naturally gain weight as your baby grows. The exact amount of weight you should gain will vary greatly based on your pre-pregnancy weight.
If your body mass index (BMI) is within a healthy range, which is between 18.5 and 24.9, you will need to eat 300 or so additional calories a day than before you were pregnant. If you are exercising, you will likely need to consume more calories than that. If you are underweight or overweight, you may need to gain a little more or a little less than someone with a target BMI for their body and adjust your calories accordingly.
Your doctor will monitor your weight as your pregnancy progresses and will help you determine the best ways to keep your weight gain on track through proper diet and exercise.
3. Avoid dangerous sports
Avoid dangerous contact sports, as well as any activities that might interfere with your balance such as horseback riding, downhill skiing or mountain biking. If you are comfortable on a bicycle, regular cycling early in your pregnancy should be okay; however, it is probably best to use a stationary or recumbent bike after a few months. It is important to note that, despite your coordination and athleticism, throughout your pregnancy the increased levels of the hormone relaxin, which relaxes pelvic joints in preparation for childbirth, loosen all ligaments and joints which will make you more susceptible to sprains and injury from falls. Review our list of the best exercises for pregnant women.
4. Wear the right clothes
Wear loose-fitting and breathable clothing. Wearing layers makes it easy to peel off a layer or two once you have warmed up or if you feel uncomfortable and too hot. It is also important that your maternity bra offers enough support and to choose trainers that fit your feet properly with good support. If your shoe size has changed because of mild swelling, put your pre-pregnancy sneakers in the closet and buy a new pair.
5. Warm up
Warm-ups prepare your muscles and joints for exercise and build up your heart rate slowly. If you skip the warm-up and dive straight into strenuous activity before your body is ready, you could strain your muscles and ligaments and experience increased post workout aches and pains.
6. Drink plenty of water
Drink water before, during and after exercising. If you do not drink enough water, you can become dehydrated which can cause contractions and raise your body temperature which are sometimes raised to levels that are dangerous for you and your baby. James M. Pivarnik, director of the Center for Physical Activity and Health at Michigan State University, says that while there is no official recommendation for how much water pregnant women should drink while exercising, a good guideline is to drink one cup, or rather 8 ounces, before you exercise, one cup for every 20 minutes of exercise and one cup after you finish your workout. If the weather is hot and humid, you will require more water.
7. Do not lie flat on your back
After the initial trimester, avoid lying flat on your back. This position adds unwanted pressure to a major vein called the vena cava, which reduces blood to your heart and could diminish blood flow to your brain and uterus which could make you dizzy, cause shortness of breath and even nausea. Some women are comfortable in this position well into their pregnancies, however this is not necessarily a good measurement of whether blood flow to the uterus has been affected. If you place a pillow under your right hip or buttock it will allow you to be almost supine without compressing the vena cava. It is important to stay in shape and practice recommended breathing techniques for labor and birth combined with prenatal yoga. These videos will demonstrate the best way to do the cat stretch and nine more yoga poses during pregnancy.
8. Keep moving
Standing in one place for prolonged periods can decrease blood flow to the uterus and cause blood to pool in your legs which will cause you to feel dizzy. Activities such as lifting weights or doing yoga poses can contribute to this type of sensation; therefore, keep moving by switching positions or walking in place.
9. Do not overdo it
Do not exercise until you become exhausted. A good rule of thumb is to slow down if you cannot comfortably carry on a conversation. Generally speaking, the best guideline is to listen to your body. If something hurts, you should stop because something is wrong. You should feel like you are working your body but not punishing it. To be extra cautious and safe, read our list of 10 signs of danger during pregnancy exercise.
10. Do not get overheated
Prevent yourself from becoming too hot, particularly during the first trimester when the major organs of your baby are developing. Raising your core temperature above 102 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 10 minutes could harm your baby. The increased blood flow and higher metabolic rate that happens when you are pregnant means you will feel warmer than usual and even more so when you exercise. And, since feeling warm is standard throughout your pregnancy, you may become overheated much more quickly than normal, even before your bump becomes overly big. Each individual will show unique signs that they are becoming overheated, however pay attention to whether or not you are sweating a lot or feeling uncomfortably warm, nauseated, dizzy or short of breath. To cool off quickly, stop exercising, take off layers and change your environment. You should immediately seek out air conditioning or take a cool shower. Hydration is also essential; therefore, you must drink a lot of water.
11. Get up from the floor slowly
As your baby bump grows, your center of gravity shifts. It is important to take great care when you change positions. Getting up too quickly can make you dizzy and may cause you to lose your footing and fall.
12. Cool down
Take 5 to 10 minutes to walk in place and do some pregnancy-friendly stretching at the end of your exercise routine. This will allow your heart rate to return to normal and help to prevent sore muscles.
13. Make it a habit
Regular exercise must be a habit throughout your pregnancy; therefore, you must be committed and dedicated. A routine is far easier easier on your body than long periods of inertia interrupted by spurts of activity. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, you can safely engage in 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise on most, if not all, days of the week. As long as you have the consent of your medical team, go forth and exercise.