The Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy

Learn all about exercising during pregnancy: when you should, when you shouldn't, which types of exercise are acceptable, and which are not.
Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy

In this article, you will find:

Exercise rules; when not to exercise

The Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy

Women who exercise usually have a better pregnancy, in terms of being more comfortable physically and healthier for the duration of the pregnancy and afterwards. Often, they tolerate the stress and pain of labor better and sometimes they don't require as many meds during labor, or can even get away with taking no meds at all. Stretching exercises can be particularly useful for later ease in labor and delivery.

With regular exercise during pregnancy, women also recuperate faster after the birth of the baby, whether they have a vaginal delivery or a C-section. Obviously, an additional benefit is not gaining as much weight during pregnancy. In general, exercising seems to go along with eating better and maintaining a more positive attitude toward the pregnancy. Since exercising releases endorphins, it also helps with emotional stress and potential depression.

From the Doctor's Perspective...
Doctors know that exercise is truly beneficial for pregnant women. Many colleagues of mine (obviously females) make sure to follow an exercise regimen throughout their pregnancy. I once had a woman who exercised right up to her delivery. This woman came in to the hospital to get checked because she thought she might be in pre-labor (she'd had children before). Surprisingly, she was 8 centimeters dilated, and wasn't feeling too bad. She'd come straight to the hospital after pushing a lawnmower and mowing her entire lawn. Her labor only took an hour and a half, and she recovered quickly.

A Checklist Before Exercising
So, you've decided to exercise. Here are a few simple, but important, rules to follow.

  • Drink lots of water. Carry along a bottle of water or a sports drink with you.
  • Wear loose, comfortable clothing (don't get too hot or too cold).
  • Wear comfortable shoes that fit well. (Remember, your feet may tend to swell from fluid retention.)
  • Do some stretching exercises in advance to get your muscles warmed up and flexible before starting your exercise regimen.
  • Be aware of your center of gravity as it changes. As pregnancy continues, the center of gravity shifts forward, so women lean backward to compensate. As the shoulders move back and the lower back protrudes forward, accentuating the curvature of the lower spine, the unnatural position can lead to strain on the back muscles and cause back pain. It can also cause you to be a bit off-balance and less coordinated than usual.
  • Get plenty of rest. Don't exercise if you're too tired.
Get Drunk on Perspective...
Most people walk around in a mildly dehydrated state, even when they are not pregnant. It's kind of dumb, because we feel better when we are adequately hydrated. A pregnant woman should strive for at least 8-10 glasses of water a day, which does not include soda, coffee, tea, or milk. Those beverages are extra after the water consumption. Try to drink as much water as possible during the pregnancy. It's good for both mother and baby.

Why water? Water helps with the blood flow, and it improves uterine profusion, meaning that it optimizes blood flow to the uterus. The benefits: the baby gets more oxygen and the exchange of waste and nutrients between mother and baby becomes more efficient. Insuring adequate water intake can contribute toward having a normal amount of amniotic fluid around the baby. The amniotic fluid keeps the baby floating and keeps the umbilical cord from being compressed. With a lower amount of amniotic fluid, there is more of a risk of the baby sitting on the cord and compressing it in the later stages of pregnancy. Unfortunately, you might not know this until you perceived less movement in the baby.

So...drink up! You can't hurt yourself by drinking too much water as long as your diet is well balanced.

When Not to Exercise
There are some definite conditions during pregnancy where exercise should be avoided at all costs. If you have pre-eclampsia or pre-term labor, your doctor will not let you exercise.

If you have pain, spotting, bleeding, or have an unusual discharge, do not exercise.

If you're feeling light-headed, don't exercise. Pregnant women have a higher tendency to feel light-headed due to changes in blood volume and blood pressure and how the blood vessels constrict and dilate during pregnancy. This normal condition can lead to dizziness if a woman gets up too fast or lies flat on her back (particularly during the second half of the second trimester). If you are light-headed, it could also be from dehydration. Take a break and drink some water or a sports drink.