Exercise during Pregnancy

There’s no magic potion that a woman can use to ensure good health during pregnancy. The most important spell a pregnant woman can be under is one that involves eating healthy foods and exercising in moderation.

The benefits of exercise are good muscle tone and a good body image and these benefits shouldn’t end during pregnancy. Exercise can help reduce some of the common discomforts of pregnancy such as backaches, constipation, fatigue, bloating and swelling. A woman’s mood, energy level, and self-image can also be enhanced with exercise.

A woman who has a fitness program before pregnancy does not have to stop it when she becomes pregnant. Any exercise program, however, should be discussed with an obstetrician, who can customize a routine based on your overall health.

Pregnancy affects many systems within a woman’s body and places limitations on what were once very routine activities. Some of these changes include:

Cardiovascular Changes
Pregnancy causes profound changes in a woman’s hemodynamics, or blood flow. When a woman is pregnant, her blood vessels relax to a greater degree than if she wasn’t pregnant. The relaxation of the blood vessels causes an increase in blood volume, cardiac output, and resting pulse.

After the fourth month of pregnancy, avoid exercises that involve lying flat on your back, because pressure from your heavy uterus on a major blood vessel can diminish blood flow to your heart and to the placenta.

Support hose can be very beneficial for women who encounter excessive standing on their jobs.

Respiratory Changes
A woman needs more oxygen during pregnancy, so it is beneficial to warm up gradually to more strenuous routines such as aerobics and to allow adequate time to cool down between activities.

Mechanical Changes
Because of the enlargement of a pregnant woman’s uterus and breasts, her physical center of gravity shifts. This must be kept in mind when considering any physical activity in which balance can be a deciding factor in the safety of the activity.

Swimming is a healthy summer activity, and the water helps to support the extra weight of the baby. Bowling is a healthy winter activity for women who want to stay active. And if you’re looking for an exercise which helps you all year round, try brisk walking. It may help prevent circulatory problems.

Temperature Changes
During pregnancy, both basal metabolic rate and heat production increase. This is the cause of the flushed cheeks associated with some pregnancies. Moderate aerobic exercise is associated with significant increases in core body temperature in nonpregnant women, so don’t exercise to the point of exhaustion. Avoid any activity that causes overheating or raises your heart rate to more than 140 beats per minute.

Metabolic Changes
Women need approximately 300 extra calories per day to meet the increased metabolic needs of pregnancy. Pregnant women who exercise regularly need even more calories because they burn more calories than non-pregnant women.

Simple sugars derived from fruits, vegetables, and pasta are the best sources of obtaining these extra carbohydrate calories which represent about 80% of overall nutritional needs.

Developing An Exercise Program
Any exercise program during pregnancy should be approved by your obstetrician. The following are some of the best exercises for women during pregnancy:

Pelvic Floor (Kegel) Exercises:

These are perhaps the most important exercises you can do to prepare your body for labor and delivery and for a rapid postpartum recovery. A strong and elastic pelvic floor can reduce or prevent problems such as sagging organs or leaking urine. Pelvic floor exercises can easily be done anywhere. Try them in a car or on the bus, watching T.V., brushing your teeth, or talking on the telephone. These exercises will promote healing and will restore muscle tone after your baby is born.

Kegel Exercise #1: You can do this exercise in any position lying down, sitting, or standing. Your legs should be slightly apart. Tighten and then release the muscles around your vagina. Work up to doing this one hundred or more times a day. (Note that twenty times five, or ten times ten will be more effective and less tiring than one hundred times without stopping.)

Kegel Exercise #2: Tighten and release the vaginal muscles as in Kegel #1. This time, however you will do it more slowly. Tighten the muscles slowly as you count to six (or time yourself using a clock with a second hand). Then slowly relax to a count of four. Then tighten and hold again for six seconds. Relax for four. Begin with a minute. Work up to five minutes at a time, several times a day. Breathe normally as you do this exercise. Resist the temptation to hold your breath as you count.

Some other exercises you can do:

Leg Exercises: These exercises will help relieve circulatory problems in your legs. They are useful in dealing with the discomfort from swelling, varicose veins, and cramps.

Swinging Feet: Sit on a chair and draw large circles in the air with your toes. Rotate your ankles and feet to draw the circles, but do not move your legs. You can do both feet at once or one foot at a time. Do some circles left to right and some from right to left.

Always consult your obstetrician before you start or continue an exercise routine when you are expecting. An exercise routine will work its magic by reducing some of the discomforts of pregnancy and preparing your body for labor, delivery, and postpartum.

Editorial provided by Hobson Booth, MD, ACOG, Alle-Kiski Women’s Healthcare at Citizens General Hospital, and Mary Lynn Alpino, Assistant Director of Community Relations at Citizens General Hospital in Pennsylvania.