Pregnancy Exercise Frequently Asked Questions
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There are so many benefits to weight training during pregnancy. The improved muscle tone and strength will aid in carrying the extra pregnancy pounds, improve balance and stability, increase energy, and improve self-esteem. The endorphins that are produced from a workout will increase your pain threshold, which will be very helpful when it comes to the pain of labor and delivery. The strength that you build from lifting will also give you better endurance, strength, and tolerance for labor. And after delivery, a stronger body will help with all the physical demands of being a mother and nursing. Finally, strength training can help reduce injuries, stretch marks, and varicose veins, and increase self-esteem. And what other reasons could we possibly need?!
Exercise during pregnancy is not only safe, but it is highly recommended. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) recommends that women with no medical or obstetric complications, exercise at a moderate intensity for 30 minutes or more, on most, if not all days of the week. If you did not exercise before becoming pregnant, start with a few minutes a day and work up to 30 minutes or more. Make sure to get permission from you doctor before you start any exercise program. If you would like to exercise for periods longer than 45 minutes, check with your doctor first to make sure it is safe for you and your baby. Keep in mind that during your pregnancy, it is not the time to make significant gains in your fitness level or an athletic competition.
As long as your doctor gives you the green light, you may continue to run as you did before, with certain precautions in mind. This is not the time to train for a race, but to maintain your fitness level for the general health benefits for you and baby. You may need to decrease your intensity, duration, and frequency in order to avoid excessive fatigue and over exerting yourself.
Stop running or jogging immediately and call your doctor or midwife if you have any of the following symptoms:
- vaginal bleeding
- difficulty breathing, especially when resting
- chest pain
- muscle weakness
- calf pain or swelling
- preterm labor (contractions)
- decreased fetal movement
- fluid leaking from your vagina
First and foremost, LISTEN to your body! Don’t push if it doesn’t feel right. The best way for a pregnant woman to monitor your intensity level is to use the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) method. This 10 point scale is based on the original Borg’s 20-point scale. The scale ranges in intensity levels from 1 to 10, with 1 being asleep and 10 being your maximum. You rate how you feel during your exercise and it is recommended that you stay between 5 (moderate or walking) to 8.5 (very intense or jogging). When you are pregnant, you should never work to your maximum workout capacity and you should always be able to talk, but not sing a tune. You can check your heart rate as a back-up method, but don’t use 140 bpm as your max, as this rule has been abolished by ACOG.
Not anymore. ACOG out-ruled the 140 bpm heart rate max in 1994 and they now say that it is more important to monitor your intensity using the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale, and stay between a 5 and 8.5.
The ACOG recommends that you avoid all activities that put you at risk of severe injuries or falls. This includes downhill skiing, waterskiing, bungee jumping, and other similar activities. You should also avoid exercising at altitudes higher than 6,000 feet, which puts you at risk of altitude sickness. This may make it harder for you to breath, as well as decrease oxygen flow to the baby. Contact sports like ice hockey, football, or basketball should also be avoided. Scuba diving should be avoided as the intense water pressure puts the baby at risk of decompression sickness.
First of all, whether pregnant or not, there are more beneficial exercises for the core than sit ups. In terms of during pregnancy, you should avoid being on your back for extended periods of time after 20 weeks, but you may and should continue to strengthen the core through other exercises. Laying on your back may put pressure on the vena cava, a main vein that transports blood from legs and abdominal area to heart and lungs, and then to baby. When you lay on your back the weight of the uterus may press on the vena cava reducing the amount of blood flow to the baby. Practice pelvic tilts, abdominal pulses, and variations of the plank instead. It is advised that you follow a fitness plan prescribed by a prenatal fitness specialist and approved by your doctor.
The top three are pelvic tilts, abdominal pulses, and kegels. I use several variations to all three in my DVDs to help build a strong foundation for a healthy pregnant body. You need to remember that special modifications are made if you have diastasis recti. My DVD’s will teach you how to check yourself for this very common condition, or you may talk to your doctor or a prenatal fitness specialist in your area to find out if this applies to you.
Diastasis recti is the separation that occurs along the linea alba, or the vertical midline between the rectus abdominus. This can occur when the abdominal muscles get stretched out during pregnancy and the connecting linea alba softens. It is painless, yet a common condition and usually will return to normal after pregnancy, but sometimes requires medical attention. When the separation occurs there will be a hole under the skin near the belly button. It usually occurs in the second or third trimester and should be checked for before beginning every workout. There is no guarantee in preventing it from occurring. Some women are more likely to get it than others based on their genetics and structure of their abdominal wall. Abdominal exercises that put heavy and direct strain on the rectus abdominus should be avoided. These include, but are not limited to leg lifts, v-sits and any abdominal exercises that require you to lift weight over your head. Keeping the core strong with safe exercises will help in preventing or minimizing diastasis. If it is noticed however, exercises need to be modified to put less strain on the abdominal muscles, ultimately preventing a larger separation. If the separation is larger than 2 ½ inches, medical attention is required.
Of course! Yoga is a great way to relax your mind and body during this very emotional time. It is also a great way to practice breathing techniques-very helpful for labor. All inverted yoga exercises, like downward dog, should be avoided during pregnancy. It is thought that being upside down may disorient the baby so that they don’t know which direction to face when it is time for delivery. Arching your back by stretching upward or back should also be avoided. Examples of this include the cobra or upward dog, and all forms of backbends. Avoid any exercises that crowd the uterus, such as prone exercises, seated forward bends, and the plow pose. Avoid any pose that requires too much twisting, balancing, or stretching to pain.
Stick to the USDA food pyramid. Remember whatever goes in your mouth goes to your baby, so choose healthful foods. You need to consume about an extra 300 calories a day throughout your pregnancy. You may need more or less depending on the amount of exercise that you are performing. Visit www.mypyramid.gov/mypyramidmoms for prenatal nutritional guidelines tailored for your individual pregnancy.
It is recommended by ACOG that you not engage in strenuous activities that could raise your core body temperature to over 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit, especially during the first four to six weeks of pregnancy. That's because a very high body temperature early in pregnancy could theoretically cause birth defects. Remember to dress in layers and wear cool loose fitting clothes. You should not exercise outside on very hot humid days.
Exercising period! Just by keeping the legs moving and using the muscles helps to keep the blood well circulated, so that it doesn't pool in the legs, which is what causes those dreaded veins.