Elissa Hellman, MD, OB-GYN, Columbia St. Mary’s Meadowview
Obstetrics & Gynecology
You may think that when you’re pregnant, all you’re going to want to do is sit on the couch and get relief from your aching back and feet. But think again. Exercise during pregnancy can be a great, beneficial activity that will make you look and feel great, even when you may not be at your best. Unless you're experiencing serious complications, pregnancy is a great time to get active.
Some common complaints during pregnancy are back pain, low energy, trouble sleeping and excess weight gain. The good news is exercise can help improve all of these issues. As an added benefit, exercise during pregnancy can reduce the risk of gestational diabetes and pregnancy-related high blood pressure (preeclampsia), as well as lessen the symptoms of postpartum depression.
You should always consult with your doctor before beginning an exercise program. Some reasons to actually limit or refrain from exercise during pregnancy include cervical or placental problems, vaginal bleeding, if you have experienced or have risk factors for preterm labor, and some forms of heart and lung disease.
The current recommendation by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (for most pregnant women who are able to exercise) is at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily. If you’re a beginner interested in starting a new routine, walking is a great exercise. Swimming, low-impact aerobics and cycling on a stationary bike are other good options. Strength training is great, too, as long as you avoid lifting very heavy weights that may worsen back pain.
No matter what intensity you are able to move at, don’t forget to warm up and cool down. You also want to be careful about overheating, so drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. As a good measure, you should be able to carry on a conversation while you're exercising.
If you haven’t exercised in a while, it’s smart to go slow, building up the amount and intensity of your exercise daily. If you already had a regular routine prior to becoming pregnant, stick with it. However, you may find you have to modify some exercises as your body shape and center of gravity changes.
As with any new or established exercise routine, you’ll stick with it longer if it’s convenient and something you enjoy. It may be simply increasing your activity during your daily errands that works for you, rather than joining a gym. A few extra laps around the grocery store or taking the stairs instead of an elevator can be a great start. A fitness partner – such as your husband, relative or friend – is often helpful to maintain your level of motivation. There are also plenty of prenatal exercise classes, including swimming and yoga.
Though most exercises are safe, there are some that you should refrain from while pregnant. Any exercises where you are lying flat on your back should be avoided once you are in your second trimester – this ensures blood flow to the baby remains adequate. You should not engage in contact sports or activities with a fall risk (skiing, surfing, horseback riding, etc.) as these can pose a risk for placental injury. Scuba diving or exercises at a high altitude can change the pressure environment around your baby and can also pose a health risk.
Though exercise is important during pregnancy, there are some signs to watch for. If you experience any vaginal bleeding, leakage of fluid or regular painful contractions, immediately stop working out and call your doctor. They may recommend rest or have you come into the office for monitoring. Usually symptoms such as dizziness, headache, shortness of breath and rapid heartbeat will subside after resting for a bit, but call your doctor if they don’t.
The goal during any pregnancy is to be as healthy as you can so your baby grows and develops fully, in the most ideal physical environment possible. Exercise is one of the best things you can do to help achieve that.
Though weight loss should never be a goal during pregnancy – unless discussed with a doctor – the good exercise habits you develop during your pregnancy can prevent excess weight gain and make the often stubborn postpartum weight-loss process less daunting. You will have better energy and stamina during your labor and delivery and be able to cope better with all the physical strains you experience.
Once your baby is born, and after your doctor gives you the okay, having established a routine while pregnant should make it easier to get back in the swing of things – now with a new exercise buddy! Not only will you will have someone to keep you company on walks or jogs, but you will be setting a good example for your new family about living a healthy lifestyle!
Dr. Elissa Hellman is an OB-GYN with Columbia St. Mary’s Meadowview Obstetrics & Gynecology. For more information, call 262-376-1934.
This article appeared in the May 14 issue of The Ozaukee News Graphic.