Exercise For Two

Maintaining your workout during pregnancy and beyond

By Lynsey Caldwell Owen, MD, FACOG

Exercise during pregnancy has many benefits for both you and your baby — including decreased weight gain and improved cardiovascular and muscular fitness, which have long-term health advantages.

If you have a well-established exercise regimen, it’s generally considered safe to continue your current routine until you deliver, as long as you’re not engaging in activities that significantly increase your risk of trauma or decrease your oxygen supply (such as scuba diving or running when you’re having trouble catching your breath).

It’s a good idea to discuss your regimen with your doctor at one of your first visits. Most women will inevitably notice that their bodies feel different, and all of their previous activities may not be possible. Fortunately, even if you have aches, pains or other minor complaints, there is usually an exercise that you can try!

First Trimester

If you are in the first trimester and feel great, you can continue your regular exercise regimen or start with walking and a few weight-training exercises to strengthen especially your back, shoulders and legs. Your balance is also usually still normal during this time, so you may enjoy activities like yoga and dancing.

Some women may feel completely exhausted. If this is the case, you can make some changes throughout your day to get more active. Park further away in the grocery store parking lot so you have to walk, take the stairs instead of the elevator, and do jumping jacks or sit-ups during commercials if you’re having trouble peeling yourself from the couch.

Second and Third Trimesters

Once you begin to show, if you’re starting to feel as though your center of gravity has shifted and your balance is off — or if you’re just feeling “heavy” and moving your body seems like a lot of effort — head to the pool. There’s no concern about falling (once you’re in!), and you’ll be weightless. If you are not a strong swimmer, grab a kickboard and do some laps.

As your belly grows in the second and third trimesters, should you experience lower back pain, try a prenatal yoga class or other class that focuses on slow stretching and weight bearing.

If you feel short of breath with increased activity during this time, talk to your provider first. If your provider feels it’s just due to the growing uterus restricting your lung expansion, try doing strength training with small weights. You can do short sets with longer breaks between and still get muscle-toning benefits.

If you were used to running a lot but are now in the third trimester and the impact is uncomfortable —or you’ve never done much cardiovascular exercise — try a stationary bicycle or elliptical machine at the gym. You can still raise your heart rate without pounding the pavement.

You may be noticing leakage of urine with laughing, sneezing, coughing — or with your baby’s movement. Add Kegel exercises (squeezing the muscles that stop the flow of urine) to your day. Three sets of ten, three times a day is ideal.

Spice It Up

Bored with traditional exercise and ready to try something new? Check out your local gym’s classes. You may find something different that will keep you focused on staying healthy. Be sure to let the class instructor know about your pregnancy. Alternatively, you can try an exercise DVD or check out your cable company’s On Demand offerings — many have a whole library of unique exercise regimens.

After Baby

After you have your baby, wait until your doctor gives you permission to increase your activity, then start walking with your baby. The movement is helpful to calm a fussy infant and you can keep adding to your distance, as you feel more fit.

You should be able to return to your pre-pregnancy regimen after six weeks postpartum. Increase the intensity and frequency of your activity slowly, as it’s expected that you’ll be slightly deconditioned from the pregnancy and delivery.

Always talk to your doctor before you start a new fitness regimen and if you have any specific concerns related to your activity. And remember, any exercise is better than none!

Tips for a Fun, Healthy Workout

  • Talk to your doctor before embarking on any new program, as you should avoid exercise with some pregnancy complications.
  • Wear comfortable clothing. If exercising outdoors, dress in weather-appropriate layers and don’t forget the sunscreen.
  • Always drink water or a low-calorie sports drink during and after exercise.
  • Monitor your exertion. If you would be unable to carry on a conversation while exercising, take a break. (If you’re not getting enough oxygen, neither is your baby.)
  • If you have chest pain, shortness of breath, contractions, vaginal bleeding, vaginal fluid leakage, or if your baby is moving less — stop, rest, hydrate and call your doctor if the symptoms are persistent.