By: Caroline Hodges, PTA, Pelvic Health Therapist
Expecting to either conceive or give birth in 2024 and afraid of exercise? Here are the BENEFITS of exercise while pregnant!
Exercise improves cardiovascular health, such as blood pressure, heart rate, and blood vessel health in order to support the mother’s health as well as the baby’s!
Constipation is one of the most common complaints during pregnancy due to changes in hormones and position of the growing baby against re-organized organs. Exercise can help combat this (with increased hydration) by improving the mobility of your muscles, fascia and other tissues compressing on the intestines and rectum, as well as improving pelvic floor mobility for easing passing of bowel movements.
Exercise can reduce or eliminate back pain if done with proper body mechanics and at appropriate loads. Back pain is another of the most common complaints of women during pregnancy, so entering into this experience with a strong, supportive body can even prevent the onset of pain as you maintain fitness throughout your pregnancy.
Regular exercise helps promote a lower and healthier weight gain during pregnancy, which can prevent obesity in both mom and baby. Research suggests that women who gain excessive weight during pregnancy (excluding those who are underweight baseline) are more likely to have larger babies and increased risk of obesity and diabetes in both the mother AND baby in the future!
It reduces your risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and even a cesarean birth. Because exercise decreases weight gain during pregnancy and also improves insulin sensitivity, it improves your resting metabolic rate and structural support and pelvic mobility.
Because exercise increases insulin sensitivity and metabolic rate, it actually sets you up for easier weight loss and recovery postpartum! During the earliest weeks where your body needs rest and you learn to care for a new life, weight loss should not be the first thing on your priority list, so setting your body up to support this with healthy physiology can make early postpartum less stressful.
What are safe, pregnancy-friendly forms of exercise?
Most forms of structured exercise are considered safe during pregnancy! This means, you can most likely continue what you were doing prior to pregnancy. ACOG suggests the following at about 20-30 minutes several days/week or 150 minutes total with rest when you feel your body needs it:
Running or jogging
Strength training - Are there weight restrictions? Nope! Not unless you have a medical reason from your doctor beyond the state of being pregnant.
Racquet sports with low intensity (this becomes less safe as pregnancy progresses and your equilibrium shifts)
The following types of exercise/recreational sports are not considered to be safe or recommended:
Contact sports (ice hockey, boxing, soccer, basketball)
Activities with a high risk of falling (downhill skiing, water skiing, surfing, off-road cycling, gymnastics)
"Hot" yoga or pilates (due to temperature regulation issues in many pregnant women)
Are there ever reasons to avoid exercise while pregnant? Yes!
While exercise during pregnancy will provide the previously discussed benefits to the vast majority of women, there are absolutely populations that exercise may not be safe for. According to ACOG, you should not participate in structured exercise if you have any of the following conditions:
Severe heart and lung diseases
Cerclage (surgical closure of the cervix while pregnant to prevent preterm birth)
Pregnant with multiples while also having risk factors for preterm birth
Placenta previa after 26 weeks of pregnancy
Pre-eclampsia or pregnancy-induced high blood pressure
One big change that happens during pregnancy is your balance and pressure management. “Doming” is a common symptoms of poorly manage pressure in the abdomen that may occur during exercise or even functional activities. If you see this happen, exhale and engage your deep core muscles prior to the start of an exercise. If this still doesn’t help, come see us!
Not currently active and unsure of how to begin?
If you are pregnant and do not regularly exercise, consult your physician to make sure you have no unknown risk factors and are safe to proceed. If it is safe for you to proceed, begin by finding a style of exercise that you enjoy from the list above. Start with gentle, low intensity exercise at 20-30 minutes -even less is okay! Something is better than nothing. If you don’t feel comfortable navigating it on your own, reach out to a local gym or fitness center that specializes in prenatal fitness.
If you currently have pain and are afraid to make it worse, reach out to our clinic to be matched with a therapist who can guide you through structured exercise to manage your pain and help you progress through your pregnancy!