How to Exercise Throughout Your Pregnancy

Health & Wellness on 11.11.12
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Photo Credit: Michelle Chan

Just because you're pregnant doesn't mean that you should stop exercising, but there are some general guidelines to follow as your pregnancy progesses. Exercise is an important component of a healthy pregnancy. Being overweight while pregnant can be a leading risk factor for complications for both mother and baby. Physical activity prepares the body for both the requirements of labor and delivery, as well as for the physical demands of caring for a newborn which involves a lot of carrying and bending over. The best rule of thumb, after checking with your doctor regarding exercise limitations, is to tune in to how your body feels.

Each pregnancy is so different that it is hard to anticipate what exercise will look like over the 10 months of pregnancy. I have friends who continued to lift very heavy barbells throughout pregnancy and others who were so ill they couldn’t get off the couch. Even if you don’t feel that fabulous while pregnant you can still do something physical like light walking, swimming or prental yoga, unless of course you have been prescribed bed rest.  How you feel each time you workout is the best guide on what you are capable of doing that day whether pregnant or not.  

Preconception

The best time to begin a new workout routine is a few months prior to conceiving. Working out regularly can help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, which is important for conception to occur. Exercise also prepares your body for the physical changes that happen, like carting around the necessary extra 25-35 pounds during pregnancy.

First Trimester

Oftentimes, women feel fragile in the first trimester, especially those who are pregnant for the first time or who have had fertility issues. During the first trimester there are minimal adaptations to make from your previous exercise routine. Many doctors recommend keeping your heart rate below a certain number while exercising; this is also important for preventing the body from reaching too high of a body temperature which can be dangerous to a baby in utero. Keep an eye your perceived exertion when exercising. This means you should be able to comfortably maintain a conversation and not feel like you are overly short of breath while performing an activity. Be sure to inform your trainer or fitness instructor that you are pregnant so they have the information they need to best train you.

Second Trimester

The second trimester initiates the period when you should avoid lying flat on your back, a position which decreases blood flow to the uterus. You rectus abdominus -- the central muscles running down your core -- often separate during pregnancy to allow room for your expanding belly. Both of these challenges make it clear the second trimester is the time to stop doing crunches or isolated core work. Respect your energy level during and after exercising, and take naps when needed. Your body is working 24 hours a day to create a baby and sometimes it might not have the energy needed to workout.

Third Trimester

The biggest obstacle to exercise in the third trimester is a growing belly. Not only does it get in the way of many movements, but also blocks the view of where your feet are and your ability to balance well. It is important to stay well hydrated and monitor the intensity of the workouts by being able to talk comfortably. Many women continue to feel well enough to lift heavy free weights and even run up until delivery. There wil be penty of time to get back into fighting shape after your baby is born, focus on staying as active as you can handle in order to take the best care of your body that you can.

How did your pregnancy change the way you exercise?

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