Physical activity during pregnancy
Maintaining physical activity during and after pregnancy has numerous health benefits including reduced labor and delivery complications. Not only will exercise boost mood, energy levels, and enhance sleep but also decrease gestational weight gain, varicose veins, and deep vein thrombosis. Engaging in regular activity can reduce back pain, constipation, and swelling. Staying active during pregnancy improves overall fitness level, strengthening heart and blood vessels, preparing expectant mothers for labor and birth that can be sustained into postpartum.
Physiological changes throughout pregnancy include an increase in heart rate, cardiac output, ventilation, and energy use. Here are some important changes to look out for:
- Balance – extra weight shifts center of gravity (ACOG)
- Body temperature – slightly higher during pregnancy, start sweating sooner (MoD2)
- Breathing – exercise brings oxygen and blood flow to your muscles, away from other areas of your body (ACOG)
- Energy – body is working hard to take care of baby, may have less energy (MoD)
- Heart rate – heart is working harder/beating faster to get oxygen to baby (MoD)
- Joint health – hormones impact joint flexibility, making joints more relaxed (NIH)
First and foremost, consult your healthcare provider. The good news is you can likely continue your exercise level while pregnant. Things to ask your provider about include any heart and lung diseases, preeclampsia/high blood pressure, cervical bleeding, and placenta problems (Mayo). As a general rule avoid high impact/contact sports (especially to the abdomen), excessive temperatures (hot/cold) and joint stress, standing motionless or laying flat after 16 weeks, and extreme positions. There are other complications such as cervical insufficiency (cerclage), multiples (twins, triplets+), and severe anemia your provider will take into consideration. Most important is to trust your body. If you feel any dizziness, pain, or swelling don’t exhaust yourself. Aim to be able to hold a conversation while exercising as a good rule of thumb.
1 CDC https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/pregnancy/index.htm#:~:text=Pregnant%20or%20postpartum%20women%20should,this%20activity%20throughout%20the%20week.
March of Dimes (MoD) https://www.marchofdimes.org/find-support/topics/pregnancy/exercise-during-pregnancy
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/exercise-during-pregnancy
Mayo Clinic https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/pregnancy-and-exercise/art-20046896
NHS UK https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/keeping-well/exercise/
Guidelines for Physical Activity during Pregnancy: Comparisons From Around the World https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4206837/