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Exercise in Pregnancy

During pregnancy active women often wish to continue with their exercise program. For others, pregnancy signals a time to improve their lifestyle. For these women beginning exercise during pregnancy is desirable. Moderate physical activity has major health benefits. Regular exercise is preferable to intermittent activity. Active Australia recommends that every Australian should accumulate 30 minutes or more of moderate intensity physical activity on, at least, most days of the week (usually interpreted as five sessions per week) (Bauman, 1997).
 
In the past concerns arose regarding the safety of exercising during pregnancy. It was common for various restrictions to be placed on women exercising in pregnancy. However, as the research evidence grows, these restrictions are lifting and a more personalised approach is being adopted. The emerging picture is that in most cases there is no need for healthy women to change their exercise program during conception and early pregnancy. Some adaptations are required as the pregnancy advances. It is important to note that prior to commencing any exercise program, it is wise to seek the advise of a midwife or doctor. Occasionally there are factors that indicate women should not exercise in pregnancy. When planning an exercise program, it is of great benefit to see a qualified fitness professional. A fitness professional can offer guidelines and a training program to suit the individual woman and her pregnancy (Clapp, 1998).

What are the benefits of exercise during pregnancy?

There are many benefits of exercising during pregnancy that have been identified. Benefits include: increased body awareness, increased endurance, improved posture, helps prevent gestational diabetes, lower physical discomforts associated with pregnancy, increased sense of well being, less fatigue, improved muscle tone, improved body image, active phase of labour is shorter, less forceps and caesarean births and physically fit women recover more quickly after birth (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 1994; Clapp, 1998; Sternfeld, 1997).

What guidelines should a pregnant woman follow while exercising?

  • Stop exercising and consult a midwife or doctor if bleeding, cramping, faintness, dizziness or severe joint pain.
  • Women should avoid laying flat on their backs after sixteen weeks. As the uterus grows it can compress a major blood vessel when a woman lies flat on her back. This restricts blood flow back to the mother’s heart and subsequently the blood flow to the baby.
  • It is important to exercise sensibly at a comfortable intensity and do not exercise to exhaustion or at an anaerobic (or breathless) pace.
  • Avoid overheating. This is particularly important in the first trimester when the baby is most vulnerable to high temperatures.
  • Wear light comfortable clothing, drink plenty of water, avoid exercising in very hot temperatures and do not exercise during illness or fever.
  • Avoid any sport where there is a risk of abdominal blow eg. down hill skiing, horse riding, contact sports.
  • Avoid holding breath during exercise.

All exercise should be accompanied by an appropriate warm up and cool down session. (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 1994; Clapp, 1998; Sternfeld, 1997).

What factors would exclude me from exercising?

Do not exercise if any of the following are present:

  • Pregnancy induced hypertension
  • Ruptured membranes
  • Incompetent cervix
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Interuterine growth retardation
  • A multiple pregnancy

There are a number of other medical and obstetric conditions that may lead to the need to modify or stop an exercise program. This is why it is wise to consult a midwife or doctor so they can assess the appropriateness of beginning or continuing with an exercise program in pregnancy (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 1994).

What types of food should I eat while on an exercise program?

It is ideal for a pregnant women to avoid letting blood sugar levels fall to low levels (this can increase feelings of nausea and dizziness). These easiest way to avoid this happening is by eating small meals often (around every three hours). Foods that help avoid sudden decreases in blood sugar include salad vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole grain breads and pasta. Avoid foods that contains carbohydrates (sugars) that are absorbed quickly and can cause blood sugar levels to decrease in as little as an hour after eating them. Foods in this category include refined products such as white bread, most cereals, cakes, biscuits, lollies, chips and most other snack foods. Avoid eating for two hours prior to an exercise session. Have a small snack immediately after an exercise session. If you exercise first thing in the morning, have a liquid snack while exercising then follow this with breakfast after the exercise session has ended (Clapp, 1998).

Reference List

  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (1994). Exercise during pregnancy and postpartum period. Technical Bulletin No. 189. Washington: ACOG.
  • Bauman, A. (1997). Physical activity levels of Australians. Canberra: Active Australia.
  • Clapp, J. F. (1998). Exercising through your pregnancy. United States of America: Human Kinetics.
  • Sternfeld, B. (1997). Physical activity during pregnancy: Should it be promoted or just tolerated. Journal of Paediatrics, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 23(5), 25-28.


(20th January 2000)

Jane Palmer is a mother, birth activist and midwife in private practice located in Sydney, Australia. With additional qualifications as a childbirth educator and lactation consultant, Jane works to improve pregnancy, birth and parenting options for families.

Comments

4 comment(s) on this page. Add your own comment below.

Joan Jones
Jan 20, 2012 2:07pm [ 1 ]

Hi Jane, We are about to start an antenatal education program to improve women's lifestyle who have a BMI greater than 35. Could you give me some guidance on the content that should be included into these sessions

many thanks Joan

Joan Jones
Apr 27, 2012 6:02pm [ 2 ]

many thanks for your attention

Cate Walden
Aug 20, 2012 6:33pm [ 3 ]

Hi Jane, With what I have been reading on exercising during pregnancy on some forums there has been mention of keeping your heart rate 140bpm and under. Is this something I need to consider also?? Thanks Cate

julia
Sep 27, 2013 1:08pm [ 4 ]

very informative. thank you

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