Exercise and Pregnancy

Month 5, walking from Brooklyn to Manhattan across the Brooklyn Bridge on a bright summer day.

I have more than a few friends who are either due in the coming months or hoping to be pregnant soon. Often they ask, “Did you exercise when you were pregnant? Was it safe?” The answers are yes and yes, followed by a disclaimer that everything I did was with the full knowledge and consent of my obstetrician.

Major healthcare organizations like Kaiser Permanente recommend that women exercise both in preparation for pregnancy as well as during the pregnancy itself. They recommend 30 minutes of activity per day, at least five days per week. I discussed exercise with my doctor at the first appointment, and we made sure to check in and evaluate what I could or couldn’t do at each subsequent appointment. I had no underlying health issues, and my doctor was pretty easygoing, so his general rule of thumb was to do whatever I felt comfortable doing.

Like many aspects of pregnancy, an exercise routine should include two very important elements: common sense, and listening to your body. This means that you need to rest when your body says to, whether that’s a five-minute break at the gym or an extra day off to give your body some additional time to recover.

Speaking from personal experience, I went to the gym or Pilates nearly every day (this was before I discovered running). One day it was comfortable to lie on my back, and the next it was completely out of the question. One day I could do reverse crunches, and the next I couldn’t get those abdominal muscles to engage. By the eighth month, I was more or less limited to walking, but even then I noticed that I always felt worse and slept poorly on days where I didn’t do something.

Your body will give you plenty of signs to determine if you’re exercising in moderation or exercising to excess. Moderation means that you should be able to talk while exercising. If you can only say a few words between breaths, you’re working too hard.

Just in case you don’t click through to the Kaiser page, here are the important warning signs to look for:

  • Excessive fatigue or shortness of breath
  • Pain or cramping, especially in the back or pelvic area
  • Vaginal bleeding or rupture of the membranes
  • Dizziness
  • Pounding heartbeat (palpitations) or unusual sensations in your chest
  • Persistent contractions

Month 8. I hiked a flat, shady trail in Yosemite the week before this picture was taken, and didn't hesitate to sit down on a log and rest when I needed to.

More importantly, and I’ll put this in bold and italics: It is critical to remain fed and hydrated. That little person is sucking lots of energy out of you. You will tire and dehydrate more quickly than your non-pregnant self. Keep healthy snacks and a bottle of water on hand at all times. I personally carried Larabars and bottled water with me everywhere I went. Having real food and water in my bag at all times gave me the energy I needed to get through my workouts (or sometimes just to get through the day!) and helped me to avoid the pitfalls of fast food and unhealthy snacks between meals.

As always, if you have any questions about exercise during your particular pregnancy, check with your doctor. He or she will be able to tell you what is best for you and your baby.

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