We all know that exercise is beneficial for health, but what about exercise during pregnancy? Are there activities we should avoid because they may endanger our unborn fetus or are we clear to participate in any we choose?
The predominant thinking around exercise during pregnancy has changed over the years and women are no longer being told to steer clear of anything more than a leisurely walk. Today, the benefits of exercise for both mom and baby are well documented and women are being encouraged to move their bodies within appropriate guidelines.
Benefits of Exercise
The numerous benefits derived from regular exercise during pregnancy have been clearly defined as a result of countless studies over the years, which have shown exercise to be helpful in shortening labors by as much as 30%, improving fetal development, strengthening the fetal heart and nervous system, increasing oxygen delivery to baby, and leading to fewer episiotomies and C-sections.
Regular exercise allows a woman to maintain a healthier weight, which reduces pregnancy complications as well as minimizing future development of diseases such as diabetes. Furthermore, a recent study published in the October 2009 issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology concluded that regular exercise throughout pregnancy significantly reduces the risk of too large babies. Larger babies can lead to complications with the delivery as they are more difficult to birth.
What is Safe?
The general guideline for women is to continue any exercise they were doing prior to becoming pregnant as long as it is not dangerous. Downhill skiing, contact sports, scuba diving, and mountain biking are examples of exercises that may be out of the question for the next nine months.
Running, which many might think to be off limits, is acceptable to continue if a woman was running prior to pregnancy. The main thing to keep in mind is not to start a new type of strenuous exercising upon becoming pregnant.
Anything that significantly increases body temperature, such as Bikram or Moksha yoga, otherwise known as Hot Yoga, are not advised. This applies to endurance exercises performed for longer periods of time, especially during hot days. Women should really be careful not to push their bodies beyond their healthy thresholds. Pregnancy is not the time to attempt that marathon you have always been thinking of doing.
Women Who Should Avoid Exercise
There are a few categories of women who should avoid exercising or at least check in with their primary healthcare providers before attempting specific activities beyond basic walking or gentle yoga postures. These include women who present risk factors for preterm labor, with repeat vaginal bleeding, and with lowered placentas.
During pregnancy, the body releases a hormone called relaxin, which as the name implies relaxes the ligaments and joints in order to allow the body to adjust itself to a growing fetus and prepare for delivery. The release of this hormone can make a woman more prone to accidental injuries as the joints can become too relaxed leading some women to experience instability while performing an activity.
Listen to Your Body
When engaging in exercise, women should listen to their bodies and pay attention to the signals they are receiving. If you feel faint or weak, stop exercising immediately. If you feel more tired on certain days, give yourself the option of skipping a workout. Other signs include feeling contractions, chest pain, bleeding, swelling, and amniotic fluid leakage. If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your doctor immediately.
When considering exercise in pregnancy, it simply takes applying some common sense to your activity choices, frequency and limits. Exercise is recommended but if you feel what you are doing could be risky or that you are exercising too hard, listen to your inner guidance and either stop or change activities.
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