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January 07, 2008

Labor Laws: Exercise Tips for Pregnant Women

By Worker Bee
20 Comments

When it comes to pregnancy, Heidi Klum is the anti-Christ. Not only has she delivered three children in as many years, but her body has rebounded—to Victoria’s Secret’s expectations no less—each and every time. Her secret? A comprehensive fitness routine during pregnancy (and freaky German supermodel genes.)

But even if you don’t plan on strutting down the fashion runway on the way home from the maternity ward, working out while you’re waiting for your little bundle of joy to debut has many benefits. Physically, exercising while pregnant can reduce aches and pains, prevent wear and tear on your joints (which become loosened during pregnancy) and help your body snap back more quickly after delivery (although I can’t promise you’ll ever look like Heidi!). In addition, a good fitness plan can help temper mood swings (not that the hormone-fueled emotional rollercoaster pregnancy invokes isn’t a laugh-a-minute), reduce fatigue and improve sleep. Still need convincing? Women who exercise have shorter and less intense labors.

But before you tie yourself to the treadmill for the next nine months, there are a couple of things to consider. First and foremost, a healthcare practitioner is the only person who can tell you whether it is safe for you to exercise. Some reasons they may request that you lie low during pregnancy include spotting and bleeding throughout the pregnancy, risk factors for pre-term labor or premature rupture of membranes. However, for most of us, exercise is perfectly safe—and wholeheartedly encouraged—by the medical community when the following guidelines are followed:

To Do:

* Select a fitness program that includes cardio, strength training, and flexibility components.

* The American Pregnancy Association generally recommends that cardio training be limited to between 15 and 30 minutes and should include low-impact cardiovascular activities such as brisk walking, running, elliptical, biking, or low-impact aerobics classes. Athletes and other highly fit individuals, meanwhile, are authorized to work out for longer periods, but again, should consult their physician regarding their proposed fitness routine.

* Pregnant women should keep their heart rate during cardiovascular activities to no more than 140 beats per minute.

* When strength training, pregnant women should be sure to train the shoulders, upper back, chest, and arms (trust me, when you’re schlepping around a 10 lb baby, you’ll appreciate the advanced training.)

* Abdominal exercises are also encouraged throughout pregnancy, although personal trainers recommend that you sub conventional sit-ups and crunches (which are both strictly prohibited after the first trimester because they can reduce blood flow to the fetus) for pelvic tilts in either a standing, seated or all fours position.

* Pregnant women are also encouraged to stretch before and after workouts. Specifically, women are advised to stretch their hamstrings and backs (which become strained as a women’s burgeoning belly—and boobs—throw off her center of gravity). Ankle rotations are also recommended to reduce swelling, although personal trainers recommend against foot flexion during pregnancy as it can result in calf cramps.

* Although recommended as part of any fitness program, warm-ups and cool-downs are particularly important during pregnancy to allow the mother’s heart rate and blood pressure to adjust in a slow, safe and controlled manner.

* Shell out for new sneakers. During pregnancy, feet can increase as much as two full sizes and, perhaps even worse, the effects can be permanent! When shopping for new kicks, select a pair that provides good ankle stability and has added arch support.

* It is especially important for women to remain hydrated during exercise. Experts recommend that women drink one pint of water prior to exercise and an additional cup for every 20 minutes of sustained activity to maintain optimal hydration.

* Eat up! While you aren’t technically “eating for two,” pregnant women—and particularly those who exercise—need to be sure to scoff an additional 150 to 300 calories per day (pickles and ice cream anyone?)

* Listen to your body. Exercising while pregnant results in a higher-than-normal increase in oxygen demand (likely due to the baby pushing up against the diaphragm and reducing its ability to expand and contract), meaning that you will feel tired more quickly.

To avoid:

* Avoid contact sports (football, softball, even ultimate Frisbee if you’re so inclined) as well as those activities that include bouncing, springing, leaping, or movements that are jarring or involve a sudden change of direction. Experts also recommend that you lay off horseback riding and scuba diving (which is probably why you have yet to find a maternity wetsuit!)

* Now might be the time to pair up with a senior citizen and launch your mall walking career because you, little lady, need to avoid exercising on rough or uneven terrain. The reason? Looser joints and ligaments paired with an unnatural center of gravity means the risk of falls (and serious injury) are far higher.

* Providing further evidence that mall walking might be the way to go, experts recommend that pregnant women avoid exercising in temperatures exceeding 102.6 degrees Fahrenheit. This guideline is particularly important during the first trimester, when fluctuations in body temperature can lead to congenital abnormalities, but should also be followed during the second and third trimester (when even walking to the fridge causes you to break a sweat!)

* Pregnant women should also avoid exercise movements that require standing or holding one position for a prolonged period of time as well as any movements that strain the lower back (such as lifting a weight above the head or deep squats.)

Now go forth and multiply (but make sure you workout first!)

Do you have any fitness tips for women of the pregnant variety?

John Carleton Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Should Pregnant Women Eat Fish?

The Fuming Fuji Says No to Cereal Bars

Raise Healthy Seedlings

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20 Comments on "Labor Laws: Exercise Tips for Pregnant Women"

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Athena
Athena
8 years 8 months ago

i’m so sick of hearing about Heidi Klum.

Crystal
Crystal
8 years 8 months ago

Who?

I continued my work out routine during my second and third pregnancy. I felt much better than my first pregnancy and the weight came off a lot faster.

vito
vito
8 years 8 months ago

I like the idea of a low impact workout, I was think ing that this might also help with “pp” depression??
Anyone have any input on the subject?

Phoebe K.
Phoebe K.
8 years 8 months ago

One thing I wonder, is if exercise has any positive or negative affect on the baby?

Crystal
Crystal
8 years 8 months ago

My mother, grandmother, and sister all have bad varicose veins from pregnancy. I don’t have any. Yay! I contribute that to getting the blood moving during exercise.

Donna
Donna
8 years 8 months ago

I’ve always excercised. When i was pregnant for both of my girls i continued to do so until the day i delivered. My labor for my first daughter was only 5 hours, my second daughter was 4 hours. I had different doctors and both say my labors were short and my baby girls were born strong because i DID exercise. I STRONGLY SUGGEST EXERCISING DURING PREGNANCY, IT’S A PLUS!!!!

Helene Byrne
8 years 8 months ago

The American College of Obstreticians and Gynecologists revised their guidlines for exercising during pregnancy in 2002, five plus years ago.

They no longer advise pregnant women to keep their heart rates below 140 BPM. Guidelines now advisse women to use percieved exertion, and to workout at a level which they consider “somewhat difficult.”

As to Phoeboe’s response, exercise during pregnancy offers numerous, truly profound benefits to both mom and her developing baby.

diet plan
7 years 3 months ago

OHH Some very interesting and insightful thoughts. I like this.

Jenny Lee
Jenny Lee
6 years 3 months ago

“Shell out for new sneakers”…
What if we’re barefoot Mamas?

Cat Grok
Cat Grok
4 years 7 months ago

I have the same question. If the mom-to-be has been going barefoot long enough to have developed decent foot/ankle muscles, shouldn’t she be just fine without getting fancy shoes with ankle and arch support?

Barefoot_explorer
Barefoot_explorer
6 years 18 hours ago

Is it just me, or does this article not seem very Primal? It is continually quoting Conventional Wisdom. Arch support?? Really?? Cardio?? I am surprised that it doesn’t stress the importance of whole grains. I think it would be a really good idea to go back over these old posts and do a little weeding. I would love to see an updated version that doesn’t get its info from the APA!

Lisa
Lisa
4 years 11 months ago

Like

TF
TF
7 months 4 days ago

+100!!

nicole
nicole
5 years 8 months ago

my doctor recommends a light aerobic fitness routine and from this article it seems like you would agree. come on! pregnant women can exert themselves. they can run for their lives, they can pick up already formed children. they can actually take care of their bodies. this article is a disappointment.

Peggy
5 years 4 months ago

Pregnant women can exert themselves, sure but should they? I think that’s a great topic worth exploring. Before I got pregnant (and I was paleo) I was really active and did a lot of interval sprinting. Before I even knew I was pregnant I had quit my sprinting routine. My body seemed to know what it needed. I had been highly active for years and suddenly I just mellowed out.

I did continue to exercise throughout my pregnancy, but it looked a whole lot more like what Mark suggested than what I had been used to.

katie
katie
4 years 9 months ago
it just doesn’t seem like women 100+ years ago would have had the luxury of taking it easy because they were pregnant. there were no epidurals, or c-sections or induction dates. i worked out my last two pregnancies, the last one i ran and taught cycle classes 3 times a week. i went on a 4 mile run the day i arrived home from the hospital with my second. they were both healthy, born drug free after relatively short labors. now on my third pregnancy and cross-fitting…and barefooting also. makes a huge difference. women can do a lot more than… Read more »
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Rf
Rf
4 years 2 months ago

Dissapointed with this post for sure!!! The heart rate below 140 bpm is an archaic standard that has since been revised (as mentioned) and although I have scaled back a lot since getting pregnant I am still cross-fitting 2-3x per week (heavily modified and scaled down) plus swimming 4x/week! At 31 weeks I get my heart rate to 140 bpm by climbing the stairs at home!!

Michelle
3 years 11 months ago

Thanks for at least posting about the benefits of exercises during pregnancy, and I absolutely love the comments from women who have exercised throughout their term. I prepare nutrition and exercise plans for competitive body-building athletes before-during and after pregnancy, as well as teach bikram students who are pregnant, and I too have witnessed very healthy, short-labor pregnancies with quick recoveries and full-weight babies from my clients. It is inspiring to see and definitely women can exercise quite seriously, especially if they are already fit.

TF
TF
7 months 4 days ago

I know this post was written by “worker bee” but it’s really odd (and probably confusing for newer readers) to see information in these older articles conflicting with newer ones. Added arch support? My first pregnancy I made the switch to complete barefoot and didn’t have any issues, and my feet have gotten stronger and toes wider since then. I can’t imagine wearing raised arch shoes (or any shoes at all for that matter) during pregnancy, or any other time of life actually.

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