Exercise During Pregnancy

My wife is nearly three months pregnant and has been working out consistently for many years. Are there any safe abdominal exercises that she can do both now and later on in her pregnancy?


Peg Plumbo CNM

Peg Plumbo has been a certified nurse-midwife (CNM) since 1976. She has assisted at over 1,000 births and currently teaches in the... Read more

Exercise in pregnancy has been both under-studied and discussed by many so-called "experts" who know little of which they speak. It is so easy for a clinician to say, "No, don't do that".

Exercise may reduce the rate of weight and fat gain during pregnancy, especially during the third trimester. According to a recent study, common discomforts such as nausea, heartburn, leg cramps, insomnia, edema, hemorrhoids and round ligament pain (side aches) can be reduced by maternal exercise. And women who began an exercise program during pregnancy, felt better in successive trimesters. In addition, women get a "psychological lift."

From the fetal perspective, there are risks if maternal temperature becomes too high or if the mother is expending so much energy that the baby does not get essential blood flow. Studies have shown, however, that birth weight, preterm delivery, incidence of cesarean births, complications of labor and delivery and fetal problems at the time of birth are unrelated to maternal exercise during pregnancy.

Guidelines published by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists include:

1. Regular, mild to moderate exercise, three times per week is preferable to an irregular schedule.

2. After the first trimester, avoid exercise in which the mother is lying on her back.

3. Exercise capabilities decline in pregnancy, so it is important to listen to your body.

4. Choose exercises which do not require great balance because coordination and center of gravity are changed.

5. Avoid exercise with risk of even mild abdominal trauma (pole vaulting is out).

6. Maintain adequate diet. Pregnancy requires an additional 300 calories per day.

7. Dress appropriately and drink lots of water; do not exercise in the heat of the day or night or if it is very humid.

8. Return to pre-pregnancy routines gradually. It takes four to six weeks to recover and up to 10 to 12 weeks after a cesarean.

If weight gain is not sufficient, it is a good idea to reduce the time or strenuousness of the regimen.

Avoid exercises where falling is likely (horseback riding, skiing, sky diving...).

Stop exercise if any of the following are noted: bleeding, vaginal water loss, redness in calf, heart palpitations, rise in blood pressure, abdominal pain, persistent contractions or sudden swelling in ankles, hands or face.

A great way for expectant mothers to begin exercise is to attend a pregnancy-fitness class at a local health club or YMCA.

A wonderful book that deals specifically with abdominal exercise is: Essential Exercises for the Childbearing Year by Elizabeth Noble.

Best of luck and fitness.

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