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What exercise is safe during pregnancy?

Asked by Sara, Boston

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What kinds of exercises are safest to do while pregnant? How much is too much, especially early in the pregnancy vs. later on?

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Diet and Fitness Expert Dr. Melina Jampolis Physician Nutrition Specialist

Expert answer

Hi, Sara. Since I'm currently seven months pregnant, this question is of particular interest to me. In the old days, exercise was not necessarily encouraged in pregnant women, but the most recent guidelines released by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend getting at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week.

Exercise can not only help prevent excess pregnancy weight gain, it may help prevent gestational diabetes. Being more fit may also make labor and recovery a bit easier. In addition, it can help with the aches and pains of pregnancy and even to some extent with the insomnia. (I have not found that to be the case!) It is essential that you check with your doctor before starting an exercise program to make sure that you do not have any conditions in which exercise could negatively affect your pregnancy.

If you have been exercising regularly, it is fine to continue almost all types of activity except contact sports and sports in which you may fall, such as skiing or cycling, if you are not a well-trained athlete. In addition, don't overdo it. You should work out at a more moderate level to avoid getting too out of breath or dizzy and avoid lifting heavy weights, which can impair blood flow.

In the first trimester, your energy will most likely be at a low point, so do whatever you can. I found that breaking up walks into smaller increments of 10 to 15 minutes made them more manageable. The second trimester will probably be the most enjoyable to exercise, but you may find that the weight gain slows you down somewhat. During the third trimester, you might want to break exercise down into smaller increments again or focus on non-weight-bearing exercises like swimming or riding a stationary bike.

Many women find that prenatal yoga and Pilates are especially beneficial during pregnancy for both stretching and conditioning, which will be important during labor.

Finally, make sure that you drink plenty of water and eat enough to make up for the calories you burn during exercise. If you go for a 30-minute walk, you are probably burning only about 150 to 200 calories, so don't overdo it. I find that many women eat a bit too much during pregnancy, which leads to excessive weight gain that may cause labor problems as well as health problems with both your and your baby.

For more information on exercising during pregnancy, visit this page from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

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