In the first trimester of pregnancy, when the fatigue can be
overwhelming and the nausea even worse, exercise might be the last
thing on your mind. It shouldn't be.
Being fit does more than minimize weight gain. It can make labor
and delivery easier and more comfortable, build bone and muscle,
lift your mood, boost your energy level, reduce backaches,
constipation, bloating and swelling, and even minimize stretch
"It's very important to stay physically active during
pregnancy," says Melody Bruce, an obstetrician-gynecologist with
OB/GYN Health Center Associates in Troy, N.Y. and medical director for
Northeast Women's Health Services.
Pregnant women, though, should always consult with their doctor or midwife about the level of exercise appropriate for them, Bruce stresses.
She estimates that 20 to 30 percent more pregnant women are
working out today than were five years ago. One of the reasons, she
says, is the availability of classes for yoga and Pilates, an
exercise method that strengthens and lengthens muscles.
"The benefits are endless, and an active pregnant women is likely to feel
much better mentally and physically," Bruce says.
It helped Jean Dempsey, 31, get through her most recent pregnancy. She ran on a treadmill five days a week until her seventh month. Then she walked.
"I was more energized," Dempsey says. "It felt better knowing
I was actually doing something and not a slug sitting on the coach
Like anyone else, there were days she was less motivated,
especially during the first month.
"Sometimes I was just so tired and didn't want to move, but
always felt so much livelier afterward," says the resident of
Niskayuna, near Albany. That energy is still with her seven weeks
after giving birth to her second child.
Thinking on exercise during pregnancy has evolved over the past
two decades, Bruce says.
"Twenty years ago, women limited their activities, especially
in the first trimester," Bruce says.
The misconception that exercise could cause bleeding or miscarriage kept pregnant women idle. But as physicians, and the public, learned more, they realized most exercise, aside from anything high-contact or high-impact, is safe, even valuable.
Marathon running and rugby are out of the question, of course,
but swimming, jogging and yoga are ideal, Bruce says. And Pilates
has become increasingly popular with pregnant women in the last few
years, says Sally Jones, site director with
Women who worked out regularly prior to pregnancy can generally
stick to their routine, as long as they don't overdo it, experts
say. Those trying exercise for the first time should stick to
basic, low-impact activities. Start with a walk.
"It's fabulous for everyone," Jones says. "It's low-impact,
you can do it with friends, it's free and it allows you to go at
your own pace."
Calisthenics, light weight training (nothing heavier than 10
pounds) and various back and pelvic exercises are especially
important for core stabilization, says Kellie Fox, a physical
therapist with St. Peter's Hospital in Albany.
Pregnant women often experience back pain. Strengthening the lower back muscles with sit-ups (first trimester only) or stretches (often done with a
medicine ball for support) can improve posture and ease the lower-back discomfort during pregnancy and delivery.
But sit-ups and other exercises requiring you to be flat on your
back, should be avoided during the third trimester, Fox says.
"The weight of your growing baby and your uterus might impede
blood flow to your heart, leading to dizziness and possibly
fainting," says Ann Douglas, the author of The Mother of All
Throughout the pregnancy, Fox also recommends Kegel exercises --
contracting and releasing the vaginal muscles -- to prevent
Most exercises, she says, help prevent constipation by
increasing movement in intestines.
Yoga teaches proper breathing techniques (useful during labor)
and is great for strengthening, often helping to improve muscle
tone, Fox says.
All exercises, though, should be done with some level of
Hormonal changes make bones and joints more susceptible to
injury, so moderation is important, Fox says.
"Your breathing should feel comfortable enough that you can
still carry on a conversation while working out," Jones says.
Many of the signs that you should stop exercising are similar to
the indications for those who aren't pregnant.
"If you start to feel dizzy, have a shortness of breath or have
any pain, you should stop immediately," Jones says. If vaginal
bleeding or any kind of discharge occurs, women should not only
stop, but notify their physician.
And keep the water bottle handy. Hydration before, during and
after exercise is essential.
Pregnant women should wear comfortable sneakers and a
"Breasts get bigger and heavier during pregnancy," Douglas says. "If the bra you're wearing doesn't provide enough support, you could overstretch and permanently damage the ligaments that support your breasts."