It used to be that pregnancy offered a good reason to sit down and put your feet up. But times have changed for pregnant women in good health.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that healthy pregnant women get at least 2 1/2 hours of aerobic exercise every week. This means that most pregnant women should try to get 30 minutes of aerobic exercise on most, if not all, days.
Examples of aerobic exercise are walking, swimming and dancing.
In the short term, exercise helps all of us feel better physically and emotionally, and the calories burned help prevent excessive weight gain. People who exercise regularly develop stronger muscles, bones and joints. And over time, the benefits of regular exercise are even more impressive: lower risk of premature death, heart disease and other serious illnesses.
For pregnant women, exercise has added benefits. It can help prevent gestational diabetes
, a form of diabetes that sometimes develops during pregnancy. For women who already have gestational diabetes, regular exercise and eating healthy foods
can help control the disease.
Exercise can relieve stress and build the stamina needed for labor and delivery. It can also help women cope during the postpartum period. Exercise can help new mothers keep "baby blues
" at bay, regain their energy and lose the weight they gained during pregnancy.
Before you go out and run a marathon, talk with your health care provider. Not all pregnant women should exercise, especially if they are at risk of preterm labor
or suffer from a serious ailment, such as heart or lung disease. So check with your health care provider before you start an exercise program.
Next, decide what type of exercise you will do. Pick things you think you will enjoy. You may want to try several things. For example, brisk walking for 30 minutes or more is an excellent way to get the aerobic benefits of exercise, and you don't need to join a health club or buy any special equipment. You could also run, hike or dance, if you like. Swimming is another sport that is especially good for pregnant women. The water supports the weight of your growing body and provides resistance that helps bring your heart rate up. You can also look around for aerobics and yoga classes designed for pregnant women. You may find that a variety of activities helps keep you motivated to continue exercising throughout your pregnancy—and beyond.
Be careful when choosing a sport. Avoid any activities that put you at high risk for injury, such as horseback riding or downhill skiing. Stay away from sports in which you could get hit in the belly, such as ice hockey, kickboxing or soccer. Especially after the third month, avoid exercises that require you to lie flat on your back. Lying on your back can restrict the flow of blood to the uterus and endanger your baby. Finally, never scuba dive. This sport may lead to dangerous gas bubbles in the baby's circulatory system.
When you exercise, pay attention to your body and how you feel. Don't overdo it—try to build up your level of fitness gradually. If you have any serious problems, such as vaginal bleeding, dizziness, headaches, chest pain, decreased fetal movement or contractions, stop exercising and contact your health care provider immediately.
With a little bit of caution, you can achieve or maintain a level of fitness that would shock your grandmother. You'll feel and look better. And yes, you can still put your feet up—after you've come back from your walk.