Exercising During Pregnancy: What’s Safe for You and Baby?

by Baylor Scott & White Staff on August 21, 2012

in Pregnancy

pregnant woman stretchingCompeting in the Olympics is hard enough. Try doing it when you’re eight months pregnant. Most women have trouble functioning normally in their third trimester, let alone participating in strenuous exercise.

That’s exactly what one woman from Malaysian did in the 2012 Summer Olympics, despite catching serious flak for her decision.

While I was lucky to make it out of bed in the morning when I was that far along, some women do make exercise a part of their pregnancies.

But how much exercise is too much? How does a pregnant woman maintain her exercise regimen without causing harm to her baby?

Scott & White OB/Gyn Kevin P. Huddleston, MD, offers some guidelines for keeping your body in shape during pregnancy.

Maintain What You’re Doing

“If the patient is already participating in a routine exercise regimen, then she can continue that regimen as long as she’s comfortable doing that,” Dr. Huddleston said.

Women whose bodies are already used to exercise—even strenuous exercise—are less likely to do any physical harm to themselves or their babies.

But if you’ve never really been very active, the OB/Gyn said choosing to begin a high-impact exercise routine while you’re pregnant is not the best option.

“I do encourage my patients who haven’t been as active to start walking,” he said. “They can increase the intensity as they feel comfortable. But pregnancy is not the time to start training for a 5K.”

Keep Your Heart Rate Below 140

There has been some talk among obstetric professionals that suggests that keeping your heart rate below 140 while exercising is best for your baby.

“This is a practical guideline, which isn’t really based on any scientific evidence,” Dr. Huddleston said. “But I would recommend patients monitoring their heart beat and trying not to go over 140.”

If you’re gasping for breath, or if you can’t have a conversation to the person next to you while exercising, then you’re heart rate is probably too fast and you should lower your intensity.

Listen to Your Body

“When patients come to me and ask if they can exercise, I always say, that’s fine, but you need to be aware of your comfort level,” he said.

If you’re experiencing any pain while exercising, that might be your body telling you to slow down.

Here are some more signs that you might be overdoing it.

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Dizziness or feeling faint
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Muscle Weakness
  • Calf pain or swelling
  • Contractions
  • Decreased fetal movement
  • Fluid leaking from the vagina

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends stopping your workout immediately and calling your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.

Seek Out Low-Impact Exercise

“Women should seek out low-impact, high-yield exercise while they are pregnant,” Dr. Huddleston said. “I encourage all of my patients who want to exercise to take up a walking regimen because it gives them energy and lowers their risk of getting gestational diabetes.”

Swimming, using exercise equipment like stair climbers or elliptical machines or aerobics can all give you the workout you want without taking a toll on you or your baby.

“My biggest advice is, don’t try to become an athlete just because you’re pregnant,” he said. “Continue any exercise regimen you’re doing, as long as you’re not overdoing it, and don’t do anything jolting.”

For more information on exercising safely during pregnancy, talk to your OB/Gyn or visit the ACOG’s site.

What did you do to stay in shape during your pregnancy? What types of exercise worked best for you?

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