Pregnancy is a time for rest and relaxation, right? We’re constantly telling pregnant women to take a load off, kick up their feet, enjoy that extra milkshake! While it’s true that you should respect your body, and sometimes that means extra rest and the occasional indulgence, maintaining an exercise regimen during pregnancy is also important. If you aren’t feeling well, especially during the first trimester, or are struggling with long-term morning sickness (like hyperemesis gravidarum), the thought of exercise might be laughable. But if you’re enjoying a healthy pregnancy, there’s no reason not to hit the gym, take that yoga class, or continue enjoying your active lifestyle.
Of course you should take precautions and steer clear of any exercise that could cause harm to you or your baby. Listening to your body and your own comfort level is usually a great guide. You understand better than anyone your body’s own capabilities and you should be trusted to make your own choices about what feels safe to you (barring any extreme sports). Most health-care providers agree that there are dozens of safe exercises you can perform during a healthy pregnancy. Walking, jogging, swimming, yoga, hiking, or even group fitness classes (perhaps with some modifications during the later stages of pregnancy) are typically deemed safe for most pregnant women.
**If you have questions about exactly what you can do, talk to your care provider about your concerns.
Here are a few of the many benefits of exercise during pregnancy:
Maintain a healthy weight- The old wive’s tale of “eating for two” during pregnancy has long been debunked. Pregnant women don’t need to eat double the calories to support their growing baby (although sometimes, we might feel like it!). Keeping up with your exercise program can be a great way to combat excess weight gain and not worry about every calorie you put into your body at the same time. You should be able to enjoy yourself. After all, you’re pregnant!
Lower the risk of gestational diabetes– Exercise during pregnancy has been known to lower the risk of developing gestational diabetes. This pregnancy condition can sometimes bring added risks like high blood pressure (preeclampsia) and preterm birth. It can also mean giving birth to a larger babies, which sometimes can carry added risks during birth, like shoulder dystocia.
Maintain a healthy blood pressure– Your body is working hard during pregnancy and sometimes blood pressure levels will vary as a result, especially if high blood pressure runs in your family. But a great way to keep your blood pressure in a healthy range is through daily exercise, which is known to have positive effects on BP both during pregnancy and throughout your lifetime.
You may sleep better- Exercise is always a helpful tool towards getting a good night’s sleep. But during pregnancy, when your hormones and blood sugar levels are shifting, and it can be hard to get comfortable at night the bigger your baby grows, sleeplessness is a common complaint. Especially if you are spending a lot of time sitting or resting during the day, sleep might be even harder to come by. So exercise becomes even more crucial in ensuring a good night’s rest, which your body sorely needs!
It’s good for baby, too!- New research is constantly telling us that not only is exercise good for mom, but it’s good for baby, too. Keeping fit during pregnancy has actually been shown to have lasting effects on your baby’s brain development and heart rate, even after birth.
It can strengthen your immune system- It’s well-known that exercise is a great way to keep your immune system strong, not only during pregnancy, but otherwise, too. Even three workouts a week drastically reduces the number of minor colds a person gets each year. That’s likely because exercise promotes antibodies and helps flush bacteria out of the body. So if you want to stay healthy during pregnancy, keep moving.
Helps reduce minor aches and discomforts– Bloating, swelling, back and leg pain are common complaints during pregnancy. But staying active can help reduce some of those irritations by keeping the body limber. While it seems counterintuitive to put more stress on your body through exercise, it actually helps to relieve many aches and pains. Many of those discomforts actually come not from movement, but from being sedentary.
It may help prepare your body for birth- Giving birth has been compared to running a marathon. And why shouldn’t it be? It can last for hours (even days) and your body is working hard during delivery. So it only makes sense that staying strong, fit, and at a healthy weight would help you have an easier birth and empowered birth when you’re feeling strong and powerful. Of course there is no way to guarantee a quick and easy delivery. But some studies have shown links between exercise during pregnancy and shorter births with fewer complications. In short, exercise definitely does a body good, but also, a birth!