Experts agree: being physically active helps pregnant women feel energized, keep weight gain within the target range, and ward off a host of common complaints, from insomnia to backache. What's more, regular exercise helps to prepare the body for the rigors of labor. Studies have shown that physically fit moms-to-be experience faster labors and require fewer inductions, fewer forceps deliveries, and fewer cesarean deliveries than their coach potato counterparts.
Yet despite the benefits of prenatal exercise, it's still essential to proceed with caution. If you're expecting, keep these important points in mind when planning a personal fitness program:
Stick with safe workouts. Walking, swimming, stationary cycling, and low-impact aerobics are the best bets for pregnant women.
Avoid maneuvers that make you susceptible to joint and ligament injuries -- including deep knee bends, full sit-ups, double-leg raises, and straight-leg raises.
Avoid activities that could result in abdominal trauma. That means all contact and adventure sports, as well as high-impact exercise such as running and jogging.
Continue your strength training program, in moderation. Avoid exercising in a semi-reclined position-it can decrease the vital oxygen available to your unborn baby.
Consume plenty of liquids-before, during, and after exercise. Don't allow your heart rate to climb too high or your body to become overheated.
Wear a supportive bra to protect your bigger and heavier breasts. The ligaments supporting breast tissue can be permanently damaged if they become overstretched.
Expect to tire more easily. Pay attention to your body. If you start feeling winded or shaky, or if you experience vaginal bleeding or contractions, stop exercising immediately.
Get comfortable with four key exercises to prepare your body for giving birth: squatting, pelvic tilting and rocking, abdominal curl-ups, pelvic floor exercises.
Don't overdo things during the last trimester. Your unborn baby's demands for nutrition and oxygen are highest during this period.