Why exercise through pregnancy
The ideal amount of weight to gain during pregnancy varies from person to person. However, the recommended range for a woman of normal weight is 25 to 35 pounds, which takes into account the weight of the baby, the placenta, the amniotic fluid, and increased breast size.
Any weight gained in excess of 35 pounds is probably just extra fat weight which you'll need to deal with after the baby is born. By exercising throughout your pregnancy, you'll be better able to control your weight gain, making it easier to fit into your regular clothing once baby arrives.
Staying fit throughout your pregnancy has many advantages. First of all, you'll feel better. The endorphins that your body produces during exercise make you feel happy. Regular exercise will give you energy during the day and help you sleep better at night. Further, when you exercise, you regain a sense of control over your expanding body, which is a huge psychological boost.
A second reason for staying fit is that you'll be better prepared for labor. The process of giving birth is physically grueling. It requires stamina and strength. By participating in a prenatal exercise program, you can get your body ready for Labor Day. You'll build up your cardiovascular endurance and strengthen the muscles you'll use during labor, such as your pelvic floor and quadriceps. You wouldn't think of showing up to run a marathon without having trained for it; the same should go for labor.
Staying fit will also help you to regain your pre-pregnancy body more quickly. Studies have shown that women who continued to exercise vigorously throughout pregnancy gained less fat weight than women who did not. Also, these women had babies on the smaller end of the healthy range which made for a quicker recovery. The sooner you feel better post-partum, the sooner you can return to your exercise program to tone up the muscles stretched beyond recognition by your pregnancy.
What's safe and where to begin
So, what type of exercise is safe during pregnancy? If you were exercising regularly before becoming pregnant, then you can continue your program with few modifications. However, if you are new to exercise, you need to start slowly, building your intensity as you become stronger.
A good place to start is with walking. Weather permitting, take your walks outdoors so that you get the added advantage of fresh air and sunshine. Start slowly by walking at a moderate to brisk pace (3 to 3-1/2 miles per hour) for 20 to 30 minutes at least three days a week. As your body is able, increase your speed and endurance, making sure to warm up and cool down for at least five minutes before and after each walk. Also, include five minutes of gentle stretching after your workouts to avoid muscle tightness and soreness the next day.
With any type of exercise during pregnancy, there are some ground rules that you need to follow. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) issued a set of guidelines in 1994 for pregnant women who want to stay in shape. (These guidelines were updated in 2002.)
ACOG says that regular exercise (at least three times per week) is better than working out less often. You should avoid exercise in the supine (back-lying) position after the first trimester so that blood flow is not diverted away from your baby. Be aware of your decreased oxygen availability: pay close attention to your body's signals and stop exercising when you become fatigued. Also, be aware of your changing center of gravity and decreased sense of balance. Avoid exercises that require sudden changes of direction and that involve risk of abdominal injury such as downhill skiing or contact sports. Remember that pregnancy requires an additional 300 calories per day in order to grow a healthy baby; be sure to increase your calorie intake accordingly to compensate for calories burned during exercise.
Finally, ACOG reminds us that many of the physical changes that take place during pregnancy remain for 4-6 weeks postpartum, so pre-pregnancy exercise routines should be resumed gradually.
By following the ACOG guidelines, you should be able to find a safe way to stay in shape during your pregnancy.
Whatever form of exercise you choose, just make sure to listen to your body, drink plenty of water, and, most importantly, have fun!