Prenatal exercise is mild to moderate exercise done during pregnancy to increase muscle tone, improve flexibility, and increase positive self-image.
Exercise during pregnancy can be beneficial for both the mother and the developing child. Mild to moderate exercise can reduce some of the negative side effects of pregnancy, and it also is believed to help prevent some serious complications that can occur during pregnancy. To obtain the most benefits from exercise during pregnancy with the fewest risks of complications, the exercise should be low impact and only mild to moderate in intensity. High-intensity workouts can lead to serious negative consequences for both the mother and developing child.
A 2004 study involving interviews of 1,979 expectant women found that 65.5% reported engaging in leisure-time physical activity during pregnancy. Walking was the most common form of exercise, followed by swimming, weightlifting, gardening, and aerobics. Prenatal exercise was more prevalent among those with higher education, younger ages, and good to excellent health.
As of 2016, no definitive statistics were available as to how many pregnant women in North America have tried or presently practice prenatal exercise.
Light strength training, some forms of yoga, lowimpact aerobics, and cycling on a stationary bike also are common forms of prenatal exercise. Exercising should be done wearing loose clothing and performed on an even surface where the risk of falling is reduced. Taking frequent breaks, resting, and stretching all help the expectant mother get the most from prenatal exercise while reducing risks. Footwear that supports the arches of the feet helps reduce the strain on the lower back and can improve balance.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology has recommended that pregnant women exercise 30 or more minutes per day on most days, as long as they have no conditions that could make such activity especially risky. Exercise during pregnancy historically has been found to reduce backaches, improve sleep, and decrease stress. It can also improve circulation, resulting in fewer leg cramps and less swelling of ankles, and aid in preventing constipation and bloating. Some research has indicated that exercise during pregnancy reduces the risk of diabetes and high-blood pressure caused by pregnancy.
Some women choose to consult personal trainers prior to embarking on prenatal exercise, in part because working with a trainer or other certified professional can help ensure that the exercise routine is changed to continue to ensure safety as the pregnancy progresses. Personal trainers and other fitness professionals are certified by organizations such as the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America.
Drinking plenty of fluids before exercising can help to ensure adequate hydration. Stretching for at least five minutes before beginning a workout may reduce the risk of injury. After completing a workout, another period of at least five minutes of stretching is recommended. Drinking additional fluids helps to replace those lost during exercise. It is especially important for pregnant women to cool down gradually from exercise.
If a pregnant woman chooses to exercise with a trained professional, she should ask what type of certifications he or she holds. Additionally, the exercise professional should have received special training in the exercise needs of pregnant women. Before beginning an exercise class, a pregnant woman should check to ensure that the activity is appropriate for her. Classes specifically designed for pregnant women are often available at local gyms or community centers. Classes designed for individuals who are not pregnant may be too strenuous, require too much bouncing, or involve nonrecommended postures.
The main risks associated with exercising while pregnant are exercising too strenuously and falling. The latter often occurs because the center of gravity is changed as pregnancy progresses.
Women who are pregnant should not exercise strenuously. In general, the woman's heart rate should not exceed 140 beats per minute, she should not sweat excessively, and breathing should not be difficult. She should still be able to talk normally while exercising.
Some exercises are not recommended for pregnant women. Contact sports, aerobics requiring bouncing, and any activity that may cause trauma or contact with the abdomen should be avoided. It is best to avoid sports that may involve risks, such as skiing or horseback riding. Exercising in hot weather or in a warm pool is not recommended because increased body temperature can have a negative impact on the baby. Women further along in pregnancy should not do exercises that require lying on their backs, as this can decrease the amount of blood flowing to the developing baby. Exercises that put strain on the lower back, such as some types of weightlifting, should also be avoided.
As the pregnancy progresses, weight gain and a shifting center of gravity, along with loosening joints, make balancing more difficult. Therefore, exercises toward the end of pregnancy should be structured to reduce the risk of falling, tripping, and injury. Exercise routines should be reviewed and revised periodically throughout the pregnancy.
Many beneficial results are associated with exercising during pregnancy. First and foremost, it can help expectant mothers feel better, while reducing some of the stress that goes along with pregnancy. Exercising also can reduce the occurrence of some of the negative side effects of pregnancy, such as sore back, constipation, and difficulty sleeping.
Exercising during pregnancy also can help reduce unwanted fat storage. Although it is healthy and usual to gain weight during pregnancy, exercise can lower the amount of excess fat accumulated during this time. Exercise can also maintain muscle tone at prepregnancy levels for many women. Exercising during pregnancy may make delivering the baby easier due to increased muscle strength, improved endurance, and improved breathing techniques.
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American Pregnancy Association, 3007 Skyway Circle N., Ste. 800, Irving, TX, 75038, (972) 550-0140, (800) 672-2296, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.americanpregnancy.org .
National Health and Exercise Science Association, 3701 Flintridge Ct., Brookeville, MD, 20833, (301) 576-0611, (866) 481-5957, Fax: (301) 685-1819, email@example.com, www.nhesa.org .
Tish Davidson, AM
Revised by Laura Jean Cataldo, RN, EdD