Topics in Women’s Health — Maintaining Fitness During Pregnancy

Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy

There are many benefits to maintaining a safe exercise routine during pregnancy.  These include lower risk for gestational diabetes, less weight gain, improved muscle tone and lower risk of varicose veins. Decreased low back pain, improved self-esteem, and better sleep are also benefits.  Moreover, exercise also improves improve labor & delivery. It shortens the second stage of labor. This therefore decreases risk of C-sections, lowers amounts of inductions and decreases episiotomies. In addition, it also decreases use of anesthesia, and decreases the risk for preterm delivery.

Fitness and Pregnancy: Is it Safe?

Many women are often afraid of exercise during pregnancy. They fear it may cause harm to their baby. Although this is a common concern, if exercise is done correctly it can enhance the pregnancy. Both the mother and the fetus will reap the benefits of exercise. Adverse pregnancy and neonatal outcomes are not increased in women who exercise. In fact, a woman can  maintain her fitness throughout her pregnancy and into postpartum if she continues to exercise as symptoms permit.  Two studies by Clapp (1991) and Lotgering (1991), women had no change in their absolute VO2 max (a fitness measure) during each trimester and into the postpartum. In order to exercise safely, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends the following guidelines for aerobic exercise during pregnancy.

Safe Exercise Guidelines

  • Exercise should be at 65-85% of maximum predicted heart rate
  • Exercise should occur at least 3x/week for no more than 45 minutes
  • Avoid lying on your back, especially after the first trimester
  • Stay hydrated and cool (body temps should not exceed 101.66°F)
  • Avoid any exercise with potential for contact with another object/person or loss of balance. This minimizes risk for abdominal trauma.

Other exercises should include upper and lower body resistance training specific to a pregnant woman’s needs regarding change in center of gravity, muscle strength, and joint laxity. STOP exercise immediately if ANY of the following signs or symptoms are present:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Shortness of breath prior to exertion
  • Dizziness
  •  Headache
  • Chest Pain
  • Muscle weakness not consistent with exercise intensity
  • Calf pain or swelling
  • Abdominal pain, cramping or contractions before due date
  • Decreased fetal movements
  • Vaginal leakage of clear fluid

If you are pregnant and would like to know what exercises are right for you, call and set up an appointment with Amanda Fehrer, pregnancy specialized physical therapist, at (406) 388-4988.  You will receive a treadmill walking test that will determine your fitness level and a personalized upper body and lower body exercise program specific to your needs, including a gym visit if needed.