Pregnancy and Exercise

During pregnancy, it is important for women to maintain optimum health whenever possible, concentrating on eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly. Apart from the benefits the mother enjoys from a healthy lifestyle, there is evidence of health benefits to the child as well.

On strict instructions from some pregnant friends of mine, I used my resources in the gynecology department of the medical center I work in to interview some of the doctors in the field of obstetrics to determine just how much exercise, and what types are okay for women to engage in during pregnancy, and which types are contraindicated.

Essentially, a woman who is already in strong physical condition and engages in a regular exercise routine should be able to continue that routine with some modifications where necessary. Continuing exercise regimes that address strength training, flexibility, and cardiovascular health will keep the mother and fetus strong and healthy, and can also provide some very attractive benefits during delivery, including an decrease of time spent in labor (fit women are more adaptable to the rigors of labor), better tolerance to pain, and a decrease in likelihood of requiring Cesarean section (due to the shortened labor and the strength of the mother).

Although all pregnant women (particularly during their first pregnancy) should be sure to consult their health care provider before beginning or continuing with their exercise regime, it is generally accepted by most physicians that exercise in healthy amounts will provide benefit to both mother and child. Some examples of exercise that is healthy for most pregnant women include running, jogging on the elliptical, and using the stationary bicycle while still comfortable enough in the abdominal area, walking throughout the entire pregnancy, weight training (be sure to check with your doctor or with a certified physical trainer to develop a healthy routine that will strengthen but not put too much strain on the abdominal area and muscles of the back), stretching, yoga (it is important to discuss your condition with your yoga instructor to make sure you make the proper modifications of position and breathing when appropriate) and swimming are all excellent forms of exercise that are okay to engage in during pregnancy.

So, what to avoid? Pregnant women, of course, will want to be very conscious about avoiding activities that present a greater likelihood of falling. Ice skating and roller skating, skiing (both snow and water) and snow boarding, rock climbing, gymnastics, and any other form of exercise where falling could be an issue, are contraindicated in pregnant women. Similarly, excessive jerking and jostling of the body are best avoided. This excludes mountain bike riding, horseback riding, or any form of extreme sport.

There will certainly be other sports and athletic activities to avoid that are missing from this list, and a certain amount of common sense must apply. If you are unsure if a sport is contraindicated during your pregnancy, check with your doctor before engaging in it. After all, a healthy mother and child are the optimal result of living a healthy lifestyle with lots of exercise. A mother and child at risk of injury are not.

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