When exercising, you must make some concessions to your pregnancy. Because your circulatory and other systems have more work to do when you are pregnant, you may find that you are not able to exercise for as long at one time as you did before you were pregnant. You may also find that you require more time to rest and recover after exercise. You should never exercise to the point of breathlessness. If you are out of of breath, your baby may be low on oxygen. You should always be able to talk as you exercise. If you cannot talk while exercising, slow down and catch your breath.
Overdoing an exercise session can affect the fetus. The negative effects include elevated fetal temperature, changes in the blood flow through the placenta, reduced levels of maternal glucose, and increased uterine contractions. Regular 20- to 30-minute exercise sessions several times per week are safer than one long session per week. Moderate to high levels of sustained maternal exercise have been associated with reduced birth weight. Women who exercise regularly should increase their caloric intake to ensure having a baby of normal birth weight.
Stop exercising and consult your caregiver if you feel pain. You may just have performed an exercise incorrectly, or you may have overdone it a bit. Discontinue exercising if you begin bleeding or cramping. Get your caregiver’s okay before beginning to exercise again. Be careful not to overstretch while doing an exercise or even while doing an everyday activity such as getting out of bed. During pregnancy, the body secretes a hormone that loosens joints and ligaments slightly in preparation for birth. This makes it easier to strain ligaments and muscles. In addition, the center of gravity changes as the baby grows and the uterus enlarges. This increases the risk of sprains, stress fractures, and falls.
Most doctors feel that women can continue the activities they enjoyed before becoming pregnant, even something as strenuous as jogging. The exercises considered to be the best during pregnancy are walking, swimming, water aerobics, low-impact aerobics, stationary cycling, jogging (if it was done prior to the pregnancy), tennis (preferably doubles), golf, and bowling.Avoid scuba diving, water skiing, surfing, downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, snowmobiling, and contact sports. These pose a higher risk of injury for the pregnant woman and her fetus. No matter what kind of exercise you choose to do, begin it slowly, as early in your pregnancy as possible, and gradually increase your stamina.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists supports exercises for women who have been performing it regularly and do not overdo it. In a recent study, brisk walking was the exercise preferred by pregnant women. The researchers found that the exercise group in the study experienced less maternal weight gain, but greater infant birth weight and gestational age. They also experienced shorter labors. The women in the sedentary group complained of more discomforts such as swelling, leg cramps, fatigue, and shortness of breath.
Another benefit of exercising regularly throughout pregnancy is increased secretion of endorphins, natural painkillers produced in the body. These natural opiates give a feeling of well-being during and after exercise. In addition, they cross the placenta and may provide pleasant sensations to the baby. Researchers have found that women who exercise regularly have higher levels of endorphons while exercising than do women who exercise irregularly.