All types of women become pregnant, those who have a regular exercise routine, or those who exercise sporadically or not at all. There are also women who have jobs that require a lot of physical activity. That means pregnant women have all types of questions about what kinds of physical activities they engage in.
Jade Elliott spoke with Martie Nightingale, a certified nurse midwife with Intermountain Healthcare, who is also a plant-based endurance athlete and certified yoga instructor, to help answer your questions about exercise during pregnancy.
Why is it helpful to exercise during pregnancy?
Pregnant bodies, just like regular bodies, benefit from movement. And unless your provider has told you not to exercise, it’s healthy to engage in physical activity or movement. If you’re pregnant and new to exercise, find something you enjoy and start slowly. Just walking or simple stretching, like yoga, has tremendous benefits. Exercise shouldn’t create stress, but rather reduce it. The types of exercises most recommended by experts during pregnancy includes walking, swimming, riding a stationary bike and prenatal yoga.
Ideally, pregnant women should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week like brisk walking, with an hour daily being ideal.
Benefits of exercise during pregnancy include reduced back pain, decreased constipation, reduction in excessive maternal weight gain, postpartum weight loss, improved overall fitness, decreased risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, deep vein thrombosis, varicose veins, postpartum depression and anxiety and possible reduction in risk of cesarean delivery. The pregnant body changes quickly over nine months and can place strain on a woman’s self-image. Exercise has been shown to improve mood and self-image, while also assisting to reduce stress.
Research shows women who do exercise during pregnancy typically continue to exercise afterward, so it’s a good habit to form.
How might women need to modify their exercise when they’re pregnant??
Few activities are restricted during pregnancy, but you’ll want to be cautious about participating in contact sports or extreme activities like skydiving, scuba diving or any which increases risk of falls like mountain biking, downhill skiing or horseback riding, especially as pregnancy progresses and balance may become compromised. In general, overly vigorous activity in the third trimester, activities that have a high potential for contact, and activities with a high risk of falling should be avoided.
Some yoga positions are not advisable during pregnancy, so do check with the instructor so they can assist with modifications. After 20 weeks, avoid lying on your back to exercise or standing in one position for long periods.
You can do some crunches, but use caution with abdominal exercises, particularly later in pregnancy and immediately after childbirth as this can cause separation of the abdominal muscles or diastasis recti. Immediately after childbirth, there are some abdominal exercises which are helpful to begin right away. These focus on your breath to help bring in the muscles and strengthen them. Talk to your provider for specific cautions and exercises to avoid.
Any recommendations for target heart rates during pregnancy?
Target heart rate is not used to assess exertion due to wide variation in individual heart rate responses during pregnancy, instead ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) should be used to assess intensity instead of traditional heart rate–based methods.
Where can women go for more information?
- American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists (ACOG)
- American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists (ACOG): Exercise During Pregnancy
- National Academy of Sports Medicine: Exercises to prevent diastasis recti
The Baby Your Baby program provides many resources for all pregnant women and new moms in Utah. There is also expert advice from the Utah Department of Health and Intermountain Healthcare that air each week on KUTV 2News.