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Make exercise a priority during pregnancy

Elisa Wright, MD

You’re pregnant. Congratulations!

Besides the nausea and fatigue, you probably have many questions: “What should I eat? What shouldn’t I eat? What vitamins or supplements should I take? Which doctor should I see?”

So many questions.

At The Mother Baby Center, we would like to help answer one of these important questions. Given how you feel right now, exercise probably isn’t high on your list of concerns, but it should be. With the benefits of exercise before and during pregnancy, physical activity should be a priority.

Some women already may have a good exercise routine, and the good news is that most of them will be able to continue it throughout pregnancy, with a few modifications. For couch potatoes, the good news is that pregnancy is a good time to initiate a routine.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists guidelines suggest that in the absence of obstetrical or medical complications or contraindications, physical activity during pregnancy is safe and desirable. The changes to the body during pregnancy may interfere with the ability to engage safely in some forms of physical activity. These would include contact sports or those with a high risk of injury such as ice hockey, soccer or basketball. Other high-risk activities include ones with a risk of falling, such as gymnastics, skiing or horseback riding. Scuba diving isn’t advised during any part of pregnancy.

Women who are physically active during pregnancy tend to gain less weight, have smaller babies and tolerate labor better with a shorter second stage. Although regular exercise has shown clear advantages for all women, it may offer additional advantages for women with gestational diabetes, and may help to prevent it. For those who may be starting pregnancy with more weight than they’d like, physical activity may help prevent other complications such as preeclampsia and excessive weight gain.

There are some contraindications for exercise. Any preexisting medical problem such as severe anemia, heart disease or orthopedic problems may limit a woman’s ability to exercise. Certain pregnancy complications may be a contraindication to aerobic exercise during pregnancy. Examples of these would include incompetent cervix, multiple gestation at risk for preterm labor, persistent bleeding or ruptured membranes. Be sure to discuss any concerns you may have regarding your own pregnancy with a doctor.

For the majority of pregnant women, regular exercise and participation in a variety of activities is not only safe but encouraged. For those not already involved in an activity, walking, swimming or riding a stationary bike are good choices. At least 30 minutes of aerobic activity a day for five or more days a week is the goal. Let’s get moving toward a healthy pregnancy.

Elisa Wright, MD, is an OB/GYN at Diamond Women’s Center in Edina, Minn., and a proud provider at The Mother Baby Center.