When you’re pregnant after loss, you walk the balance between what helps you be your healthiest while avoiding unnecessary risk. Exercise in pregnancy falls right on that line. Gone are the days of believing that pregnancy equals fragility – however, we recognize that many of you face a high-risk pregnancy, and pushing yourself to be your strongest may not be in your (or your baby’s) best interest.
The only way to know for sure how to toe that line is to ask your doctor what activity level is healthy for you and for this pregnancy. But in case you need some talking points or things to consider, we’ve compiled this advice of why you should (or shouldn’t) exercise, when it’s safe, what to do, and what to avoid.
Benefits of exercise in pregnancy
Before we get into WHAT you can do, let’s chat for a bit about the benefits of staying active during pregnancy. According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), staying active during pregnancy may help reduce the likelihood of some risks like gestational diabetes or preeclampsia. It may improve posture, benefit your vascular system, and relieve some stress“Pregnancy and Exercise,” WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/baby/guide/exercise-during-pregnancy#1. (Pregnant after loss and stressed? Um, yes. We’ll take all the relief we can get.)
Also, staying active can help you stay within recommended weight gain limits, and can give you a boost in losing the baby weight in a healthy way.
When to take caution
There’s a lot that can be gained from staying active while pregnant. But exercise is not recommended for all pregnant women. Before you start or maintain any exercise program while pregnant, it is vital that you discuss with your provider what exercises or activities are approved for you for this pregnancy.
Per ACOG, exercise is not recommended for the following conditions“Exercise During Pregnacy,” FAQ119, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, July 2019, https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Exercise-During-Pregnancy?IsMobileSet=false#changes:
- Some heart or lung conditions.
- Preeclampsia or pregnancy-induced high blood pressure.
- High risk for pre-term labor, including cervical insufficiency, having a cerclage in place, or premature rupture of membranes.
- Multiple pregnancy (twins or more) when there is a high risk of prematurity.
- Severe anemia.
- Placenta previa after week 26.
Your OB or midwife may have other qualifiers on what is safe for you for this pregnancy, so be sure to always check with your provider, and keep the conversation open, especially if a new condition that comes up through your pregnancy.
Generally acceptable activities in pregnancy
Assuming your provider has given you the go-ahead for exercise, here are some generally acceptable activities to try:
- Walking. This is a great option because it doesn’t cost anything, you can do it almost anywhere, you don’t need anything besides supportive shoes, and you can take it at whatever pace works for you. And an added bonus – you can do it with a friend. A win all around.
- Swimming. Water is great for helping relieve the added pressure on your joints. You can still get your heart rate up while also reducing any risk of injury or strain. Be sure to avoid swimming that includes breath-holding. (Focus on exhaling while underwater instead of holding your breath.)
- Stationary cycling. Cycling is also a great option for reducing injury or strain on your joints, while also getting your heart going. Only use a stationary bike. Your growing bump displaces your balance, so a moving bike will increase your risk of injury to you and your baby.
- Modified yoga. We are all about combining deep breathing, mindfulness, and strength training – all of which yoga is perfect for. But with the extra-loose joints (thanks, pregnancy hormones) and off-kilter balance, you’ll need special modifications for pregnancy. Be sure to avoid poses that have you laying on your back or staying still for a long time.
- Strength-training. Pregnancy does not mean you cannot work to get stronger. Modified strength-training is usually acceptable“How to Strength Train During Pregnancy,” K. Aleisha Fetters, MS, CSCS, U.S. News & World Report, August 24, 208, … Continue reading. But opt for low weights and increased reps. Get more tips here on strength-training in pregnancy.
Remember that if you are new to exercise, you’ll want to start off slowly and increase your activity as tolerated. Walking and swimming are the safest activities to start if you were previously a non-exerciser. For those of you who were avid athletes before pregnancy, you are more likely to be able to exercise as you did prior to pregnancy, as long as you have your doctor’s approval and it falls inside the line of approved activities.
ACOG recommends aiming for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity, low-impact aerobic activity a week“Exercise During Pregnacy,” FAQ119, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, July 2019, https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Exercise-During-Pregnancy?IsMobileSet=false#changes. You can break up this amount in whatever way makes the most sense for your body and schedule. Include stretching, warm-up and cool-down in your exercise routine.
What to avoid in exercise during pregnancy
Even if exercising is safe for you – not all activities or practices in exercise are safe. Be sure to avoid the following:
- Standing still for long, which can cause blood pooling and lower your blood pressure.
- Laying on your back after the first trimester, as your uterus can impinge the vein that brings blood back to your heart.
- Getting your heart rate about 140 beats per minute.
- Activity that puts you at an increased risk of falls, such as horseback riding, skiing, surfing, etc.
- Anything that gets you overheated, such as hot yoga.
- High-contact sports, such as football or basketball, which increases your risk of being hit in the abdomen.
- Jarring motions, rapid changes of direction, twisting, or bouncing as these activities can cause minor trauma to your abdomen.
- Deep knee bends, full sit-ups, double leg raises, and straight-leg toe touches“Exercise During Pregnancy,” Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD, WebMD, September 9, 2018, https://www.webmd.com/baby/guide/exercise-during-pregnancy#2.
- Generally risky activities, such as sky-diving.
Warnings to look for that an activity is no longer safe
Even if you’ve been given the green light, and you’re religiously following all the recommendations on healthy exercise in pregnancy, you should be aware when your body is telling you that you need to stop or modify your activity. Stop exercising and talk to your provider if you have the following“Exercise During Pregnancy,” Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD, WebMD, September 9, 2018, https://www.webmd.com/baby/guide/exercise-during-pregnancy#2:
- Chest pain.
- Abdominal pain or contractions.
- Vaginal bleeding or gush or trickle of fluid.
- Feeling off: Faint, clammy, dizzy, nauseated, weak, or cold.
- Irregular or rapid heartbeat.
- Sudden swelling in lower extremities.
- Headache that you can’t relieve with rest or pain meds.
- You cannot catch your breath.
- Having difficulty walking.
Exercise in pregnancy: How to make it safe for you
Exercising in pregnancy definitely has its benefits, as long as it’s safe. The most important part of making exercise in pregnancy safe for you is to begin having conversations with your medical provider in your first trimester, and then revisiting that conversation as your pregnancy progresses and your conditions or risks change. Be mindful of your body and how it is reacting, and err on the side of caution if you aren’t feeling well.
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|↑1||“Pregnancy and Exercise,” WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/baby/guide/exercise-during-pregnancy#1|
|↑2, ↑4||“Exercise During Pregnacy,” FAQ119, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, July 2019, https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Exercise-During-Pregnancy?IsMobileSet=false#changes|
|↑3||“How to Strength Train During Pregnancy,” K. Aleisha Fetters, MS, CSCS, U.S. News & World Report, August 24, 208, https://health.usnews.com/wellness/fitness/articles/2018-08-24/how-to-safely-strength-train-during-pregnancy|
|↑5, ↑6||“Exercise During Pregnancy,” Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD, WebMD, September 9, 2018, https://www.webmd.com/baby/guide/exercise-during-pregnancy#2|