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Staying active in pregnancy

Posted by Dr. M. Illingworth on Apr 27 2013
What's New >> Dr. Illingworth

I am a big proponent of staying active while pregnant, as all of my pregnant patients know.  The benefits to mom and baby are irrefutable.  Mom will usually experience better energy, less risk of getational diabetes, and an easier time losing the pregnancy weight.  Generally, baby will have less risk of getting too big (ie. macrosomic), which can lead to complications in delivery and increased risk of c-sections.  There is even some evidence that the maintenance of a healthy weight in pregnancy can reduce the risk of the baby developing diabetes when he or she is an adult!  Talk about long-term benefits to avoiding the jelly doughnut that's calling out!  

There are a lot of misconceptions about being active in pregnancy, but the experts agree that regular moderate exercise through the entire pregnancy is a good thing.  A few years ago there was a well-publicized story about a woman who completed the Chicago Marathon just days before her due date and went on to start labour a few hours after she finished.  According to the reports, this was a woman who was fit and active before her pregnancy and who undertook her training and running with the guidance (and permission) of her medical professionals.  From the side-lines, she received cheers & encouragement, but also had people tell her that she was "killing her baby!"  Hers is an extreme example - the average woman is not going to be marathon-fit at 39 weeks gestation, but if woman exercises within the limits and guidelines recommended by her doctor, then even a marathon can be safe for mom and baby.

 I dreamed of running through my entire pregnancy, but my body only allowed me to go to about 24 weeks.  But there are still lots of options out there, and I'm actually starting to enjoy swimming!  For me its not just about the health benefits, but it also feels good to keep active.  Also, I figure since I am preaching to my patients about exercising, I should probably "walk the talk"!  (although these days I am actually "swimming the talk!") 

A woman who is active before her pregnancy can usually just continue at her same level of activity.  For a woman who is not active, its never too late to start!  If you are not active at all, start slowly - try 15 mins of mild-moderate activity 3x per week, and gradually increase your time.  

In early pregnancy it is common to feel tired or nauseated.  Always listen to your body - this is true and any stage in pregnancy.  If you feel excessively tired, you should reduce the intensity of your activities.  Most women find they can increase their activities again in the 2nd trimester.

Your body will undergo many many changes in pregnacy - some obvious and some not - and these will influence your activity.  After 4 months (16 weeks), it is not recommended that you exercise lying on your back.  Also after this time, the uterus is starting to come up out of the bony protection of the pelvis, so it would be at higher risk for injury if you were to be struck in the abdomen.  It is also common to notice a slight shift in your center of balance, so be cautious with activities that require balance.  Finally, in pregnancy the body produces an hormone called "relaxin" which causes ligaments to become loose and stretchy; some women experience joint pain and instability as a result.

Below is a list of symptoms that are absolutely not OK when exercising in pregnancy.  If you experience any of these, stop what you are doing and seek attention from your doctor or midwife:

  • Excessive fatigue or shortness of breath

  • Dizziness

  • Vaginal bleeding

  • Rupture of membranes 

  • Pelvic or low back pain or cramping

  • Persistent contractions

  • Palpitations, chest pain

Make sure to keep well-hydrated when you are active.  You will also find that you need to increase your caloric intake to account for this increase in activity - remember, you are exercising for two!!  A pregnant woman should NEVER exercise to lose weight.

Please keep in mind that these represent guidelines only.  If you have had any complications in your pregnancy, please speak to your care provider about recommended activities.  There is also lots of great info on the SOGC website: www.sogc.org

Myself, I love running and had hoped to run the whole way through my pregnancy.  Unfortunately, my body was not able to adapt to the running as I got bigger in the belly.  Luckily I discovered the joy of swimming while pregnany - not only do I feel weightless in the pool, but it is so gentle on the joints.  Whether you like walking, hiking, yoga, swimming, spinning or aqua-fit, you are bound to find something that stikes your fancy!  Good luck!








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