In fact, it is now believed that both your baby’s heart and brain can be benefited through prenatal exercise, and it may serve as an earliest intervention to promote heart and brain health for an entire lifetime. Assuming you’re getting regular prenatal care from a qualified practitioner, taking prenatal vitamins, and avoiding harmful substances, exercise can also boost your baby’s chances of being born healthy and with a safer arrival.
How much exercise do you need?
Over the past twenty years, research has increased regarding prenatal exercise and how it affects moms and babies. Research shows that mothers are more likely to avoid excessive weight gain in pregnancy if they exercise for at least 150 minutes per week.
• You can break that down into 30 minute sessions 5 times a week, or a couple of longer sessions 2-3 times a week.
How does exercise help your baby?
• Heart development. From exposure to your exercise, researched benefits to baby include a lower heart rate through adaptation, or the training effect. These differences are still observable at one month of age and indicate actual differences in heart development in babies born to exercising mothers.
• Brain benefits. Newborns of exercising mothers had neurological responses measured through an electroencephalogram (EEG). Those mom’s-to-be who exercised had babies with more mature brain development when compared to newborns from non-exercising mothers.
These health benefits are believed to last throughout the lifespan of your child. Now that’s exciting stuff!
In addition, exercise during pregnancy will lesson your chance of excessive weight gain, which is problematic because it’s linked to higher rates of complications in pregnancy, labor, and birth. Your prenatal care provider can let you know what is a healthy weight gain range for you.
Exercise also decreases the odds of developing preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, cesarean (surgical) birth, and forcep or vacuum-assisted vaginal birth.
What exercises should you do?
So now that you know a little about the why, let’s talk about the what. Try activities like walking, swimming, yoga, use of cardio machines, weight training, classes or videos. This 150 minutes of exercise could be anything, as long as you are feeling good and your prenatal care provider is not restricting you due to any complications.
• If before your pregnancy you were exercising regularly there is no reason to suddenly stop. Keep it up, if say, you are used to running, or doing other types of workouts or classes.
• If you were not a regular exerciser before becoming pregnant initiate it slowly. You don’t have to jump into 150 minutes/week in right away. Start with 10 minutes a day and increase a few minutes per session every week. Some great exercise for beginners are walking, water based exercise, beginning yoga, and resistance or weight training.
NOTE: If during exercise you experience cramping, vaginal bleeding or leaking, or other concerning symptoms, stop exercise and get in touch with your prenatal care provider.
Should you avoid any workouts?
Yes. As for yoga and other group exercise, it’s best to take a class from someone who can give you modifications appropriate to where you are in pregnancy. Supervised exercise from professionals well trained in prenatal exercise can ensure you get a workout that is challenging enough to be beneficial, but safe for you and baby as well.
Now, there’s some exercises that have inherent dangers and are best not done in pregnancy:
• Avoid water or snow skiing, horseback riding, scuba diving, or sports that have a good chance of you falling or being impacted by a ball, object, or other players. Trauma from a fall or impact can risk your pregnancy and baby.
• If you’re over 20 weeks, it’s best not to do any exercise that requires being on your back. Traditional abdominal workouts that use sit-ups or crunches are best avoided after the first trimester as it can aggravate the gap or diastasis that most women develop in the outer abdominal muscles.
• Scuba diving is considered extremely unsafe and should not be an activity engaged in during pregnancy.
How hard should you push yourself?
To get the most benefit with the least amount of risk, exercising at moderate intensity is best. Here’s how: While exercising, you should feel the need to breathe faster than normal, but not so fast that you can’t catch your breath enough to say a few words together. If you are so breathless you can’t say more than one word at a time, decrease intensity and let your heart rate and respiratory rate recover until you feel you can jump back in.
Above all, don’t overthink it. If your prenatal care provider has not restricted your activity out of any concerns, then read the guidelines in this blog and just get started.
NOTE: As a health and fitness professional, I’m aware that not all pregnant women should exercise. Please be sure to involve your prenatal care provider and ensure there are no safety concerns in your particular case. Also, medical problems are possible for some women in spite of being diligent and health conscious.
Interested in trying prenatal yoga? Learn what Intermountain offers:
• McKay-Dee Hospital Prenatal Yoga
• Find classes at your nearest Intermountain facility