Just because you have a bun in the oven doesn’t mean your daily walks or exercise routine have to cease to exist. In fact, exercise during pregnancy can be beneficial to both you and your baby. There are necessary precautions you’ll need to take, especially as your body continues to grow, but before you cut back on keeping your body fit, consider the benefits of a healthy exercise routine.
Low impact exercise carries little risk of injury for pregnant women, says Dr. Gia Fruscione, doctor of physical therapy and founder of DLVR Maternity. “Low impact exercises benefits your entire body and can be continued until birth,” she says. “Low impact exercise, such as walking, is especially beneficial if you are having joint problems.”
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, pregnant women should participate in 30 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week during pregnancy as long as there are no medical complications.
Exercising during pregnancy can help keep you at an optimal weight, says Fruscione. “Gaining too many pounds puts you at risk for a tougher delivery and gestational diabetes,” she says. “But, gaining too little can affect your baby’s growth.”
For women at a healthy pre-pregnancy weight, the target weight gain is usually 25 to 35 pounds, says Fruscione.
Walk to Wellness
Walking is an excellent form of non-impact exercise, especially for women who have not previously exercised prior to pregnancy, says Birgitta Lauren, pre and postnatal fitness and nutrition specialist and founder of Expecting Fitness, a resource for expectant moms.
“Walking or exercise in general makes your body and all organs more efficient at doing everything, including getting pregnant, staying pregnant and making a healthier baby,” says Lauren. “Exercise improves circulation and therefore blood and oxygen and nutrient flow to the baby, making the baby healthier than if mom didn’t exercise.”
Not only does walking help decrease weight gain by burning calories and keeping the heart healthy, but the act of exercise and moving your body produces proteins that create metabolites, which decrease risks for all diseases, including gestational issues or diabetes, hypertension, preeclampsia and premature delivery, says Lauren.
Debunking the Myths
Many pregnant women fear that exercise or too much walking can cause preterm labor, but according to Lauren, this is just a myth. “It actually prevents preterm labor,” she says. “A healthier mom has a healthier pregnancy and a healthier baby.”
Too much walking, though, can lead to uterine contractions if you have a pre-existing medical condition, says Fruscione. She advises checking with your physician before engaging in exercise if you have an existing medical condition before or during pregnancy. “If this is the case, too much exercise can lead to other complications such as bleeding, dizziness, chest pain, muscle weakness, calf pain and decreased fetal movement,” says Fruscione. “Call your health care provider if you have any of these symptoms.”
Another myth that exists is that walking during pregnancy makes you dilate more. Consistent exercise during pregnancy can help tone and prepare your muscles for labor and makes for an easier birthing process, says Fruscione.
In general, if you are engaging in walking or low-impact exercise, your entire pregnancy process will be much smoother, says Lauren. “Exercise improves the likeliness of ‘on-time’ dilation and a more efficient dilation,” she says.
When in doubt, always consult your physician, but know that the more you move your body, the healthier it may be for your baby. According to a study by Dr. James F. Clapp III at the Cleveland Health Center, exercise during pregnancy produces children that are healthier physically and mentally. As babies, they learn to do everything faster – from speaking to walking – than children from moms who exercised less or not at all, says Clapp. The study also concluded that these babies are happier and better behaved.