Exercise & Pregnancy

I have been asked  to address the subject of exercise and pregnancy. The truth is, I do not have anything brilliant to say. There are many medical and professional organizations who have outlined exercise prescription during pregnancy. Unfortunately, some of the advice becomes well known and widely accepted – while other pieces of advice seem to be overlooked.

What we know

We know that the supine (back down, face up) position is not safe after the first trimester – the risk of venous obstruction is too great. What does that mean? The fetus will not be fed and nourished.

We know that pregnant women should not perform the Valsalva maneuver. An instructor or trainer will not name this as the next exercise to perform. It is something that individuals do unconsciously – and sometimes consciously – during exercise. Oversimplified, it is holding your breathe under strain – and this is common during isometric exercises such as planks or wall sits. To learn more about the Valsalva maneuver, click here.

We know that pregnant women should avoid contact sports, or any any activity that could cause loss of balance or trauma to the mother or fetus.

Often overlooked

There are numerous precautions regarding exercise and pregnancy that are too often overlooked.

For example, the thermoregulatory control. Pregnant women need an increased awareness of the ambient air temperature, humidity, etc. because the pregnant body is less efficient at temperature control.

High-intensity exercise should be avoided. In part because of the less efficient thermoregulation. In part because of the stress it puts on the mothers cardiorespiratory system. If it is putting stress on mom, it is putting stress on baby!

Pregnant women tend to have greater ligament elasticity – a result of the change in hormones (just like females have different elasticity during different portions of their cycles). This increases the risk of injury, such as hyperextension of the joint.

Pregnant women must be cautious with weight- and load-bearing exercise. This could include anything from running and jumping to squatting and overhead pressing. Because the weight distribution is different, there is added stress to the spine (e.g.,common to experience lower back pain). If not careful, exercises could increase lumbar lordosis and cause temporary or long-term conditions.

The basics

Here are the guiding principles regarding exercise during pregnancy:

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The bottomline

If you have been active for months and years leading up to pregnancy – then you can maintain a much higher activity and intensity level than a woman who has not. There are certain positions that all pregnant woman should avoid – not because pregnancy is an illness, but for the safety and health of the unborn child. Some exercises are dangerous and extremely difficult to perform correctly when you have a baby belly!

NOTE: This is not intended to be an exhaustive article. I have linked to some key resources below. If you are pregnant, always talk to your doctor and consider working with a qualified fitness professional. Be informed. Be smart. And keep you and your baby safe!

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References

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1724598/pdf/v037p00006.pdf

http://www.acsm.org/docs/current-comments/exerciseduringpregnancy.pdf

ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, Edition 8

McArdle, W. D., Katch, F. I., & Katch, V. L. (2010). Exercise Physiology: Nutrition, Energy, and Human Performance (7th Ed.). Lippencott Williams & Wilkins: Philadelphia.