Staying active during pregnancy is good for you and your baby

Pregnant woman running

Exercising while pregnant is no longer taboo. In fact, physical activity during pregnancy is not just accepted, it is encouraged. With a doctor’s permission, expectant mothers can and should exercise to improve health and feel better during pregnancy.

Recent scientific studies have shown that regular exercise is not only good for the expectant mother, but the child also. Babies born to mothers who were physically active three times a week during pregnancy had a steadier heart rate during and after pregnancy. By comparison, babies born to women who exercised little or not at all during pregnancy had more erratic heart rates.

Pregnant woman doing a workout at home.

There are many benefits to exercising while pregnant. Staying active during pregnancy can:

  • ease common pregnancy-related problems like backache, posture issues and constipation
  • increase the supply of oxygen in you and your child
  • help you handle the strain of giving birth
  • return you to your pre-pregnancy figure faster and easier
  • strengthen your cardiovascular system, making you feel fitter and more resilient
  • prevent stretch marks, blood clots and varicose veins
  • improve the quality of your sleep
  • enhance your general sense of well-being and help against mood swings and stress
  • reduce your risk of gestational diabetes

Exercise can also have a positive effect on your weight during pregnancy. Some expectant mothers see pregnancy as an opportunity to eat whatever they want because they are now eating for two. This is only partially true. While it is important to make sure that you and your child receive the necessary nutrients during a pregnancy, being over or underweight can cause damage to you and your child. Pregnant women who are heavily overweight or obese have a higher risk of diabetes and high blood pressure. On the other hand, a starvation diet can lead to an underdeveloped child and increase the risk of premature birth.

How much weight gain is safe during pregnancy?

The amount of weight you can gain in each trimester differs from woman to woman. Be sure to consult your doctor with your specific questions and concerns. Here is a general guide to weight gain by trimester:

1st Trimester

During this time, most women gain very little, if any, weight. In fact, some women even lose weight because they struggle with morning sickness (nausea and vomiting). Any large weight gains in early pregnancy are probably due to eating habits.

2nd Trimester

In this period, the child goes through a major growth spurt and the mother puts on weight accordingly. Women of average weight usually gain about 250-500 g (½ to 1.1 lb) a week during this stage.

3rd Trimester

In the last stage of pregnancy, mothers gain about 500 g (1.1 lbs) a week. The total weight gain in the last three months is 4-6 kg (9-13 lb) on average.

It is important to note that weight gain during pregnancy can vary greatly from woman to woman, and should always be monitored by your doctor. A big factor in weight gain during pregnancy is your pre-pregnancy weight. Based on your Body Mass Index (BMI) before pregnancy, you can use the following ranges as a rough guide to determine whether your weight gain is healthy.

  • Underweight (BMI < 18.5):
    12.7 – 18.2 kg (28-40 lb)
  • Normal weight (BMI between 18.5 and 24.9):
    11.4 – 15.9 kg (25-25 lb)
  • Overweight (BMI between 25 and 29.9):
    6.8 – 11.4 kg (15-25 lb)
  • Heavily overweight / Obese:
    maximum 9 kg (20 lb)

Regular exercise during pregnancy thus offers numerous benefits for you and your child. During a risk-free and healthy pregnancy, you can choose any form of exercise you want, as long as you feel good and do not put you and your child at risk. However, there are a few rules for training during pregnancy.

Pregnant woman is running with her husband.

You should:

  • get your gynecologist’s permission before starting any exercise
  • avoid sports with a high risk of falling or injury (i.e. skiing, climbing, horseback riding, martial arts, diving, surfing, etc.)
  • avoid contact sports like soccer, handball and basketball
  • avoid lifting heavy weights
  • not participate in competitive sports and races
  • avoid mountain activities in high altitudes (> 2500 m/8,200 ft)
  • stop training if you experience dizziness, nausea, pain or any other discomfort

How to train properly during pregnancy

In healthy pregnancies, women can  continue training as often as before they became pregnant. However, the biggest and most important difference is the training intensity. Doctors and midwives recommend moderate exercise. This means you can push yourself, but you should never reach the point of exhaustion. If you can easily maintain a conversation with someone while exercising, this is a good sign that you are training at moderate intensity.

As a rule of thumb, you should not exceed 70% of the maximum heart rate for your age (220 minus your age). This is easy to calculate:

Example for a 30-year-old woman:

The maximum heart rate for her age (220 minus 30) is 190 beats per minute. 70% of this maximum heart rate gives us a training intensity of 133 beats per minute. Use this formula to find the right heart rate for your training.

Many pregnant women develop a heightened awareness of their body during pregnancy and can tell quite clearly what activities they can and cannot do. Use your intuition and do activities that make you feel comfortable and enjoy exercise.

Pregnant woman taking a break after running.

These sports keep you in shape during pregnancy:

  • Running
    Running at a comfortable and easy pace during pregnancy is a good way to stay in shape. Just make sure you do not exceed moderate intensity and that you feel comfortable at all times. As you gain weight, support your feet and ankles with a well-cushioned running shoe.
  • Hiking or Nordic walking
    Hiking and Nordic walking are great opportunities for women who were not so active before their pregnancy to get some exercise and fresh air. Have a friend or partner join you on your hike to make the activity even more fun.
  • Cycling
    Cycling at a comfortable pace in the fresh air stimulates your circulation, improves the blood flow in your legs and reduces the risk of blood clots. Because of the risk of falling, you should switch to a stationary bicycle starting in the 20th week of pregnancy.
  • Swimming
    Water aerobics and swimming are a varied and fun way to keep fit during pregnancy. Plus, the buoyancy of the water lessens the stress on your joints and muscles, which means you can work on your endurance in a low-impact and gentle manner.
  • Yoga and Pilates
    Because of the loosening of joints and ligaments in the pelvic area, certain yoga and pilates poses are not suitable during pregnancy. However, there are special courses for pregnant women, which offer you a good opportunity to relax and prepare to give birth.

Pregnant woman doing yoga.

How to start training again after giving birth

Pregnancy and childbirth put a lot of strain on your body. That is why it is important that you rest at least 6 8 weeks of rest after delivery. Before you start regular training, it is important to regain stability in your pelvic area. You can strengthen your pelvic area with special postnatal exercises.

Runners who start training too soon run the risk of stretching their pelvic floor, which often results in incontinence.

As soon as you have your gynecologist’s permission, you can begin with light endurance training. The intensity should be such that you always feel comfortable and your workout should not put too much strain on your body. Short walks are a perfect way to slowly get your body used to regular exercise again. If you feel ready, you can also do light workouts on a stationary bicyclethis great low-impact activity is easy on your pelvic floor. If and when you start running, your first few runs should be very short and low intensity. As soon as you start to feel good, you can increase the intensity of your workouts.

Are you expecting a baby soon? We wish you a happy and healthy pregnancy!

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Herwig Natmessnig As a former professional athlete (whitewater slalom), Herwig lives for fitness. Whether in competition or just for fun, he can never turn down a challenge. View all posts by Herwig Natmessnig »

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