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Why good exercise habits matter during pregnancy

A conversation with Mary Jo Endahl, CNM

Mary Jo Endahl holds a master of science in nursing with a specialty in midwifery. We chatted with her about how pregnancy can encourage women to be healthier and more active.

Q: Why is pregnancy an important time to talk about exercise?

A healthy lifestyle is always important, but being pregnant can inspire women to commit or recommit to taking the best care of their bodies. Growing a baby can create enthusiasm to move forward with making long-desired changes, and nine months is long enough to transform healthy goals into routines.

Q: What are the benefits of working out while pregnant?

There are a whole host of reasons to work out during pregnancy.  Exercise may help to relieve pregnancy discomforts, shorten labor length, and move a baby into an optimal position for birth. Furthermore, exercise provides many regular benefits, such as improving sleep, reducing anxiety, and helping with weight control, all of which can be especially pertinent during the transitions of pregnancy. Regular exercise can also help to prevent gestational diabetes and macrosomia (growing too large of a baby), both of which are associated with pregnancy and birth complications.

Q: Which activities are safe during pregnancy?

If a woman was running, doing Orangetheory, swimming, or taking Barre before becoming pregnant, she should keep going! Almost any activity done before pregnancy is safe to do during pregnancy. Women can also maintain the same level of intensity, though they might need to modify some movements as their belly grows. There are a handful of activities they might want to avoid: Hot yoga can raise the body’s core temperature beyond what is safe for the baby. Downhill skiing and horseback riding carry a high risk of abdominal injury.

Starting a new exercise program is something women should speak to their provider about, and take on slowly. The hormones of pregnancy, which loosen joints and ligaments, can make injury more likely. They will want to be careful and maintain proper body mechanics.

It’s important for women who are pregnant and exercising to stay well hydrated. Feeling lightheaded or dizzy, or bleeding or contracting, are signs that it’s time to sit down, rest, and drink some water. If the symptoms don’t resolve quickly, women should call their midwife or doctor right away.

Q: How can a pregnant woman get an exercise routine started?

Choosing enjoyable activities is paramount to establishing a sustainable routine. Many women find prenatal yoga to be physically and emotionally rewarding.  Meeting new friends in a local class or following along to a free video at home are both wonderful ways to relieve aches and pains and strengthen the body for labor.

I always recommend that women start with small, achievable goals. If women are currently walking only at work, I encourage a 15-minute walk in the evenings. Even small changes like this, over time, can make a significant difference. Women may feel so good after 15 minutes that they want to keep going, or set bigger goals, such as 30 or 45 minutes per day. My second recommendation is to find ways to make these new routines fun. A walking date with a friend or a good audiobook can make the time pass easily.