The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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Is it OK to swim or do aqua exercises while I’m pregnant?
It’s better than OK: Swimming and other water-based activities are among the best things a pregnant woman can do for herself. Because you are suspended in water, the activity is easy on your joints and muscles, and you can maintain a fairly high level of intensity without straining, Downs says. Of course, you should feel comfortable in the water; if you’re at all hesitant, use a flotation device and stay in the shallow end of the pool. Avoid water that’s too hot or cold; a temperature between 80 F and 84 F is ideal.
Not a swimmer? Downs suggests walking or doing leg swings in the shallow end of a pool or taking an aqua-aerobics class. Runners will find aqua-jogging (wearing a special flotation belt in the deep end of the pool) a low-impact yet challenging alternative to pounding the pavement.
A much-welcome bonus from exercising in water: edema (swelling) is reduced. “The biggest complaint in the later part of pregnancy is swelling in the legs,” says Abraham Shashoua, M.D., chairman of the obstetrics and gynecology division at Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago. The increased pressure of being under water tends to squeeze excess fluids into the bloodstream so they can be excreted.
Why shouldn’t I do exercises while lying on my back after a certain point?
After your first trimester, lying supine (on your back) can cause your enlarged uterus and baby to compress your vena cava, the major vessel that returns blood to your heart. This reduces the amount of blood your heart has to pump back out, which can lower your blood pressure and reduce blood flow to the placenta, Shashoua explains. It also can cause you to feel dizzy, lightheaded or nauseated.
“For every supine exercise, there’s an equally good alternative that’s not done lying on your back,” says Lenita Anthony, M.S., an exercise physiologist in San Diego and author of Pre- and Post-Natal Fitness (ACE Books, 2002). For examples, check out Anthony’s book.
What are natural changes to expect while exercising, and what are warning signs I should look for?
Since the ligaments attached to your uterus are being stretched from all sides, don’t be alarmed if you feel pulls and twinges in your groin, side or lower back while exercising or just going about your daily activities. It’s also natural to feel more out of breath than usual—just back off the intensity a bit. But heed these warning signs: lightheadedness, contractions or cramping to the point of pain and bleeding. If you experience any of these, contact your doctor immediately.