Between the hectic pace of work and caring for my year-old daughter, I didn’t really have time to feel pregnant with my second child (morning sickness aside). Then I started taking prenatal yoga classes at the Integral Yoga Institute in Manhattan, where I worked. (I squeezed them in during my lunch hour.) The stretches relaxed some of my aching joints, and the various poses made me feel energized. But most important, the program’s last 10 minutes were devoted to relaxing and visualizing the small life growing inside me.
First, let me say that you--and every pregnant woman--should talk with your doctor about athletic training during pregnancy. That said, I offer the following rules for a trained athlete as long as she is in good health, has no pregnancy complications and had no problems such as miscarriage or preterm labor in a prior pregnancy.
Stick with the training conditions you are used to. If you run on a track, this is not the time to start negotiating hilly streets.
No. Many natural barriers in your body, including the cervix and amniotic sac, protect your baby from external substances such as chlorine in a pool or even soapy bath water. In fact, swimming is one of the most beneficial and comfortable forms of exercise you can do during pregnancy, as the water imparts a weightlessness that many women find soothing. That said, I recommend that you check with your doctor before beginning (or continuing) any exercise program.
Walking is the perfect exercise for almost anyone at any time--especially pregnant women: It provides a cardiovascular workout without jarring or stressing your joints, ligaments, growing belly and breasts. In fact, it's so gentle that even sedentary women can start walking while pregnant. "Walking is fantastic for so many reasons, including the fact that most of us can walk with ease no matter how big we get," says Danielle Symons Downs, Ph.D., assistant professor of kinesiology and director of the exercise psychology laboratory at Pennsylvania State University.
If you're not having any complications, you can and should exercise every day for about 30 minutes, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. You can exercise at a similar intensity to your prepregnancy level as long as you stay well-hydrated and avoid overheating. A good rule of thumb is to not increase intensity or duration beyond what you are used to doing so you don't overexert yourself. Stop immediately if you feel lightheaded or have contractions or bleeding. Using the "talk test" is an easy way to monitor your intensity while exercising.
"Scuba diving is a major no-no because of the oxygen considerations. With other activities, you need to weigh the benefits versus the potential risks," says Renee Jeffreys, M.S., an exercise physiologist in Cincinnati, and personal trainer with Fitness for Women (www.fitnessforwomenonline.com). After 15 weeks, the risks of falling and abdominal trauma become dangerous, so an aggressive game of basketball--where elbows are being thrown--wouldn't be a good idea.
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.
"Strength training is not only safe, it is actually very important during pregnancy," Shashoua says. "Women who stay fit and strong during pregnancy are able to get through the 1 to 3 hours of pushing that is sometimes required to deliver a baby better than those who aren't as strong," he explains. "It also helps women feel better about themselves." Regardless of her strength-training experience, a pregnant woman may initiate or continue a program, Shashoua adds.
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.
Even if you have no favorite exercise from your past to offer inspiration, there's no time like the present to get off the couch and integrate motion into your life. Start by taking a 15- to 30-minute walk each day. If this sounds daunting, do what you need to make it a more attractive proposition--enlist a friend to join you or listen to a book on tape. If it still doesn't appeal to you, try swimming--it's one of the most beneficial activities for pregnant women. Also consider taking a prenatal exercise or yoga class.
While your aunt undoubtedly is thinking only of your best interests, swimming daily is a real gift to you and your unborn baby that poses no danger even as you approach your due date. If your water breaks while you are in the pool--or the bathtub, for that matter--you will feel the fluid leaking and should contact your doctor immediately. My real concern is that you take every precaution to steady yourself getting into and out of the pool or tub.
Pilates is a wonderful activity that you can continue throughout pregnancy with some modification. It offers gentle muscle strengthening while improving balance, which can be a real benefit as your body's shape and size evolves.
That may depend on your exercise intensity and workout goals. As long as you have a low-risk pregnancy with no contraindications, such as high blood pressure or symptoms of premature labor, exercise is good for you, and aiming for a target heart rate can help you work out at an appropriate level. While the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that pregnant women use the "talk test" when exercising (if you can talk normally, your heart rate is acceptable), in 2002 Canadian experts suggested utilizing target heart rates.