A balanced diet, regular exercise and healthy body weight promote good health, lower your risk of disease and have positive effects on your pregnancy.
Exercise programs have become increasingly popular with the heightened concern about weight control, particularly during the reproductive years when some women have a tendency to gain weight as a result of overeating, labor-saving devices, and transportation. Health care providers need to espouse the benefits of activity for many women while discussing the risk of exercise for a few during pregnancy. If women have been following a regular exercise program prior her pregnancy, she should be able to maintain that program to some degree throughout her pregnancy. Exercise does not increase the risk for baby in a normal low risk pregnancy.
Physical activity increases energy expenditure proportional to body weight. Most pregnant woman compensate for increased weight gain by slowing work pace. Thus total daily energy expenditure may not be substantially greater than before pregnancy. Women who are physically fit before pregnancy have fewer aches and pains and feel they have more energy during their pregnancies. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise (that makes you sweat), five days a week, to enjoy long-term good health. This will also prepare you for the physical challenges of pregnancy and labour.
Excessive exercise, combined with inadequate energy intake, may lead to suboptimal maternal weight gain and poor fetal growth. A pregnant woman should always discuss exercise with her primary health practitioner.
Research shows that continuing a regular exercise regimen throughout pregnancy reduces subcutaneous fat deposition in second trimester and subcutaneous fat retention in third trimester. The more active and fit you are during pregnancy, the easier it will be for you to adapt to your changing shape and weight gain. It will also help you to cope with labour and get back into shape after the birth. Rate of weight gain is diminished after the 15th week, and the overall weight gain is reduced but remains well within the normal range.
The potential benefits of prenatal exercise include improved fitness, prevention of gestational diabetes, facilitation of labor, and reduced stress. A healthy fetus is generally able to compensate for periods of transitory stress that occur during maternal exercise.
A pregnant woman should follow particular guidelines to avoid extreme stress to either herself or the fetus. During the second and third trimesters, avoid exercise that involves lying flat on your back as this decreases blood flow to the uterus.
A woman who is just beginning an exercise program during pregnancy should exercise at a level that keeps her heart rate below 140 beats/min. Never exercise to the point of exhaustion or breathlessness. This is a sign that your baby and your body cannot get the oxygen supply they need. A good fitness program would be 1 hour of physical activity 3 days per week, with an intensity that keeps the maternal heart between 120 and 130 beats/min. Women who are physically fit before pregnancy have fewer aches and pains and feel they have more energy during their pregnancies. This will also prepare you for the physical challenges of pregnancy and labour.
If you have not been active before your pregnancy, start low and go slow. Try regular brisk walking, swimming, strength training for pregnant women, or other activities that will strengthen your heart and lungs and tone your muscles. It is recommended that you wait until the second trimester to start your program.
The types of exercise that provide the best cardiovascular and psychologic benefits with the least pregnancy risks are brisk walking, stationary cycling, and swimming.