Some Specific Cautions for Exercise During Pregnancy

* Heart rate: The original ACOG guidelines were to keep maternal heart rate under 140 beats per minute. You can estimate your heart rate by taking a six-second count, then adding a zero to your result. With the added demands and blood flow in your body, you may find that your heart rate increases far more quickly than before exercise. Some lenience is generally given to women who were highly active prior to pregnancy, but ask your doctor for their specific guidelines relative to you. Current guidelines suggest exercising at 50-60% of your Maximum Heart Rate.

* Overheating: It is incredibly important not to overheat, especially in first trimester. There is a risk of damage to the baby if your core temperature overheats, and this will happen far faster during pregnancy than before. You can help avoid overheating by exercising indoors or in cooler times of day, staying cool and setting your pace so you don’t overheat. Drink plenty of cool liquids, track your heart rate and stay well ventilated. You should never go into a sauna or steam room during pregnancy for the same reason.

* Hydration: Drinking plenty of water is always important during exercise, but it’s especially important when you’re pregnant. The extra cool fluids are important not only for replenishing your body, but also as a cooling mechanism to prevent overheating.

* Proper breathing techniques: It’s important to keep the flow of oxygen going to the baby at all times. During aerobic activity, be sure to breathe deeply and regularly, and decrease your intensity if you find yourself winded. During weight lifting, avoid maneuvers that require the “vasalva maneuver” — grunting exertion to lift a weight. Decrease your weight or avoid those specific moves altogether while pregnant.

* Impact Avoidance: Avoid sports with high impact/risk of falling (such as skiing, water skiing, horseback riding, racquetball, scuba diving and other activities with risk of falling or contact sports)

* Muscle Relaxation: During pregnancy, your hips spread and joints relax. Use caution when exercising as this may affect your overall balance and increase your potential for joint injuries.

* Gravity Change: As your body grows larger and you gain weight, your center of gravity shifts so your balance may be off. Adjust your intensity as needed to accommodate your growing body!

* Excessive Exercise: An excessive level of exercise can actually be harmful to you — and your baby — during pregnancy. Failure to gain sufficient weight (per your doctor’s recommendations) is usually a red flag; and you should never exercise with a goal to lose weight during pregnancy. Talk to your doctor about what exercise level is appropriate for you if you have any doubts.

Who Shouldn’t Exercise?

Generally, exercise is contraindicated (not recommended) if you have any of the following conditions:

* Incompetent cervix
* Preterm labor
* Placenta previa
* Vaginal bleeding during pregnancy
* Pregnancy-induced Hypertension.

There are also other conditions your doctor may have concerns about, so be sure to ask your doctor about your specific pregnancy even if you are already an active exerciser.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that you should always talk to your doctor about exercise if you’re pregnant, or planning to get pregnant soon. There are many benefits — both physically and emotionally — to moderate exercise during pregnancy. For a small percentage of women, however, the risks far outweigh the benefits and you should be sure that you are not in this category before beginning to exercise. For the vast majority of women, you’ll probably get the green light to continue your current exercise program, or even start a new moderate level program as long as you follow some simple guidelines and listen carefully to your body. So talk to your doctor and find out what’s right for you, and best wishes for a safe and healthy pregnancy!