Yes, you can exercise while pregnant
If you live in or around Douglas County, you’ve probably noticed that Lawrence is a very active community. People at all ages and stages of life take part in Red Dog Days, bike rides, runs and walks on the Lawrence Loop and many other activities. But when you’re pregnant and growing a new human, is it safe for you to exercise and live an active lifestyle?
Emily Heronemus, DO
“I’ve had people say to me, ‘Should she really be doing that?’ The answer is a resounding yes,” said Emily Heronemus, DO, a sports medicine physician with OrthoKansas. “A lot of women have the idea that when you’re pregnant it’s not safe to exercise or you need to decrease what you do. Exercise is very much recommended, as long as you’re not experiencing any complications.”
Leslie Underwood, MD, FACOG, a physician with Lawrence OB-GYN Specialists agrees. Exercise during pregnancy is beneficial for both mother and baby for a number of reasons.
“Regular exercise reduces the frequency of excessive weight gain, gestational diabetes and postpartum weight retention. And staying active during pregnancy helps with back and hip pain, as well as the physical demands of labor,” she said.
When you first learn that you’re pregnant, light to moderate exercise is completely fine in early pregnancy and you don’t need to consult with your provider. Dr. Heronemus shared that she continued to maintain her exercise routine throughout her pregnancy, having been pretty active beforehand.
“I have a Peloton, so I kept riding that and kept my aerobic activity up. I also did a lot of walking, weightlifting and resistance training, as well as Barre classes,” she said.
There are many other activities that you can safely participate in as well. Using an elliptical machine, swimming, yoga and Pilates are all great options. If you’re healthy and exercised vigorously pre-pregnancy, including running, you can generally continue your regimen but may have to modify as your body changes. It’s important to note that there are some exceptions.
Leslie Underwood, MD, FACOG
“If you participate in potentially high-impact sports or where there’s a risk of abdominal trauma, discuss that with your provider,” Dr. Underwood said. “Most should be avoided due to the risk to the pregnancy.”
Exercises to avoid include those where trauma to the abdomen is possible. These include karate, taekwondo, kickboxing, off-road cycling and skiing. You should also put hot yoga, hot Pilates, saunas and hot tubs on the backburner until after delivery. Elevating body temperature to that degree causes a small risk of birth defects in the first trimester and growth issues in the second and third.
Is there a time when I should avoid exercise entirely?
While exercise is recommended for many pregnant women, the American College of Gynecology (ACOG) shared some conditions that make it unsafe, including:
- Heart and lung disease
- Cerclage – A condition where the cervix has been stitched shut to prevent or delay preterm birth
- Being pregnant with multiples in cases where there are concerns for pre-term delivery
- Placenta previa after 26 weeks – A condition where the placenta covers the opening of the uterus
- Preterm labor or water has broken
- Preeclampsia or pregnancy-induced high blood pressure
- Severe anemia
If you don’t have any of these conditions but are experiencing pregnancy pains, the team at LMH Health Therapy Services may be able to help. Taylor Grabowski, DPT, is a physical therapist who works with mothers-to-be who have pregnancy-related discomfort.
“A physical therapist can help if you’re experiencing concerns such as swelling in your legs and feet; pain in your back, hips or pelvis; and issues like urinary leakage and constipation,” she said. “We want you to enjoy your pregnancy and we’re here to help.”
Can exercise help you prepare for labor?
Taylor Grabowski, DPT
Exercise can do more than just help keep you and your baby healthy, it can also prepare you for the birthing experience. Grabowski said that one of the things she recommends is to walk, walk, walk.
“Walking is simple and a great way to hit all the bullet points. You get the cardiovascular benefit and experience the increased load placed on the pelvis and hips due to the pregnancy. This helps strengthen the hips and pelvic floor, which helps to prepare you for labor,” she said.
Kegel exercises are also great for women, whether they’re pregnant or not. Kegels help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which support the uterus, bladder, small intestine and rectum.
“Women experience issues with coughs and sneezes contributing to urinary leakage, so doing some application of Kegels can help,” Grabowski said. “In general, that’s what I recommend to anyone.”
What can I do to help me “bounce back” after pregnancy?
Your life changes both before and after your baby arrives and so does your body. It’s important to take time to rest after birth and give yourself time to heal. While exercising post-partum is recommended, it’s important to talk with your doctor before jumping back in.
“People try to jump the gun and their bodies just aren’t ready for it. When you are cleared to exercise, start slow and build slow,” Grabowski said.
Exercises that engage your abdominal muscles can be a good place to start. Lie down and do bridging and marching exercises to engage your core. Pilates and yoga are other exercises that help promote good core strength.
“Make sure to tailor your exercise after pregnancy. Don’t go from sitting on the couch and not running to trying to run a marathon, either pre- or post-pregnancy,” Dr. Heronemus said. “Start with some walking or cycling and gradually build your tolerance. Everyone’s body is different. What’s right for you may not be right for someone else.”
Whatever exercise you choose to do, make sure to listen to your body. Progress slowly and steadily, stop if you have pain or feel light-headed and call your doctor if you have questions. The providers at LMH Health are ready to help you through your journey, both before and after pregnancy.