Ask the Doc: How Much Should I Exercise When Pregnant?

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Answered by Errol Norwitz, M.D., Ph.D. Dr. Norwitz is internationally recognized for his work in high-risk obstetrics. He is the Chair of Obstetrics & Gynecology at Tufts Medical Center, and a Professor at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. He is board certified in Obstetrics & Gynecology and Maternal-Fetal Medicine.

Normal weight gain during pregnancy is about 25 to 35 pounds. Pregnancy is not a time to exercise excessively in order to lose weight. If you eat normally and are losing weight when exercising, there is a chance that you are exercising too much. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), unless there is a medical reason to avoid exercise, pregnant women should partake in moderate exercise, particularly if they did regular exercise prior to pregnancy. For the most part, exercise makes you feel better both physically and emotionally, plus it helps avoid excessive and unnecessary weight gain during pregnancy.  

In addition to the obvious benefits of exercise for everyone, it is particularly important for the pregnant woman. For example, it can help prevent the development of gestational diabetes, relieve stress, and can build stamina for labor and delivery. Exercise can also help minimize the effects of postpartum depression, which many women are prone to encounter after their baby is born.

It is important to pick exercises you enjoy. Brisk walking is often a good choice, and so is hiking, dancing, or swimming. Some women are reluctant to swim in fresh water because of the possible exposure to leptospirosis, a bacterial disease that has become endemic in certain parts of the United States. Swimming in a pool is generally safe, as long as it is properly maintained.

It is a good idea to avoid sports that could potentially place you at a high risk for injury. These include sports such as skiing, horseback riding, rock climbing, kickboxing, basketball, and soccer. Scuba diving should also be avoided because of the issues with decompression. Many practitioners recommend that after the third month of pregnancy, you refrain from doing any exercises that requires lying flat on your back because doing so can reduce the blood flow to your baby.

The best advice is to listen to your body and avoid any excessive exertion or overdoing any particular activity. Do not exercise to the point of exhaustion. If you become dizzy, have chest pain, bleed, or notice a decrease in fetal movements, you should immediately call your doctor. Before embarking on any exercise program, it is important to first speak with your health-care provider.

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