Now that you're expecting, you're ready to put your feet up and rest for the next nine months, right? Not so fast. "Regular exercise while you're pregnant can improve your heart health, give you energy, and pump up your self-image," says Frances Crites, MD, an Ob-Gyn at Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. Maintaining a healthy body can also reduce common pregnancy complaints like lower back pain, and it may even shorten your labor time.
Check with your doctor before you start any workout routine to make sure the activities you choose are safe. If she gives you the okay, try to get at least 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise three to four days a week. Remember that your goal is to keep up your pre-pregnancy fitness, not to train for Dancing with the Stars. Start with one of these doctor-approved activities.
Body Benefits: Even if you've never exercised a day in your life, a quick stroll around the neighborhood is a great way to start. You'll get a cardiovascular workout without too much impact on your knees and ankles, and you can do it almost anywhere and at any time throughout the entire nine months.
Safety Bump: "As your belly gets bigger, you can lose your sense of balance and coordination," says Dr. Crites. Try to walk on smooth surfaces, and watch out for potholes and other obstacles. Remember to wear supportive sneakers. Your feet may swell in your later trimesters, so if your shoes start to feel tight, buy ones that are a half-size bigger.
Body Benefits: Prenatal yoga classes keep your joints limber and help you maintain flexibility. "Also, because yoga strengthens your muscle system, stimulates circulation, and helps you relax, you can use the techniques you practice in class to stay calm and have a little more control during labor," says Sokhna Heathyre Mabin, a yoga teacher at Laughing Lotus, in New York City.
Safety Bump: As your pregnancy progresses, skip positions that really challenge your balance. In your second trimester, steer clear of poses that require you to lie flat on your back – as your uterus gets heavier, it can put too much pressure on major veins and decrease blood flow to your heart. Also, be careful not to overstretch, says Annette Lang, personal trainer and author of Prenatal & Postpartum Training Fan. Pregnant women produce more relaxin, a hormone that increases flexibility and joint mobility, so it's important to know your limits and hold back slightly when stretching.
Body Benefits: "This is the ideal form of exercise during pregnancy," says Baron Atkins, MD, an Ob-Gyn at Arlington Memorial Hospital in Texas. There's zero chance of falling on your stomach and injuring your baby. Exercising in water gives you better range of motion without putting pressure on your joints. "I feel weightless in the pool, even though I'm carrying twins," says Sharon Snyder, of San Francisco, who is four months pregnant. Even in your ninth month, you can swim, walk, do aerobics, or dance in the water.
Safety Bump: Choose a stroke that feels comfortable and doesn't hurt your neck, shoulders, or back muscles. The breaststroke is a good choice because you don't have to rotate your torso or belly. Be careful entering the water. Diving or jumping in could cause too much abdominal impact. To avoid overheating, stay away from very warm pools, steam rooms, hot tubs, and saunas.
Body Benefits: Lifting weights is a great way to prepare your body for all the heavy lifting you'll be doing once your baby is here. Plus, it helps counteract the risk of injury during pregnancy by strengthening the muscles surrounding your joints.
Safety Bump: Reduce the amount of weight you're used to lifting by half and do more repetitions so you still get a good workout. "Lifting weights that are too heavy can strain your muscles and put a dangerous amount of pressure on your abdomen," says Dr. Atkins. And when you're weight training – just like when you're doing yoga – don't lie flat on your back. If you find yourself holding your breath, reduce your load ASAP. Breathing incorrectly can increase your blood pressure and decrease the flow of blood to your baby.
Body Benefits: According to new research published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, light to moderate exercise 50 to 55 minutes three days a week made those pregnant women 40 percent less likely to gain too much weight. What's more, obese and overweight women who exercised during their pregnancies were 86 percent less likely to have babies with macrosomia (also known as "Big Baby Syndrome") than those who didn't.
Here's the workout:
Stretch it out. Part of the 50-55-minute sweat session included a 10-minute warm-up and 10-minute cooldown, involving stretching. "It's important to stretch your muscles and connective tissues during pregnancy," says Marta Montenegro, M.S., C.S.C.S., and exercise physiologist. "The extra weight women carry during pregnancy throws off the whole body's alignment, so joints and muscles are overly taxed." To curb joint and muscle pain, you don't need to stretch for more than a few minutes, you just need to do it regularly, says Montenegro.
Resistance-train twice a week. The women in the study lifted weights twice a week, exercising their arms, shoulders, legs, and ankles for just under half an hour. During your pregnancy, Montenegro suggests using strength machines rather than free weights (there's less chance of injury) and performing one to three sets of 12 to 15 light reps. Note: After your first trimester, avoid any exercises that involve laying flat on a bench or the floor, which could lead to sudden blood pressure changes.
Do a light aerobic exercise once a week. The study participants did an aerobic dance workout once a week for 30 minutes. Get the benefits by swimming, walking, or spinning for the same amount of time.
Any of these symptoms could mean you've put too much stress on your body. Stop exercising and call your doctor if you have:
Vaginal bleeding or leakage of fluids
Difficult, labored, or uncomfortable breathing
Heart palpitations or pain in your chest
Headache, nausea, or vomiting
Dizziness or fainting
Sudden change in temperature, clammy hands, or overheating
Swelling or pain in your ankles and calves
Decreased fetal movement
Pain in your abdomen