Back in the early 70’s little was known about the effects of exercising during pregnancy. It was widely thought that exercise or any physical stress on the body should be kept to a minimum during this time to ensure the health and safety of the mother and baby.

Today, women exercise right up until birth and society has changed its narrow view.

Certainly this is largely due to experiments performed by James F. Clapp III, MD during the late 70’s and 80’s which proved that exercise during pregnancy can greatly benefit both Mother and baby.


Here are four of these proven benefits of exercise during pregnancy:

 1. The Heart and Lung Advantage = Better Performance

During pregnancy, the elasticity and volume of a woman’s circulatory system increase to support the needs of the developing baby. This causes a reduction in the amount of blood returning to the heart and the amount of blood the heart pumps out.

As a result, blood pressure drops and the body recognizes that the vascular system is under-filled. While the body is adjusting to this change, the woman may experience sudden fatigue, a racing pulse, nausea, unusually pale skin, sweating and dizziness, especially when getting up quickly or when standing.

Many studies have shown that exercise increases blood circulation, the ability of the body to dissipate heat and the delivery of oxygen to the tissues. Therefore women who exercise regularly during pregnancy have an easier time dealing with the above mentioned symptoms of vascular under-fill.

In addition, both pregnancy and exercise improve the ability of oxygen utilization. Regular exercise during pregnancy improves gas transfer through the tissues, allowing more oxygen and nutrients to get across to the baby.

This results in the faster growth and better function of the placenta than those who are healthy but don’t exercise regularly.

During pregnancy the heart and lungs are working hard. Combine that with exercise and you can build a training technique that can help you perform better post pregnancy! This explains reports of female athletes enhanced performance after birth.

Benefits of exercise during pregnancy_2

2. Limited Weight Gain

To support the growing baby, Mom’s metabolic rate increases by 15-20%. This increase of metabolic rate and regular exercise combined can increase the use of fat as an energy source.

So if a women exercises consistently at a moderate intensity during pregnancy she will experience limited weight gain and fat deposition, which is good for both Mom and baby.

But Moms-to-be need to make sure they eat at least every three hours if they plan to exercise because of the suppression of glucose released from the liver during pregnancy and the increased insulin sensitivity that regular exercise produces.

If food intake is sporadic, there can therefore be a decrease in the glucose available to the baby.

If you are worried about excessive weight gain a good rule of thumb for pregnant women is to gain a .5 pound to 1.5 pounds per week. The optimal range of weight gain during pregnancy is 25-35 lbs. The preferred scenario is to gain 4-6 lbs. in the first trimester, 11-15 in the second trimester, and 11-15 lbs. in the third trimester.

3. Easier Pregnancy + Easier Delivery

With regular exercise, women can experience an easier pregnancy.

There is a lower chance of uncomfortable symptoms like back pain, constipation, fatigue, insomnia, nausea, swelling, urinary incontinence, varicose veins, leg cramps, gestational diabetes, pregnancy-induced hypertension, diastasis recti (which is the separation of the rectus abdomens muscle due to the stretching of the linea alba), deep venous thrombosis and pelvic and rectal pressure.

Woman who continue regular weight bearing exercises during pregnancy also experience easier labors. These woman have a lower incidence of induced labors, episiotomies, abnormal fetal heart rates and cesareans.

Researchers also find a reduction in the overall duration of labor, which is enough to make any pregnant woman exercise! Not to mention, exercising women tend to have a faster recovery after birth.

Benefits of exercise during pregnancy_3

4. This is Big and Emotional

Hormonal changes during pregnancy can be quite emotional. Many woman suffer from anxiety and depression as their bodies are undergoing a huge change. The pressures of being a new Mom can be overbearing and the health of the baby is always a concern.

There may be career changes, family dynamics to deal with or financial issues. Exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, eating well, and practicing deep breathing and relaxation techniques for labor can be helpful.

Diaphragmatic breathing relaxes muscles, improves blood flow to the abdominal region, and calms the nervous system. This will all go a long way to learning to relax the pelvic floor for an easier delivery.

If you plan to exercise when pregnant make sure to get clearance from your doctor first!

Here are some tips to remember and beneficial exercises. Remember these exercises may not be for everyone and do only do what you are comfortable with.

If you want to start exercising while pregnant, especially if you are new to it, getting a qualified and knowledgable trainer about the subject is more than worth it.

1.     Drink a cup (8 oz.) of water every 15 minutes and eat an hour before starting exercise.

2.     Exercise in a cool, well ventilated area – especially in the first trimester. Avoid hot, humid environments.

3.     Listen to your body and exercise within your 5-8 range on the RPE (rate of perceived exertion) 10 point scale.

4.     Wear a supportive bra and cool, dry clothing.

5.     Be aware of when to stop exercising:

•  Vaginal bleeding

•  Preterm labor

•  Uneven or rapid heartbeat

•  Decreased fetal movement

•  Dizziness or faintness

•  Headache

•  Increased shortness of breath

•  Chest pain

•  Calf pain or swelling

In Part 2 tomorrow Ashley Whitson outlines a range of ideal exercises to follow during pregnancy.

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