Let’s get physical: Pregnancy and exercise

Let’s get physical: Pregnancy and exercise

By Mikaela G. Martinez-Bucu

Pregnancy is an exciting time for mothers-to-be, yet the physical and hormonal changes it brings may raise questions and uncertainty. Just as your body adapts to the child growing in your womb, these changes may also require a change in lifestyle and routine. In this day and age of health awareness, one of the most frequently asked questions during prenatal consults is “Can I exercise during pregnancy?”

Traditionally, pregnant women were advised to refrain from exercise or any physical exertion. However, recent studies have shown that exercise significantly contributes to maternal and fetal well-being. The benefits of exercise during pregnancy include healthy weight gain, relief of physical stress and back pain, and decreased risk of developing complications such as gestational diabetes mellitus, preeclampsia and cesarean delivery. Strengthening the deep core muscles prepares the body for childbirth and helps women get back in shape much faster during postpartum.

However, not all pregnant women are allowed to exercise. Heart problems, lung diseases, and complications in pregnancy such as cervical insufficiency, multifetal gestations (twins/triplets or more), placenta previa, ruptured membranes, threatened or recurrent miscarriages, high blood pressure and severe anemia can make exercise in pregnancy unsafe. Consult first with your obstetrician for clearance. Together, you can decide on an exercise routine that is tailor fit to your needs and safe for you and your baby.

Know your limits

Women who were physically active prior to pregnancy may continue their exercise routine but should take a step back and lessen the intensity. It is important to listen to your body and know its limits since pregnancy causes the following changes:

  1. Unstable joints due to the hormone relaxin that can put you at risk for injury.
  2. A shift in the center of gravity due to the growing uterus, putting you at risk for fall.
  3. Shortness of breath since the growing uterus pushes the diaphragm upwards.

Most exercises are safe to perform during pregnancy. According to the Philippine Obstetrical and Gynecological Society (POGS), aerobic exercise for about 30-60 minutes and 3-7 times per week during pregnancy is safe and beneficial. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) likewise recommends moderate-intensity aerobic activities. Generally, brisk walking, swimming, modified yoga and prenatal pilates, and guided resistance training such as circuit training with an experienced personal trainer are safe during pregnancy.

Avoid activities that require you to hold your breath for prolonged periods, cause you to lose your balance, or put you at risk for abdominal trauma. Also avoid waist-twisting or any position that can increase intra-abdominal pressure, strenuous exercises (HIIT, heavy weight lifting, long distance running) and exercises that can cause you to overheat (bikram/hot yoga). During the second and third trimester, avoid exercises that require you to lie on your back since this position can decrease blood flow to the baby.

What to remember

Hydrate and make sure not to skip meals when planning to exercise during pregnancy. Red flags that may indicate a potential problem include regular painful contractions, vaginal bleeding, shortness of breath after exertion, dizziness, headache, chest pain or calf pain. If any of these symptoms occur, consult your obstetrician immediately.

Dr. Mikaela G. Martinez-Bucu, FPOGS, FPSRM is a Clinical Associate Professor at the UP College of Medicine-Philippine General Hospital (UPCM-PGH) and Active Consultant at Manila Doctors Hospital. She is a graduate of the UPCM-PGH where she also completed her OBGYN residency and fellowship training in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility. As a new mother to a one-year old son, she is an advocate for breastfeeding and Early Intrapartum and Newborn Care/EINC (Unang Yakap).