Exercise During Pregnancy - The Do's & Don'ts

Exercise During Pregnancy - The Do's & Don'ts

By Scott Howell

Currently there is more than sufficient evidence to support “moderate” to “vigorous” exercise for the benefit of both mom and baby.  There is a direct link between healthy mothers and healthy infants....there’s no question.

Physical benefits of a properly designed and monitored exercise program during pregnancy include reduction in Cesarean section rates, appropriate maternal and fetal weight gain, and managing gestational diabetes.  While studies continue to uncover additional benefits, more clinical research is needed to consistently demonstrate other potential physiological and psychological benefits such as aiding in or preventing gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and/or peri/postnatal depression.

While the volume of reliable scientific studies on the psychological and emotional benefits of exercising while pregnant are scarce, it should be noted that the studies do exist. The anecdotal evidence supplied by study participants and participants of exercise programs in general suggest immeasurable benefits associated with mom taking time out for herself, and for baby, during ALL stages of pregnancy and postpartum.

The Don’ts

As it has been, the list of absolute and relative contraindications to exercise during pregnancy has evolved over the past 50 years.  These risk factors are generally identified by mom’s physician through regular visits and thorough evaluations.  If mom has one of these relative conditions, it is HIGHLY likely she is already aware prior to pregnancy. Examples include: anemia, cardiovascular and/or respiratory disorders, history of preterm complications, and diabetes.  Absolute contraindications include relative issues along with conditions such as: abnormal amniotic fluid, persistent bleeding, fetal growth restriction, multiple gestation (triplets & higher), and placenta previa.  Identification of one or more of these conditions does NOT mean that mom shouldn’t engage in an exercise program. It means a more allied approach to keeping mom and baby healthy through communication and strict monitoring between health and fitness professionals should be addressed.

Obvious activities to avoid include anything that put mom and baby at risk of suffering acute trauma or risk of falling, particularly beyond the 2ndtrimester, like: mountain biking, skiing, any contact or collision sport, and/or activity in high heat or humidity.

Typically, the fear-factor immediately arises surrounding the idea of strength, mobility, and flexibility training during pregnancy.  Fear of external loading (resistance/weight training) and range of motion is common among expecting moms AND physicians.  This fear is perpetuated by lack of knowledge surrounding current evidence-based research, mis-interpretation of information (valid and in-valid), and the general disillusion of what an educated and experienced personal trainer or fitness coach can provide.  

Yes, many physicians are un-informed (or mis-informed) about current recommendations for exercise during pregnancy.  That’s not to say that mom’s Primary Care Physician (PCP) or Obstetrician-Gynecologist (OB/GYN) isn’t providing her a high level of patient care by cautioning her regarding resuming or starting an exercise routine.  However, providing exercise prescription involves much more than simply telling her what she SHOULDN’T do.  Providing restrictions for said exercise program specific to maximum loads, movement patterns, heart rate, frequency, and duration without a having performed a thorough assessment of current fitness level and ability (balance, mobility, flexibility, coordination, power, strength, cardio vascular endurance, stamina, speed, & agility) isn’t exactly giving mom direction on how to preserve, maintain, or improve her and baby’s health through exercise.  Furthermore, providing exercise prescription specific to the above could be considered outside the physician’s purview, or domain of expertise. 

The Do’s

In general, experts agree that moderate and high-intensity exercise in normal pregnancies is safe for the developing fetus and clearly has several important benefits. Thus, exercise should be encouraged according to the mom’s preconception physical activity level.  If beginning an exercise program perinatal, thorough evaluation should be done by both health and fitness professionals to ascertain appropriate programming variables.  Advice; do your research and interview your prospective fitness professional thoroughly.

At any given time, Red Dot Fitness Personal Trainers have multiple expecting moms participating in 1-on-1, Semi-Private, and Small Group (Class) Personal Training Sessions. From 2016 to present (when we started counting) we’ve trained over 25 pregnant moms. That number continues to grow, and we didn’t double-count the moms that have gone through multiple full-term pregnancies as clients of RDF.  Every one of these moms had specific limitations at some point and a larger percentage than one might imagine actually had one or more relative or absolute contraindications as described previously. We’re happy to report EVERY one of these moms shares a happy and healthy status with their babies today! We kind of feel like aunts and uncles around here and take a certain pride in knowing we were part of the process.