If you are a pregnant or postpartum woman, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that you exercise 30 minutes per day most days of the week. Some types of exercise need to be modified for you, but your workout should include aerobics, strength, flexibility and balance components. Check with your health-care provider to determine if you should refrain from certain types of exercise.
Types of Exercise
ACOG recommends aerobics and resistance exercise for both pregnant and postpartum women. Guidelines encourage walking and water exercise for most pregnant and postpartum women. Exercise can decrease prenatal and postpartum depression. Under normal conditions, ACOG also approves hiking, skating, dancing, biking, rowing and jumping rope. Intensity levels should allow you to talk during exercise, regulating intensity by what feels right to your body. You can combine aerobics with resistance by using hand-held weights, ankle weights, resistance bands or tubes, or by exercising in water. Start your exercise routine with three to five minutes of warm-up, employing such activities as moderate walking or biking, gentle bouncing on an exercise ball or movement in water. Follow the warm-up with five to 10 minutes of stretching before you start your exercise routine.
Alternate your routine to prevent boredom and to keep your muscles from becoming familiar with the exercise. For instance, you could work out in water two days a week, walk with weights two days a week, dance two days and limit your exercise to stretching on the seventh day. You should know that exercising in water two days per week can reduce lower-back pain and reduce the amount of pain medication you need in labor.
If you nurse your baby prior to exercising, it can keep the lactic acid content down in your milk and it may keep you from becoming engorged. You can exercise to lose weight without harming your baby. Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise to prevent a drop in your breast milk production.
Avoid prenatal exercise if you have heart or lung disease, if you are at risk for preterm labor because your cervix is incompetent or you are carrying more than one baby, if you experience uterine bleeding, if your water breaks or if you have high blood pressure. Exercise with caution and your doctor’s permission if you are obese, or have severe anemia, gestational diabetes or poorly controlled diabetes, poorly controlled seizure issues, thyroid disease or if your baby is not growing well. Stop exercising if you experience vaginal bleeding, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, muscle weakness, headache, swelling, preterm labor, broken waters or your baby isn’t moving enough. Postpartum women who delivered surgically should avoid abdominal exercise until their stitches heal. Refrain from most postpartum exercise until after the bleeding stops, and stop if you experience symptoms similar to those mentioned for stopping during pregnancy.
- British Journal of Sports Medicine: Guidelines of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period
- Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine: Pregnancy and Low Back Pain
- Reproductive Health: Water Aerobics in Pregnancy: Cardiovascular Response, Labor and Neonatal Outcomes
Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.