CSP Team Note: We recently talked to Dr. Tamara Fox, an OB/GYN at Piedmont GYN/OB, about exercise during pregnancy. This is such an important topic for all of us to learn more about as an active pregnancy helps keep you and your baby healthy. A big thank you to Dr. Fox for taking the time for this interview.
How important is it to stay active during pregnancy?
Physical activity in all stages of life, including pregnancy, improves heart health, reduces weight gain, and makes your overall quality of life better. Exercising throughout pregnancy is associated with less pregnancy weight gain, as well as a lower risk for complications such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. The chance for cesarean section (C-section) is also lower in women who exercise regularly. Additionally, strengthening the core and back muscles can reduce back pain associated with pregnancy.
What are some of the best types of exercise for pregnant women?
Walking, jogging, swimming, stationary cycling, yoga and Pilates (modified to avoid lying flat on your back), and strength training.
Are there any activities to avoid?
– Contact sports (hockey, soccer, basketball)
– Scuba diving
– Hot yoga
– Activities with high risks of falling (skiing, horseback riding, rock climbing, gymnastics)
When should you not exercise during pregnancy?
If you have any pregnancy complications such as bleeding, risk of premature labor, cervical insufficiency (weak cervical tissue), uncontrolled high blood pressure, or certain heart or lung diseases, you should avoid exercise when you’re pregnant. But before you make any decision, it’s always best to check with your doctor to make sure your exercise plan is safe for you.
What are some of the postpartum benefits of exercising during pregnancy?
– It helps strengthen and tone abdominal muscles.
– It boosts energy.
– It may be useful in preventing postpartum depression.
– It promotes better sleep.
– It relieves stress.
How important are Kegel exercises?
Kegel exercises strengthen your pelvic floor and can help you prepare for and recover from childbirth. They’ll help reduce pelvic pressure, pain, and bladder leakage that can occur after giving birth.
To understand what a Kegel exercise is, I tell my patients to practice stopping their urine midstream – if you can do that, you’re squeezing in the right place. Then, do that 20 times in the morning and at night. Work up to holding each “squeeze” for 10 seconds at a time. Kegel exercises do work if done regularly!
How does exercise during pregnancy prepare you for childbirth?
Exercise has been linked to a reduced risk of C-section, as well as a lower risk of using a vacuum or forceps for delivery. In my opinion, regular exercise not only improves the physical strength needed in labor, but it also gives you the mental fortitude to persevere while pushing for sometimes 2 or 3 hours.
Does it lower your risk of gestational complications?
Yes. Exercise also helps women diagnosed with diabetes better control their blood sugar levels.
Is it safe to run during pregnancy? At what point should you stop?
Yes. Running is safe if you ran before getting pregnant and have had an uncomplicated pregnancy. If you’re an average runner, use the “talk test” to make sure you’re not overexerting yourself. If you can carry on a conversation, you’re exercising at a safe intensity.
If you performed high-intensity exercises before pregnancy, you can continue them but may need to slightly reduce intensity or length. High-intensity or prolonged exercise can lead to low blood sugar and dehydration, so be sure to take in the right amount of calories and drink plenty of water before working out.
You should stop running if it causes significant cramping or discomfort, regular contractions, dizziness, headache, difficulty breathing, or chest pain.
What about CrossFit? Is that type of exercise safe?
Yes. CrossFit is safe for women with uncomplicated pregnancies. However, not all CrossFit movements should be performed by a pregnant woman. For example, kipping movements (kipping pull-ups, toes-to-bar, handstand push-ups) have been associated with a higher risk of diastasis recti (widening of the space between the abdominal muscles). I recommend avoiding those kinds of movements after the twelfth week of pregnancy. Replace them with ring rows, planks, and box-assisted handstand pushups.
Movements that put a woman at risk for falling or losing balance, like box jumps, can be modified to safe movements, like step-ups. Finally, barbell movements that can’t be performed properly due to your belly bump (snatches, power cleans) can be modified into a kettlebell or dumbbell version of the same movement. In CrossFit, every movement is modifiable, which is the beauty of the sport. So, ladies, get your WOD on!
Learn more in the CrossFit Journal’s practical guide for scaling CrossFit in pregnancy. Click here.