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Not only is physical activity safe during pregnancy, it’s helpful to the pregnancy itself.
First things first: if you smoke, stop right now. Not smoking is the single most important step you can take for a healthy pregnancy, delivery, and baby. If you need help quitting, please speak with your healthcare provider or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
Next, get active. The old notion of taking it easy during pregnancy is simply not true. If you already have an exercise regime, stick with it. If you’ve haven’t been exercising, now is the time to start with a mild activity like brisk walking.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that pregnant women get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week. And according to a study reported by ABC News, women who follow an exercise regimen recommended by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) have a shorter labor time, are less likely to need an epidural, and were at a decreased risk of gestational diabetes and cesarean delivery.
According to the CDC, “If you begin physical activity during your pregnancy, start slowly and increase your amount gradually over time. While pregnant, you should avoid doing any activity that involves lying on your back or that puts you at risk of falling or abdominal injury, such as horseback riding, soccer, or basketball.” On the other hand, yoga is very therapeutic, and short times on your back are not harmful.
If you are fairly athletic, you can proceed with your routine for as long as it’s comfortable. I’ve had triathlete patients who had to reduce their intensity levels only at the third trimester. Bicycling became a problem because of balance, and running caused discomfort.
Know when to back off. If you are doing a more intense activity than walking, learn how to listen to your body. Often women grow up with the message to ignore their bodies. “It’s just a menstrual cramp, go back to work.” When you’re pregnant, you need to pay closer attention your body’s signals. They will tell you if you’re overdoing it.
Let’s talk about sex. An activity you should not avoid is sex (unless your doctor specifically tells you not to have sex). I encourage my patients to continue sex with their partners, especially during the last month of pregnancy. Women who have sex during their last month are less likely to need an induction of labor because semen contains hormones that soften the cervix and trigger contractions.
Above all, talk to your doctor. No matter your physical health and activity level, your physician is the best person to recommend your course of action and monitor your individual health requirements. So while activity is important and beneficial, please consult with your physician first and continue to keep him or her in the loop. I am also happy to answer any questions you may have.
Jon Hathaway, MD, PhD, specializes in obstetrics and gynecology. He is a guest columnist and located at University Obstetricians – Gynecologists Coleman Center, 550 N. University Boulevard, Suite 2041, in Indianapolis. He can be reached by calling the office at 317.944.8231.