As nice as it might be to get a free pass on exercising for nine months, pregnancy isn't going to give you one. Even — perhaps especially — pregnant women should exercise for at least 30 minutes most days.
Exercise can help reduce many pesky pregnancy complaints, such as constipation, backache and swelling. It might help prevent or treat gestational diabetes, the type of diabetes that women can get during pregnancy. Exercise also increases energy and improves mood.
Of course, training for a marathon isn't such a great idea right now, even if you wanted to. Instead, try pregnancy-friendly exercises such as walking and swimming. You'll want to avoid any type of exercise that puts you at risk for falls (such as bicycling and skiing), physical contact (such as ice hockey, soccer and basketball) or incredible atmospheric pressure (such as scuba diving).
If you've been walking or swimming before your pregnancy, it's safe to continue to do so. But talk with your doctor or midwife before trying a new exercise program. And definitely talk to your doctor or midwife if you have risk factors for preterm labor, vaginal bleeding or other medical conditions such as high blood pressure.
Here's what our Mommy M.D.s — doctors who are also mothers — do to exercise safely in their own pregnancies.
"When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was in my residency, so I didn't have time to exercise much," says Lezli Braswell, M.D., a mom of one daughter and two sons and a family medicine physician in Columbus, Georgia. "I walked when I could. Before I got pregnant with my son, I had started running three miles a few times a week. After I got pregnant, I kept that up for a while, but then I realized I was too tired. Plus as my belly got bigger, I didn't feel comfortable running. I started doing the elliptical trainer at the gym and walking on our treadmill."
"I love to run, but I stopped running very early in my pregnancy," says Nancy Rappaport, M.D., a mom of three grown children, author of "The Behavior Code," an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and an attending child and adolescent psychiatrist in the Cambridge, Massachusetts, public schools. "I didn't feel comfortable running while pregnant. With my changing body shape and loose joints, I worried about twisting my ankle."
"I'm thin and lean, and I usually get too cold in pools, so I rarely swim," Dr. Rappaport continues. "But when you're pregnant, you tend to be warmer, so even for those of us who don't like to swim, it's great in pregnancy. Because I didn't feel coordinated, I swam in the handicap lane, although of course I don't think of pregnancy as a handicap. I figured if anyone wanted to kick an eight-month-pregnant woman out of the handicap lane, so be it!"
"I exercised all the way through all of my pregnancies," says Ann Kulze, M.D., a mom of two grown daughters and two grown sons; a nationally recognized nutrition expert, motivational speaker and the author of the best-selling book series "Eat Right for Life"; and a family physician in Charleston, South Carolina. "I walked, and I swam laps — hard. In the water, you're buoyant, and you can get your heart rate up and use all of your muscles without the burden of the extra weight of your belly. Swimming is wonderful!"
"I credit exercise for the ease of my deliveries and the health of my children," Dr. Kulze continues. "I think that exercise is an invaluable, underrecognized, way to increase your chances of having a healthy pregnancy and a healthy child."
"A lot of women think that they can't exercise during pregnancy," says Mary Mason, M.D., MBA, a mom of two, an internist and founder of the Little Medical School. "I remember working out at the gym and getting odd looks from people. Other people at the gym would see me jogging and ask if it was okay for me to run."
"If you're having a normal, healthy pregnancy, there's no reason not to exercise," Dr. Mason continues. "This isn't the 1960s, when they told pregnant women to sit down and put their feet up. Today, we know that exercise is very important and beneficial during pregnancy. As long as you're healthy, exercise is key to preparing your body for labor and delivery. Before my pregnancy, I was active. I like to run, but I switched to swimming around the fifth month of pregnancy."
"When I had my two older children, I was living on a farm, and we walked and gardened," says Hana R. Solomon, M.D., a mom of four and grandmom of eight, the author of "Clearing the Air One Nose at a Time: Caring for Your Personal Filter" and a pediatrician in Columbia, Missouri. "You cannot eat junk food and sit on your butt the entire pregnancy and expect your baby to just pop out."
"When I was pregnant with my younger children and no longer living on a farm, I tried very hard to be physically active," Dr. Solomon continues. "I took the stairs every chance I had. I think that staying in shape is vital to having a pleasant pregnancy and a good delivery."
Jennifer Bright is a mom of four sons, founding CEO of woman- and veteran-owned custom publisher Bright Communications LLC, co-founder of the Mommy MD Guides team of 150+ mommy M.D.s, and co-author of "The Mommy MD Guide to the Toddler Years" and six other books in the Mommy MD Guides series. She lives in Hellertown, Pennsylvania. To find out more about Jennifer Bright and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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