You’ve probably heard many different recommendations on exercise during pregnancy. “Yes, it it is safe and encouraged to exercise during pregnancy.” “No, exercise should not be advised during pregnancy because it may cause a miscarriage or preterm birth.” So, what’s the truth? And, are abdominal workouts still safe to do during pregnancy?
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends regular exercise before, during, and after pregnancy because of maternal health benefits like maintenance of a healthy weight and prevention of gestational diabetes. However, this recommendation does come with some caveats:
- Pregnant women should be evaluated by their obstetrician-gynecologist before engaging in regular exercising
- Regular exercise during pregnancy is only recommended for women with “uncomplicated” pregnancies
- Women with “complicated” pregnancies may be advised to avoid regular exercise before, during, and/or after pregnancy
- Even if it is safe for you to exercise during pregnancy, the exercises may have to be modified (i.e., avoid lying on your back)
You may be asking yourself, what is a “complicated” pregnancy? Basically, “complicated” pregnancies are a set of conditions that would make exercise during pregnancy unsafe. Examples of “complicated” conditions that are absolute contraindications to exercise during pregnancy include placenta previa, persistent bleeding, twin or triplet pregnancies at risk for premature labor, heart disease, lung disease, premature labor, cervical insufficiency, ruptured membranes, preeclampsia, and severe anemia. Other conditions that are considered relative contraindications include anemia, heart arrhythmia, chronic bronchitis, morbid obesity, uncontrolled type I diabetes, extreme sedentary lifestyle, severely underweight, intrauterine growth issues, uncontrolled high blood pressure, orthopedic issues, uncontrolled hyperthyroidism, uncontrolled seizures, and heavy smoking.
It is important to always speak with your doctor or obstetrician-gynecologist before participating in any exercise regimen before, during, or after pregnancy.
If your obstetrician-gynecologist gives you the okay to exercise during your pregnancy, remember some types of exercise may need to be modified. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic exercise in pregnant women without contraindications to exercise. Aerobic exercises like swimming and walking are generally considered safe to start or continue during pregnancy. Extreme sports like hockey, soccer, basketball, water or snow skiing, scuba diving, and hot yoga/pilates are never recommended during pregnancy. Other activities like jogging, running, and strength training may be safe in women who engaged in these forms of exercise before pregnancy–always consult with your obstetrician-gynecologist before participating in these activities during your pregnancy.
Strength training exercises like abdominal exercises and planks should not be started during pregnancy in women who have never performed these exercises before pregnancy. Women who are used to engaging in more intense aerobic and strength training exercises before pregnancy may wish to continue these exercises during and after pregnancy. Abdominal exercises like planks can help to strengthen the core and alleviate low back pain associated with pregnancy, but they can also cause or worsen negative side effects like diastasis recti or separation of the abdominal muscles. Overdoing planks, doing planks incorrectly, or coning of the belly during planks either contribute to or signal the development of diastasis recti. Modifications of the traditional plank may include planks from the knees, planks on a table or chair incline, or side planks. Postpartum plank and abdominal exercises as part of an approved exercise regimen may help to treat diastasis recti.
It is important to always speak with your doctor or obstetrician-gynecologist before participating in any exercise regimen before, during, or after pregnancy. Pregnant women with certain conditions should avoid exercise during pregnancy to ensure maternal and fetal health and safety. If your doctor decides that it is safe for you to exercise, it may be beneficial to modify the intensity or type of exercises that you perform. It’s important to remember that any exercise that makes you uncomfortable or causes overexertion should be stopped. If you’re unsure about what types of exercises are safe during pregnancy, you should speak with your obstetrician-gynecologist or consult with a personal trainer who specializes in pregnancy.