Although exercise is important at any stage in life, studies have shown that exercise can truly enhance both pregnancy and postpartum health.
The Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy
- Prevents excessive weight gain
- Improves posture and circulation
- Reduces swelling of hands and feet
- Reduces leg cramps, varicose veins, and back pain
- Helps prevent ]]>insomnia]]>, fatigue, and ]]>constipation]]>
- Increases stamina, which will improve labor
It is important to note that most pregnant women can safely maintain an exercise program that was already in practice prior to pregnancy. Women should consult their doctor before starting a new, rigorous exercise program during pregnancy.
Preparing for Postpartum Exercise
How soon can you safely start exercising after you have the baby? Although you may be able to do some mild exercises within a few days after delivery, talk to your doctor about when it is fine to return to extended physical activity. Women who have had a cesarean section might be advised by their doctor not to begin exercising for at least 6 weeks after delivery. However, this refers to abdominal muscle exercise, and it is possible to do other exercise for brief periods and gradually increase the time. Go slow, and listen to your body. The most important guiding factors will be how you feel and your energy level.
Pregnancy and delivery cause unique physical changes. For example, during birth, the pelvic floor muscles are stretched. Having strong pelvic floor muscles is important throughout life to prevent incontinence or even pelvic prolapse. This is a condition in which the pelvic organs lose suspension and fall through the vagina. ]]>Kegel exercises]]>—the rhythmic tightening and releasing of pelvic muscles—are the best way to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. They can be done anytime, anywhere—even shortly after giving birth. Pay special attention to these areas when you first begin exercising:
When you begin exercising, remember the following safety tips:
- Do not exercise vigorously in hot, humid weather or if you have a fever.
- Avoid jerky, jumping, or bouncing motions, or changing direction suddenly.
- Cool down after all workouts.
- Stop exercising immediately and consult your doctor if you experience pain, dizziness, rapid heart beat, pubic or back pain, bleeding, or palpitations.
- Remember to stay well hydrated.
Tips for Fitting Exercise In
Although you may feel psychologically motivated to get back in shape, the reality of taking care of a newborn may hinder your best intentions. Here are some tips that will help you fit exercise into your daily routine and improve your workouts:
- Trade babysitting with other mothers.
- Buy a jogging stroller.
- Invest in home exercise equipment and some exercise DVDs.
- Find a gym with reputable childcare facilities.
- If you are breastfeeding, you may want to nurse or pump breast milk before exercise.
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
American Council on Exercise
The Canadian Women's Health Network
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
Artal R. with Subak-Sharpe, G. Pregnancy and Exercise . New York, NY: Delacorte Press; 1992.
Centers for Disease Control, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Promotion. How active do adults have to be to gain some benefit? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ . Accessed February 10, 2004.
Crowell DT. Weight change in the postpartum period. A review of the literature. Journal of Nurse Midwifery . 1995; 40(5):418-423.
Gallo B, Ross S. Expecting Fitness: How to Modify and Enjoy Your Exercise Program Throughout Your Pregnancy . Los Angeles, CA: Renaissance Books; 1999.
Koltyn KF, Schultes SS. Psychological effects of an aerobic exercise session and a rest session following pregnancy. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. 1997;37(4): 287-291.
Larson-Meyer DE. Effect of postpartum exercise on mothers and their offspring: a review of the literature. Obesity Research. 2002;10(8):841-853.
Ringdahl EN. Promoting postpartum exercise: an opportune time for change. The Physician and Sportsmedicine. 2002;30:2.
Wallace JP, Inbar G, Ernsthausen K. Infant acceptance of postexercise breast milk. Pediatrics . 1992;89(6 Pt 2):1245-1247.
Last reviewed May 2010 by ]]>Brian Randall, MD]]>
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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