Maternal exercise during pregnancy may have a beneficial effect on fetal cardiac programming by reducing fetal heart rate and increasing heart rate variability. Researchers studied fetal heart rates with magnetocardiography (MCG), a safe, non-invasive method used to record the magnetic field surrounding the electrical currents generated by the fetal heart and nervous system.
There were significantly lower heart rates among fetuses that had been exposed to maternal exercise. The heart rates among non-exposed fetuses were higher, regardless of the fetal activity or the gestational age.
The researchers concluded that exercising during pregnancy can benefit a mother’s own heart and her developing baby’s heart as well. It wasn’t long ago that doctors still warned pregnant women against exercising during pregnancy. Fortunately, the myth that pregnant women should spend nine months on their couch is now thoroughly debunked, and most all physicians should be encouraging moms-to-be to stay active.
Along with a stronger heart for you and your baby, what other types of benefits can you expect?
- An easier labor and faster recovery from birth
- A lower risk of gestational diabetes
- Fewer pregnancy symptoms like backache, leg cramps and constipation
- A leaner baby
- A lower risk of premature birth
- An improved mood
Exercise Helps You Keep a Healthy Pregnancy Weight
Another pregnancy myth that has long since been debunked is the idea that you need to eat for two. If you’re starting out at a healthy weight, you only need to eat an extra 150-200 high-quality calories a day for the first few months, and then increase that to about 300 calories a day as the pregnancy progresses.
This amounts to about 25-35 pounds during pregnancy. Many women, however, are starting out their pregnancies overweight or obese. In this case, you only need to gain 15-25 pounds, as excess weight during pregnancy is full of risks to mom and baby.
This is where exercising can help you to maintain a healthy weight even while you’re pregnant. Keep in mind, too, that exercise is not just for overweight or obese moms. Even underweight women can benefit from the conditioning effects of exercise, but if you are in this group you should make sure you eat enough so that you gain 28 up to 40 pounds during pregnancy.
Guidelines for Exercising While You’re Pregnant
Pregnancy is not the time to set any records or run any marathons. However, if you’re having a normal, healthy pregnancy you can continue to do just about any exercise that you enjoy, as long as you follow the most important principle: listen to your body.
If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.
Remember, too, that your center of gravity will change during pregnancy, so exercises that require balance will become more difficult. Your body will also produce a hormone called relaxin that’s meant to lubricate your joints to make labor easier. This hormone will increase your flexibility, but can also increase your risk of injury because your joints will be so elastic. So if you feel that you’re stretching abnormally far, back off a bit to avoid an injury.
Generally speaking you should AVOID exercises that:
- Could cause trauma to your abdominal area, such as soccer and other contact sports
- Require very good balance, such as biking or skiing
- Require you to lie on your back (this can restrict your blood flow and is not recommended after your first trimester)