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A prenatal exercise program can provide health benefits to you and your baby. See more pictures of staying healthy.

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Exercises that you do during pregnancy don't have to be substantially different from the exercise you normally do to maintain and improve your fitness. But there are some general guidelines for exercise during pregnancy, as well as some cautions, that will help you develop the safest and most effective workout during this time of extra demands on your body.

Most health care providers agree that if you are already engaged in a sport or exercise program when you become pregnant, you can continue it during pregnancy. Depending on the activity, though, you may need to modify, slow down, or change activities due to fatigue in early pregnancy or to added weight and the normal softening of joint ligaments as your pregnancy advances.

If you have never worked out regularly before, you can begin a exercise program during pregnancy. But pregnancy isn't the time to embark on a new sport or engage in strenuous exercises. The safest and most productive exercises during pregnancy, especially if you're exercising for the first time, are swimming and walking. These can usually be continued almost up to delivery, and they carry little risk of injury that would prevent further exercising.

Every pregnant woman should consult her physician about exercises during pregnancy, whether or not exercise has been part of her daily routine. Discuss which exercises are safe and which should be avoided.

The following are some general guidelines for exercise during pregnancy:

  • Exercise regularly.
  • Stop if you feel pain. Modify your exercise program if necessary or substitute other forms of exercise. Be especially aware of your lower back, hip joints, and pelvis; these are your most vulnerable areas.
  • Finish eating at least 1 hour before working out. Otherwise, you may experience burping, belching, or abdominal discomfort.
  • Drink water before, during, and after your workout--even if you're not thirsty. It's very important to replace the liquids lost through exertion, and without sufficient fluid, your body becomes slow to react and easily fatigued.
  • Eat a nutritious, balanced diet.
  • Do not do any exercise that calls for you to lie on your back for more than one minute.

Be sure to refrain from doing any exercises before getting specific medical guidance if you have any of these:

  • Any type of heart or respiratory condition
  • Diabetes that developed before or during pregnancy
  • High blood pressure, whether the onset was before pregnancy or occurred as a symptom of toxemia
  • A history of premature labor
  • Placenta previa (the placenta is implanted completely over or near your cervix)

Being pregnant makes some exercises off limits. Since pregnancy changes your center of balance, strains your lower back, and thins your abdominal muscles, you'll need to avoid certain exercises that you may be used to doing when you're not pregnant. These include:

  • double-leg raises
  • full sit-ups
  • any exercise that causes swayback (requires you to arch your back)
  • jumping, hopping, skipping, and bouncing
  • exercise or dance movements that require good balance and quick moves
  • any exercise that requires you to be on your back longer than one minute

Whether you attend an exercise class or do exercises at home, exercising during pregnancy will help keep you fit and control your weight--and it will make you feel terrific, too!