Prenatal Exercise Safety

Prenatal exercise is important, but safety for you and your unborn baby must be the priority. Learn some exercise safety guidelines for pregnant women.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Exercising while pregnant can provide significant health benefits, but there are some special health concerns to consider.

Every pregnant woman should consult her physician before beginning an exercise program. Discuss which exercises are effective yet safe and those to avoid. It is particularly important that you not begin exercising on your own if:

  • you have any type of cardiac (heart) or respiratory condition

  • you have diabetes that developed before or during pregnancy

  • you have high blood pressure, whether the onset was before pregnancy or occurred as a symptom of toxemia

  • you have a history of premature labor

  • your placenta is implanted completely over or near your cervix (placenta previa)

  • you have physical impairments or musculoskeletal disease that would prevent exercise even in the nonpregnant state

Should any of the above conditions apply, consult your physician and follow his or her guidelines. In some instances, a stretching program or a modification of the program suggested here may be appropriate. But again, be sure to seek medical guidance first.

Appropriate Clothing

  • Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothes. Choose materials that keep away moisture to help you stay dry and cool. Comfort is more important than glamour.

  • Wear a good support bra while exercising. In pregnancy (and postpartum, if you breast-feed), your breasts are larger than usual, and the supporting structures may be somewhat relaxed due to hormonal changes. For exercising, an adequate bra should 1) provide firm support; 2) limit bouncing; 3) be made of firm, mostly nonelastic, nonchafing, sturdy, nonallergenic materials; and 4) fit well, especially around the edges of the breasts beneath the arms.

    Sports bras that meet all these requirements are available in sports and department stores. If your breasts are very large and heavy, wear two bras for extra support and comfort during your workout: Wearing a nursing or maternity bra beneath a sports bra (or vice versa, if that's more comfortable) works very nicely to minimize bouncing and increase comfort.

  • Wear good shoes. This is very important! Walking and aerobic activity (even the low-impact variety without all the hopping, jumping, kicking, and skipping) involve contact with relatively hard surfaces. Proper shoes provide protection, support, cushioning, traction, and flexibility. Ordinary tennis shoes are not adequate. You need a good pair of walking shoes or aerobic shoes with adequate arch supports, heel cushioning, and lateral support that touches all the surfaces of your feet except over the toes. These are available from stores specializing in athletic equipment. Describe the type of exercise you will be doing, so the clerk can help you select the best shoes for you.

Making Exercise Safe and Effective

For anyone engaged in an exercise program, it is important to know if you are under- or overworking your heart. If you underwork your heart muscle, you won't build stamina or endurance. If you overwork your heart, you could become short of breath, dizzy, nauseated, or faint.

During pregnancy, it is especially important not to overwork. There are many internal body changes taking place that require oxygen and energy, in addition to the fact that a whole new person is growing inside you! That is why you should learn how to measure your body's responses to exercise.

One sign of overworking is shortness of breath. If you are working at just the right pace, you should be able to carry on a normal conversation while exercising (the talk test). But to be more accurate, you can learn to use your own pulse to tell you exactly how your body is responding to exercise.

If at any time during exercise you feel extremely fatigued, faint, dizzy, lightheaded, nauseated, or clammy and cold even though you are sweating, stop exercising, but walk around for a while and then have a seat. If you feel unwell during a structured class, let the instructor know before you leave. She may want to keep an eye on you for a bit, or she may want to help you seek medical assistance.

Also, see your physician before resuming exercise. These are warning signs. Listen to your body. There may be a very simple cause or one that is complicated and serious. Your physician, not your fitness instructor or you, should determine the cause.

Now that you know what you're doing, you're ready to work out. Go to the next page to find out how to start your aerobic exercise program.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.