Staying Fit While Pregnant

Most medical experts agree that staying fit through exercise while you’re pregnant not only helps keep you in shape, but can be a benefit to the baby as well. It can even help ease your labor. But always check with your doctor before starting any fitness regimen.

And if you haven't worked out in the past, it is not a great idea to push your limits when you're pregnant. But you should exercise. According to Bonnie Berk, RN and President and Founder of Motherwell Master FitnessTrainer (, "Regardless of whether you’ve exercised or not, pregnancy is a perfect time to start adopting healthy behaviors." There are several benefits to exercising during pregnancy. In fact, says Berk, who is also a childbirth education specialist and a registered Yoga teacher, "Research shows that exercise during pregnancy reduces nearly all pregnancy-related symptoms including ankle swelling, fatigue and low back discomfort. Exercise also helps reduce the incidence of gestational diabetes. Other benefits include improved circulation, increased sense of well-being and decreased excess weight gain."

There are, however, certain types of exercise that is recommended during pregnancy. "Walking is a wonderful way to get started. Start with smaller goals," says Berk, author of "Motherwell Fitness Plan.""Take a walk for 10 minutes and then walk home. Walking 20 minutes on most days of the week will help the pregnant woman feel good, stay healthy and havi a positive childbirth experience." She also recommends stretching. "It is good to practice flexibility and strength exercises at least twice a week," she explains. "Motherwell Yoga exercises are designed to reduce minor discomforts of pregnancy and work to stretch and strengthen every major muscle group in ways that are appropriate for pregnant women."

And while the debate is divided on the practice of Pilates during pregnancy, Berk, a certified Pilates instructor says, "While Pilates is an excellent way to shape up before and after pregnancy, during pregnancy many of the Pilates exercises are contraindicated. After the first month of pregnancy, women need to avoid exercising on their backs because the increased weight of the uterus presses on the inferior vena cava, decreasing blood flow to the baby. However, many of the side-lying exercises can be done as well as many of the other exercises with modifications. Another position not appropriate for pregnant women is on their bellies."

When exercising, it is very important to "listen to your body," notes Berk. "During pregnancy, a woman is changing every day. Every day the baby gets bigger and so does she. If a woman feels 'out of breath' while exercising at a pace that was previously comfortable, then she needs to readjust to her body's needs. Flexibility during pregnancy is important both physically and mentally. Some women feel a sense of loss when they can't continue doing fitness activities that they did prior to pregnancy. But it is important to remember that pregnancy is only a nine month experience. Face every day with a curiosity of what kinds of adjustments you will need to make as a result of your pregnancy. Exercise with the goals of having a healthy pregnancy and positive pregnancy outcome."

And during what trimester should you stop exercising? Berk advises, "Unless a
woman feels uncomfortable or needs to limit activities on the advice of her health care provider, there is no reason to stop exercising. However, most women naturally decrease exercise intensity in the last few months of pregnancy in response to the increased needs of the baby and the growing uterus. Getting a daily dose of exercise, even taking a leisurely walk, can make pregnant women feel better both physically and mentally. For women with back discomfort, exercising in a pool is the activity of choice."

And how about after you give birth…when should you resume your workout routine? According to W. Jackson Davis, author of "The Miracle Workout: The Revolutionary 3-Step Program for YOUR Perfect Body"), "The timing of resumption of any exercise program following childbirth will depend on a number of variables: whether you exercised before pregnancy, your physical condition going into pregnancy, the nature of your pregnancy, including particularly any complications, and the nature of the birth experience. The best advice? Consult your physician, and resume exercise of any kind based on her advice. As a general rule, however, healthy women with normal, uncomplicated pregnancies and natural childbirth (as opposed to Cesarean) who exercised regularly before and during pregnancy should be able to resume an exercise program four to six weeks following childbirth, if their doctor approves."

Remember, check with your doctor first and keep fit.

Ann Brown is a New York-based freelance writer whose beauty, entertainment, travel, & lifestyle articles have appeared in such publications as Black Enterprise, Big Apple Parent, Queens Parent, Upscale, ESSENCE, Honey, The Source, HealthQuest, Playboy, and Heart & Soul.