Keeping fit during pregnancy is a healthy habit for the mother and the baby. Yes, pregnancy is a time of significant changes for a woman ‒ body shape, size, hormone levels, and energy levels are continuously changing. Maintaining a fitness routine, especially if the mother is used to an active life prior to pregnancy, is important.
Should The Mother Continue Being Active?
The best way to decide on your optimal level of activity is to first consult with your doctor. Certain conditions like a history of pre-term labor or cervical incompetency (which just means a weak uterus) may require you to take a step back on strenuous activity. The United States Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity (like walking briskly at 3‒4 mph) aerobic activity in a week for pregnant women.1
If you are used to much higher levels of physical activity prior to pregnancy, you may be able to continue the same fitness routine in the safer second trimester – but after consulting a doctor. Remember, the course of the pregnancy takes a significant toll on the body. This is not the same body that could run, swim, or lift weights a few months back. The body’s spine curvature has changed, the center of mass has moved forward. As a mom-to-be, you need to adjust your activity keeping this in mind.
What About Lifting Weights?
Studies on the impact of heavy lifting have focused more on occupational lifting – where the job requires the mother to lift heavy weights, and not so much on recreational lifting – where it is a fitness routine. These studies indicate that apart from the level of physical exertion involved in activities like lifting, climbing, or standing as part of work, the added factor of long work hours has an effect on fetal growth (measured by weight of the growing fetus). Long periods of physically demanding work could lead to fetal growth reductions.2
When heavy lifting is for fitness and not part of the job routine, the mother has more control and choice over how long and how much she will do. The “exercise caution” caveat that comes with any weight-bearing exercise is linked to the changes in the body. The shift in the center of gravity as the body grows bigger may literally throw you off balance, increasing the chances of falls. Sudden movements may also cause injuries or abdominal trauma.3 Abdominal and pelvic discomfort from weight-bearing exercises have also been reported, especially in the later stages of pregnancy, in some studies.4
The consensus around activity and fitness is anchored in common sense (after the doctor’s green signal!). Avoid sudden movements or changes in body position which could trigger a fall or cause an injury. Lifting heavy weights can be avoided in the first trimester when the risk of miscarriage is the highest. During the rest of the pregnancy, it may be fine to continue lifting moderate weights if the mother has been familiar with it prior to pregnancy. Again, go easy on physical exertion in the last trimester.
Apart from work and fitness, daily chores require a lot of lifting. Take simple precautions to avoid jerky movements – bend the knees, rather than back, don’t lift things overhead, and in the third trimester, avoid lifting directly from the floor.
The challenge for second-time mothers is also that they may have a young toddler in the house who demands to be lifted and carried every now and then. Ask the child to climb onto a chair or sofa and then carry them.
After consulting with the doctor, a mom-to-be can continue the physical activities she enjoys. But for a strenuous activity like lifting weights, wait out the first trimester and enter a safer zone in the pregnancy. Take it easy again once you hit the last trimester.
And finally, always listen to the body. Don’t push it when it’s trying to tell you to take it easy ‒ so much is happening inside already!
|↑1||Committee on Obstetric P. ACOG committee opinion. Exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Number 267, January 2002. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. International journal of gynaecology and obstetrics: the official organ of the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics. 2002;77(1):79-81.|
|↑2||Hatch, Maureen, Bu-Tian Ji, Xiao Ou Shu, and Mervyn Susser. “Do standing, lifting, climbing, or long hours of work during pregnancy have an effect on fetal growth?.” Epidemiology (1997): 530-536.|
|↑3||American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period. ACOG Technical Bulletin 189. Washington, D.C.: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 1994.|
|↑4||Wang, Thomas W., and Barbara S. Apgar. “Exercise during pregnancy.” American Family Physician 57 (1998): 1846-1859.|