It’s easy for Dr. Hope A. Ricciotti to tell which of her pregnant patients are staying physically active. «They look more fit, feel better during their pregnancy, have more stamina during labor and delivery, and recover more quickly,» she says.

In decades past, doctors often placed limits on exercise for pregnant women. Today the women are encouraged to be active, as long as they first check with their doctor or midwife and follow certain guidelines.

«Today we want women to be vibrant and fit during pregnancy–not hiding in their homes because they are pregnant. They are not fragile flowers,» says Dr. Ricciotti, Vice Chair of Education in the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and Director of Obstetrics and Gynecology at The Dimock Center.

Studies have shown that pregnant women who are active have fewer problems like backaches, constipation, mood swings, bloating as well as trouble sleeping and controlling weight gain. They also have a lower risk of developing a form of diabetes during pregnancy called gestational diabetes because physical activity helps the body makes better use of blood glucose.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends pregnant women who are able to exercise do 30 minutes a day of walking or some other moderate physical activity.

«You don’t have to have special equipment or go to the gym. It can be as simple as parking further away from the mall or taking the stairs at work instead of the elevator,» Dr. Ricciotti says.

«Moderation is the key,» she adds. That’s one reason walking is one of the best ways for pregnant women – and the rest of us – to stay active. «It’s something many of the women already are doing. They can continue walking from the start of the pregnancy to the finish.»

Even women who have a cesarean delivery (C-section) generally can safely resume walking after the surgery. In fact, it’s often recommended to help prevent blood clots and speed recovery.

Pregnant women need not be limited to walking. Other possible activities include mild aerobics, bicycling on a stationary bike, yoga, and certain types of weight training. «Swimming is a great exercise, especially in the third trimester,» she adds. «Even women who have some aches and pains can feel comfortable swimming.»

Forget the Contact Sports
It’s important with any physical activity to avoid anything that would cause trauma to the abdomen, Dr. Ricciotti says. Sports like roller blading, downhill skiing, scuba diving (due to water pressure) and contact sports should be avoided during pregnancy. Some activities like gymnastics and horseback riding should be avoided because of the risk of falling.

There are some women who should not exercise. According to ACOG, these include:

  • Women at risk for having pre-term labor
  • Women experiencing vaginal bleeding
  • Women whose membranes (amniotic sack) breaks prematurely

Women with high blood pressure and other medical conditions should check with their doctors to see when exercise is appropriate.

While it’s not unusual for a pregnant woman to have difficulty catching her breath due to changes in the body, if you really have trouble breathing, you should stop exercising and contact your doctor or midwife. Other reasons to stop physical

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