If you're pregnant or have just given birth, you're probably concerned how to get the extra weight gained off. The natural solution is to get exercise. Good news: research shows that women who exercise during pregnancy and after giving birth experience not only an improvement in physical well-being but better mental health as well.

In addition to weight management, the advantages of exercising during and after pregnancy are numerous. During pregnancy, exercise can help you feel better and cope with a dramatically changing body. Exercise has been shown to:

  • Increase energy
  • Improve posture
  • Relieve backaches and leg cramps
  • Lower stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Aid digestion and relieve constipation
  • Prepare your body for labor

After pregnancy, exercise may help prevent a dropped uterus, regain and maintain vaginal and abdominal muscle tone, and prevent urinary incontinence and lower back pain. One study reported that women who practiced "vigorous exercise" 3 times a week after giving birth had an easier adjustment to motherhood, greater involvement in social and leisure activities, and more overall satisfaction with their lives.

Unfounded fears

Some women are concerned that exercise may cause them to deliver early. However, even vigorous exercise has not been shown to increase the risk of pre-term delivery. In fact, highly conditioned exercisers have the same rate of timely deliveries as their unconditioned peers. In addition, experts say that healthy women should exercise during pregnancy without fear of compromising fetal growth and development.

Talk to your doctor

You should discuss your exercise goals with your doctor during and after your pregnancy and be sure to get approval for any exercise program before you start. You should, of course, avoid exercise that may cause you to fall or be jostled, such as horseback riding, skiing, and rollerblading. Otherwise, there are some basic guidelines to follow:

  • If you are unable to talk normally during exercise, it's too strenuous.
  • After 20 weeks of pregnancy, avoid doing any exercises lying on your back.
  • Avoid strenuous exercise in hot, humid weather or when you have a fever.
  • Wear comfortable clothing that will help you stay cool.
  • Wear a well-fitting, supportive bra.
  • Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration and overheating.
  • Be sure to get the extra 300 calories a day required during pregnancy.

Stop exercising if you experience any of the following:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Vaginal bleeding or fluid discharge
  • Dizziness or feeling faint
  • Difficulty walking
  • Uterine contractions or chest pain

For your baby and your body, the evidence is clear: exercise will help you both greatly.

Review Date: 6/28/2011

Reviewed By: Jeffrey Heit, MD, Internist with special emphasis on preventive health, fitness and nutrition, Philadelphia VA Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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