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What is Antenatal Exercise?

By M. DePietro
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Exercise during pregnancy is called antenatal exercise. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends most women exercise throughout their pregnancy. Exercise is likely to improve sleep, mood and energy level. It may also help reduce bloating and prevent gestational diabetes. Women who exercise during pregnancy may also get back into shape after the birth of their baby more easily.

Although most women can safely participate in antenatal exercise, it’s important to discuss exercise with a physician prior to starting a program. This is especially true for women who did not exercise before becoming pregnant. Women with certain conditions or who are at high risk for preterm labor may be advised not to exercise during pregnancy.

For women who do get the go-ahead for exercise, the ACOG recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week. Antenatal exercise should include cardiovascular exercise, muscle toning work, stretching and exercises to strengthen and tone the muscles of the pelvic floor. These muscles help prevent incontinence, which is common after pregnancy and childbirth.

Kegels are one of the main exercises which work the pelvic floor muscles and should be part of an antenatal exercise program. In order to perform a Kegel exercise, contract and release the pelvic floor muscles which controls the flow of urine. Kegels should be performed several times a day through a pregnancy.

Cardiovascular exercise should also be included in a pregnant women‘s exercise program. It helps build endurance, which may come in handy during a long labor. Examples of cardiovascular exercise include jogging, aerobic exercise classes and brisk walking. Swimming is also a good choice for pregnant women, because it tends to be easier on the joints.

There are a few guidelines pregnant women should keep in mind during antenatal exercise. The joints in the body become more mobile or relaxed due to the hormones produced throughout the pregnancy, which may make a woman more prone to an injury. A woman’s center of gravity also changes during a pregnancy as she gains weight. This change can lead to balance problems and may increase the risk of falls. Activities, such as skiing and biking may need to be limited during later stages of pregnancy.

Safety is essential during antenatal exercise. Exercise in hot weather should be avoided. Becoming overheated can be dangerous for both mom and baby. Drink water often to stay well-hydrated. Dehydration can lead to premature labor.

Women should stop exercising if vaginal bleeding or uterine cramps occur and immediately consult their doctor before continuing. A pregnant woman should start slowly, pace herself and listen to her body. Women should keep in mind they may not be able to work out at the same intensity or for the same duration as they did prior to pregnancy.

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Discussion Comments

By Drentel — On Feb 15, 2014

I agree with the article about prenatal exercises making it easier for women to get back in shape after they have a baby. So many women complain about how difficult it is to get back to their before-baby weight. Exercising all long should reduce some of the non-baby weight a women gains and she'll have less weight to lose after the baby.

By Animandel — On Feb 15, 2014

Sporkasia - I can remember stories about women in some countries doing strenuous physical labor from the time they were pregnant to the time they had their babies. In some areas, women work in the fields, go into labor, go home and have the baby and then return to work the next day, if not sooner.

I have never seen that happen, but it goes to show that not all cultures believe work and exercise are bad for a pregnant woman. More and more, we are seeing the benefits of a little strenuous activity and exercise for pregnant women. We are also realizing that sitting around with our feet up isn't always the best position for us.

By Sporkasia — On Feb 14, 2014

It doesn't seem that long ago when the accepted rule of thumb was that pregnant women should do as little as possible. Now, when I go to the gym I see women taking part in pregnancy exercise classes and working out on the fitness machines, and there are other pregnant women who prefer walking around the track.

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