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13 rules for working out while pregnant

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Working out during pregnancy is not only beneficial for you (and baby!) now, the benefits pay off after you give birth, too.  While The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends 30 minutes of exercise on most or all days of the week, that may not be the best for you. Your body is changing constantly, which means you have to reevaluate what’s safe and your effort level as your baby grows.

Here, find out the answers to your fitness questions so you stay safe as you work out.

1. Get your doc’s ok.
It’s important to get the green light from your doctor before hitting the gym, especially if you have a medical condition like placenta previa or preeclampisa, which could mean exercise is off limits.

2. Warm up.
The type of warm-up you do depends on what you’re doing, but 6 to 15 minutes is ideal, according to Anne Martens, founder of Bella Bellies, a fitness program for women in all stages of motherhood.

“You’re warming up the muscles so they can function optimally in that you can reduce or help reduce the chance of injury,” she said. A good warm-up also helps the blood vessels dilate and contract so you won’t feel winded.

3. Drink enough water.
Staying hydrated is important especially during pregnancy and even more so when you’re exercising. A good way to get enough?  Divide your weight in half and drink that amount in fluid ounces each day. Drink up an hour before your workout and then re-hydrate every 15 minutes, Martens said.

4. Put some sports on the backburner.
You shouldn’t do any activity that could cause a sudden fall or involve contact with your belly. So skiing, surfing, scuba diving, water skiing, outdoor biking, even tennis should wait until after you give birth.  

5. Exercise even if you didn’t before pregnancy.
“There are actually more risks associated with being sedentary during your pregnancy than starting a new exercise program,” according to Leah Keller, a pre- and post-natal fitness expert and founder of the Dia Method. Start slow and speak with your doctor about a modified program if you have limitations.

6. Avoid certain movements.
Nix any exercise program that includes lying on your stomach, lying on your back after 20 weeks, and twisting because it could cause disruption in the alignment of your uterus, Keller said.

7. Nix the heart rate monitor.
You may have been told to use a heart rate monitor, but they’re actually not reliable during pregnancy and can be a source of anxiety. Instead, use the talk test: if you can have a conversation, you’re at the right intensity. “If you’re absolutely breathless, you’re probably working too hard,” Keller said.

8. You can step it up.
Experts used to advise pregnant women avoid increasing exercise during pregnancy, but not anymore. If you walked pre-pregnancy, you wouldn’t want to do P90X, but you could definitely add more miles or start out with an easy jog.

9. Work your abs.
“The core muscles are key to having an efficient and easier labor,” according to Keller, who noted that core strength can also help with pushing during delivery. Sit-ups and crunches put too much strain on the abdominal muscles and can weaken the core. Instead, draw your belly into your spine and squeeze them tight to tighter for a simple strengthener.

10. Pilates is ok but it should be modified.
You can take Pilates, but just like crunches, some traditional moves should be avoided during pregnancy.  Look for a certified trainer who has 200 hours of experience and knows how to modify the program for pregnancy, Martens said.

11. Do weight training with caution.
Lifting weights, especially over your head, can constrict the nerves in your upper torso, cause injury or even lead to misalignment in the lower back, Martens said. If your coordination isn’t strong, swap the weights for a resistance band instead or use lighter weights and increase the reps. You can also work with a trainer to ensure you’re lifting correctly.

12. Leave time to cool down.
After your workout, a cool-down is just as important as a warm-up because it gradually decreases your heart rate.

13. Know when to stop.
ACOG has a list of warning signs to know when to stop, but if you’re feeling drained, fatigued or slightly off, cool down and stop for the day. You should feel invigorated, not exhausted.

“Listen to your body even more than usual,” Keller said.

Julie Revelant is a freelance writer and copywriter specializing in parenting, health, healthcare, nutrition, food and women's issues. She’s also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.