Regular aerobic exercise and light weights can help you bounce back from pregnancy and delivery. It can also make you feel better about yourself and your pregnancy. However, all exercise should be moderate and appropriate to your level of fitness.
Whether you're an experienced athlete or a novice, I recommend you take it easy during the first trimester (weeks one through 14). During this time, I suggest you limit exercise to walking 30 minutes a day, taking care to keep your heart rate below 140. If you're experiencing spotting, cramping or other complications, I encourage rest over exercise.
Once you reach the second trimester, it's generally fine to exercise more vigorously. This means different things to different women, but it may include going to the gym a few times a week for aerobic exercise and light weights or alternating your workouts by participating in a physician-approved exercise program. Alternating exercises decreases the risk of repetitive strain injuries and provides better all-around training. Again, it is important to keep the heart rate below 140 and to avoid overheating the body. Always remember to drink a lot of water. You will also be more comfortable in loose-fitting clothing.
When you do floor exercises, don't lie on your back - your enlarging uterus will put pressure on the major blood vessels that return blood to the heart. This becomes especially important after the first trimester. Finally, you should avoid contact sports and any exercise that involves abdominal crunches.
I recommend that you exercise through the third trimester, or as long as you're comfortable. Your enlarging uterus, extra weight and swollen ankles may slow you down during this late time in the pregnancy. Still, slow walks can help maintain your fitness level and may even help encourage the onset of labor when the time nears.
Because each woman and each pregnancy is different, you should talk to your doctor about the exercise routine that is best for you. If you experience any complications, such as preterm labor or contractions, preeclampsia or pregnancy-induced hypertension, you may be more limited in your exercise options.
After delivery, you should allow your body to recover for several weeks before resuming strenuous exercise. I recommend waiting six to eight weeks before performing any vigorous aerobic activity or strength training. The ligaments of the back and pelvis stay loose for months after delivery, so you're more vulnerable to sustaining sports-related injuries during this time.
Working out during pregnancy can be fun and easy, and it has proven physical and emotional benefits. With the proper regimen and technique, you can continue to feel confident, strong and healthy during these important nine months.
Dr. Aarti Srinivasan is an internist at Camino Medical Group, affiliated with the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, in San Jose. The Palo Alto Medical Foundation and editor Arian Dasmalchi provide information for this monthly column.