Is it safe to start a walking program during the first trimester of pregnancy? Most experts say yes. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends regular exercise during the first two trimesters. The American College of Family Physicians (ACFP) says that exercise gives pregnant women more stamina and helps build muscles before childbirth.
Walking makes sense for pregnant women, because it provides aerobic benefits and tones muscles. Walking can be done indoors or outside, in almost any environment. Other than a comfortable pair of shoes, walking takes no special or expensive equipment. Compared with other exercises, walking places less stress on joints and muscles. Women who haven’t been exercising will find walking an easy way to get started.
According to the ACOG, exercise helps reduce the risk of backache and bloating. Exercise also improves posture, can be a mood-booster and may help pregnant women avoid or control the symptoms of gestational diabetes. In addition, exercise can help with breathing control during labor.
Remember that a walking program will affect weight gain during pregnancy. Eat enough to make up for calories burned during a walk. Carry water or other fluids when walking to avoid dehydration. Women who have had previous high-risk pregnancies or delivery problems should take special care when exercising. A doctor or other health care provider should closely review any fitness plan, including a walking program.
Some concerns have been expressed about the effects of exercise on a fetus. The ACFP says no proof exists that exercise can harm expectant mothers or their babies. At the same time, there’s no evidence that a mother’s fitness program will benefit an unborn child. Women may assume they need to stop exercise routines as soon as they learn of their pregnancy. In fact, unless there are known health risks, exercise remains a key part of good health for pregnant women.
When just starting out, pregnant women should take slow, gentle walks for 5 to 10 minutes. Avoid hills and rough pavement at first. As time passes, increase the time and distance of each walk. Try to work up to 30 minutes of walking several days a week. Women should begin each walk at a slow pace to warm up, then increase the speed to reach a comfortable pace.
ACOG has updated its guidelines to encourage more women to exercise during pregnancy. In the past, many health professionals warned against exercise because statistics showed that babies born to active women had lower birth weights. Viewpoints have changed, with the recognition that increasing calories while continuing exercise is most beneficial.
Ask an obstetrician, midwife or other health adviser before starting an exercise program during pregnancy. Avoid sudden motions while exercising and exercising to the point of exhaustion. Stop exercising and call a doctor if you bleed, experience pain or swelling in your muscles, get a headache or chest pain, find yourself weak or dizzy or have contractions. Women with a history of heart disease, high blood pressure, lung disease or high-risk pregnancies should not exercise without a doctor’s approval.