Exercise during pregnancy: safety, benefits, and what to avoid
An interview with OBGYN Specialist, Ali DiMatteo M.D.
A primer for women in Longmont, Boulder, and beyond
Dr. Alexandra DiMatteo is a physician with the Boulder Medical Center OBGYN department in Boulder and Longmont, Colorado. As an outdoor enthusiast, she understands and supports the active lifestyle that is so important to women in Boulder County and throughout Colorado. So, what advice does she have for women who want to exercise while pregnant? This Q&A with Dr. DiMatteo highlights the benefits, safety considerations, and best types of exercise during pregnancy.
Is it safe to exercise during pregnancy?
Dr. DiMatteo: Yes! The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists put out a fantastic committee opinion on this a couple of years ago and in general they found that physical activity has very little risk and is, in fact, beneficial for most women during pregnancy. The important thing is to make sure to ask your doctor to evaluate your exercise plan and be sure that you follow any physical limitations that are recommended.
What are some of the benefits of exercising while pregnant?
Dr. DiMatteo: Studies have found a lower chance of gestational diabetes along with decreases in cesarean and operative delivery rates for women who exercise during pregnancy. Research also shows that exercise helps with post-partum recovery. For women who have gestational diabetes, studies show that exercising while pregnant can help manage blood sugar and prevent preeclampsia.
What are the best types of exercise during pregnancy?
Dr. DiMatteo: Many types of exercise are safe during pregnancy including walking, swimming, stationary cycling, and low-impact aerobics. If you are already running, jogging, and strength training you can typically continue these activities. Yoga and pilates can also be safe, however, it’s important to modify some of the poses to manage symptoms associated with staying in one position for a long period of time or lying on your back. Ask your medical provider before starting a new regimen or if you have questions about continuing your pre-pregnancy activity.
Can my doctor help me determine the best exercise during my pregnancy?
Dr. DiMatteo: Absolutely! Your provider should be well versed in the best exercises. It’s a good idea to find one who can work with your current routines and lifestyle. My approach is to work with a woman to customize a program that meets her wishes, needs, and goals. When determining the best exercises, I look at their current activity level, understand what they are comfortable with, and help find activities that they may enjoy through every trimester. Once we’ve established a plan together, we monitor the routine and make modifications as the pregnancy progresses.
I’ve learned that for most women, the exercise that they enjoy is what they will continue, both during pregnancy and after pregnancy.
Any exercises I should avoid?
Dr. DiMatteo: I tell women in my clinic that any kind of contact sport should be avoided, so that includes activities like hockey, soccer, and basketball. Activities with a high risk of falling should also be avoided, so unfortunately that includes alpine skiing, which I know will make some people unhappy here in Boulder County!
So, in general, anything that puts you at a higher risk of falling or colliding with other people or with the ground increases your risk of having a miscarriage or preterm delivery, so I advise women to avoid these activities in all trimesters.
Hot yoga and hot pilates should be avoided as well. The concern here is that exposure to heat is associated with developmental issues, especially with neural tube defects, particularly in the first trimester. Also, later in pregnancy, the increasing flexibility of the joints along with additional heat during hot yoga or hot pilates can place women at higher risk of injury.
SCUBA diving should also be avoided, as the fetus is unable to manage the air bubbles that are produced.
What are some of the things I should monitor while exercising?
Dr. DiMatteo: Monitoring the intensity of a workout is more difficult in pregnancy, so using only a heart rate measurement is not effective. I recommend monitoring how difficult an exercise feels. A moderate intensity, where you can hold a conversation, but not sing, is generally considered safe. It is also important to monitor your body temperature, exercise in well-ventilated rooms, wear clothes that are breathable, and drink enough water. Remember that your body is using more calories overall, so it’s important to maintain appropriate caloric intake.
What are the signs that I should stop exercising?
Dr. DiMatteo: Signs to stop exercising immediately and consult with your medical provider include vaginal bleeding, painful regular contractions, or leaking amniotic fluid. Also, stop exercising and notify your provider if you’re short of breath before exercising or if you develop headaches, dizziness, or chest pains during exercise. Finally, be aware that as your muscles weaken during exercise your risk of falling increases. If you feel that your muscles are weak, reduce the intensity of your workout or stop entirely.
What if I’m new to exercising? Can I start now?
Dr. DiMatteo: For women who have not exercised in the past and want to so so while pregnant, the first step is to check in with your medical provider. From there, it’s a good idea to start with low-intensity exercises like walking for short periods and then building up gradually.
Can I exercise during my entire pregnancy?
Dr. DiMatteo: In general, most women can exercise well into their pregnancy. You will probably need to make modifications as you get farther along such as adjusting the types of activities, scaling positions for the various activities, or changing the length of your exercise sessions. Assuming that you are healthy and there are no specific reasons to stop (i.e. physician recommendations), you should be able to exercise up until the very end!
About Alexandra DiMatteo, MD
OBGYN at Boulder Medical Center
My experience prior to medical school invested me in addressing women’s health issues. I am passionate about helping women stay healthy and strong while supporting their efforts to keep their families healthy. I am convinced that this approach helps build stronger communities. – Dr. Ali DiMatteo
Dr. Alexandra DiMatteo grew up in the Appalachian foothills along the Ohio River. When considering a career in medicine, she visited Duke University after her grandmother was treated for breast cancer there. Dr. DiMatteo immediately fell in love with the campus and soon enrolled. Although her dream was to work in medicine, she wanted to earn a degree in Women’s Studies with a certificate in Human Development first. “This was when I developed a passion for women’s health,” says Dr. DiMatteo.
Dr. DiMatteo is interested in all areas of women’s care including:
- Care for women in all seasons of their lives, from initial discussions about birth control through childbirth and menopause
- Personalized care during pregnancy, labor and childbirth
- High-risk pregnancies
- Postpartum care
- Diseases and conditions affecting the female reproductive system
- OB-GYN care and support of adolescents and the LGBT community
Dr. DiMatteo and her husband are avid world travelers and outdoors enthusiasts. Her outdoor passions include rock climbing, camping, backpacking, and hiking. She loves doing all of these with her husband and rescue pups, Giorgio, a mini-schnauzer and Bryn, a terrier mix.
How to contact Dr. DiMatteo
Dr. DiMatteo practices at Boulder Medical Center in Longmont and Boulder