EXERCISE, SEX, WORK AND TRAVEL
The first post on Pregnancy do’s and dont’s analysed what is allowed and what discouraged during pregnancy concerning food, beverages, alcohol and cigarette (see here). The second part dealt with beauty treatments and medications (see here). Check out this third article on do’s and dont’s regarding exercise, sex, working and travel while pregnant…
Why to exercise: Beginning or continuing a moderate course of exercise during pregnancy is not associated with adverse outcomes. In fact, exercise may have many health benefits: it lessens some of the discomforts of pregnancy, it helps strengthen the muscles used in labor and delivery, it may give you more energy and make you feel better. There is also some evidence that exercise may prevent pregnancy-related diabetes and high blood pressure. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends for pregnant women 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day on most days of the week.
Check with your doctor first! There are certain circumstances in which women should not exercise, such as those with asthma or heart problems, or pregnancies complicated with bleeding, low placenta, weak cervix or premature contractions.
Exercises that are safe: The type of exercise you can do during pregnancy depends on your health and how active you were before getting pregnant. This is not a good time to start a very demanding sport. But if you were active before, you can continue to be, within reason. The following activities, in moderation, are especially good during pregnancy:
- Swimming (it should be OK even in chlorinated pools)
- Brisk walking
- Prenatal exercise classes
- Prenatal yoga
- High-impact or vigorous sports that may involve the risk of abdominal trauma, falls or excessive joint stress.
- Holding your breath during activity
- Exercises that require lying flat on your back for more than three minutes (especially after the third month of pregnancy)
- Heavy exercise spurts followed by periods of no activity
- Exercise in hot and humid weather
- Activities in hot water (see more here)
- Vigorous racquet sports
- Activities where falling is likely (e.g. skiing, horseback riding, mountain biking)
- Contact sports: football, basketball, volleyball, softball
- Scuba diving, which may result in birth defects and fetal decompression disease.
Tips for safe exercise: Even though exercise can be beneficial, you should be careful. During pregnancy, your centre of gravity shifts and your balance changes. Your joints and ligaments get more relaxed. This may put you at a greater risk for falls. You tire more easily. Caution should be the rule!
- Avoid getting overheated.
- Limit outdoor exercise in hot weather.
- Avoid exercise that makes you very tired, or with high risk of falling or getting an abdominal trauma
- Get up slowly after doing floor exercises, to avoid getting dizzy
- Drink lots of water
- Consume extra calories if you exercise regularly
- Wear good support shoes and bra
- Don’t push yourself too much! Listen to your body and slow down when you feel tired.
Signs to stop exercising: You should stop exercising and call you doctor if you feel one of the following:
- Dizziness, fainting or nauseated
- Rapid or irregular heatbeat
- Short of breath
- Pain in your chest
- Recurring abdominal pain or uterine contractions
- Swelling in your calf
- Intense headache
- Blurred vision
- Vaginal bleeding
- Fluid leaking from your vagina
- A decreased or absence of baby’s movements
The baby is well protected inside the uterus! The uterine wall, the amniotic sac and the mucus plug (thick mucus that seals the cervical canal to prevent infections) will all keep the baby safe.
Keep in mind that intercourse can cause uterine contractions: the orgasm itself, nipple stimulation and prostaglandins (a substance contained in sperm) will all may make the uterus contract. In general, these contractions are mild and harmless.
Love making has been long proposed as a measure to induce labor at term. Although there is no scientific evidence that sex triggers labor, it may help, and it won’t harm!
Does sex feel the same while pregnant? Sex during pregnancy can be different than before. For some women, it may be more pleasurable, due to the high hormonal levels, genital engorgement and increase in vaginal secretions. For others though, sexual desire may be reduced for many reasons: nausea and dizziness during the first trimester, genital swelling which may sometimes cause discomfort, or you may just feel uneasy with your body changes…
Furthermore, your breasts get very engorged and tender, which may be pleasant for some women, but annoying for others…
Love making in practice… needless to say, certain positions will be uncomfortable, or impossible as your womb gets bigger…You may need to experiment a little bit to find which positions are fine for you… Especially during the third trimester, you should avoid lying flat on your back, because the pressure of the womb on the major blood vessels may cause a drop in blood pressure and dizziness. Although oral sex is fine, blowing into the vagina is to be avoided, as it may cause air embolism (a bubble of air entering the blood circulation), which may have fatal consequences.
When to avoid intercourse: there are certain situations, in which sexual intercourse is discouraged: if you have vaginal bleeding, a history of repeated miscarriages, preterm uterine contractions, or a weak cervix. In addition, you will be told to abstain from sex if you have a diagnosis of placenta previa (when the placenta lyes low in the uterus or covers the cervix). Always check with your doctor to make sure it’s OK for you to have sex.
When to call your doctor: you should call your healthcare provider if, after sex, you have intense abdominal pain, cramping, foul smelling discharge or bleeding coming from the vagina.
WORKING DURING PREGNANCYIf you are a healthy woman and you have a normal pregnancy, most likely it will be safe to continue working during pregnancy. Don’t forget to talk to your doctor about your work environment. There are certain occupations that may be dangerous, and others that may require certain modifications:
Exposure to radiation and radioactivity: there is evidence to support an association between x-rays or radioactivity exposure and miscarriages, birth defects and other pregnancy complications. You should inform right away your doctor and your employer if you receive occupational x-rays or radioactivity exposure.
Exposure to chemicals: Studies results are less conclusive for occupational exposure to chemicals, but there seems to be some increased risk of miscarriages and eventually malformations. Some examples of jobs with chemical exposure are dry-cleaning, painting industries, operating rooms, jobs involving pesticide or heavy metals exposure (lead, mercury). Inconclusive evidence also exists for women working in beauty salons (for more info check here).
Physically demanding work: jobs with prolonged standing (such as cooks, police officers, nurses) and heavy weight lifting may be associated with poor pregnancy outcome, that is, more likely to deliver prematurely, have low-birth-weight-babies and develop high blood pressure.
Stressful jobs and long working hours: Some research has shown that pregnant women who reported high work stress in combination with a long workweek (more than 32 hours a week) have two times higher risk of giving birth to a small baby.
The evidence on prolonged hours and shift working is inconclusive.
Desk jobs: Although some studies in the 80s had suggested that computers may increase the risk of pregnancy complications, many studies have been done since then, and these findings have not been confirmed. In fact the dose of radiation emitted by a computer is extremely low. The problem of a desk job lies mostly in sitting for a long period of time, which may lead to neck, eyes, wrist and back strain. If you have an office job, try to get up frequently and take a break from time to time.
Other possible occupational risks may include exposure to infections or heavy noise.
Is it safe? For uncomplicated pregnancies, it is safe to travel throughout most of the pregnancy, usually until the last month (36 weeks). Inform your doctor whether you plan to travel, and precise where and when you plan to go. There are certain women that should not be traveling, such us those with vaginal bleeding, high risk of preterm labor or increased chances of forming blood clots.
Land travel: It is fine to travel by car, train or bus. It is very important that you wear your three-point seatbelt (shoulder and lap), above and below the womb, not over it. Try to avoid very long trips, stop or walk from time to time to stretch your legs in order to keep the blood circulating.
Sea travel: Traveling by boat is safe in pregnancy, but keep in mind that the boat’s motion may accentuate, or provoke, nausea and vomiting. So be prepared for that! In addition, avoid destinations which may not have easy medical access; if you are on a cruise make sure they have a healthcare provider on board.
- For most of pregnant women, traveling by plane is permitted. Most of the companies will allow traveling up to 32 weeks of pregnancy, many others up to 36 weeks (you will need to provide a doctor’s permission). Check always with the airline company before making your reservation…
- You should’n worry about walking through metal detectors at the airport security check, the radiation dose they emit is extremely low.
- In order to avoid heavy luggage lifting, you may prefer to use suitcases with wheels to make travel as easy as possible.
- Long-haul air travel is associated with an increased risk of venous thrombosis (blood clots formation), a potentially serious pregnancy complication. This risk is attributed predominantly to immobility during air travel, especially when traveling in economy class, where the space between the seats is very narrow. Precautionary measures include:
- wear loose-fitting clothes and comfortable shoes,
- do isometric calf exercises (stretch your legs from time to time),
- walk regularly around the aircraft cabin,
- avoid dehydration: drink plenty of water, minimise alcohol and caffeine intake,
- check with your healthcare provider the possibility of wearing special elastic stockings in order to improve blood circulation.
- Discuss with your doctor possible safety risks for you and your baby.
- Certain destinations are best avoided: places with difficult access to health care, or high risk of contracting infections or other diseases.
- Special consideration should be taken when travelling to countries where yellow fever vaccination or malaria prevention medication may be needed. Make sure that any vaccines or medications required are not contraindicated in pregnancy. You may check the authoritative site of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for useful information (see here), but you must talk about it with your doctor.
- You may take with you a copy of your medical records, in case anything is needed in your foreign destination.
NICE: Antenatal Care- Routine Care for the Healthy Pregnant Woman. March 2008, UK
HAS: Comment mieux informer les femmes enceintes? Avril 2005, France
Planning Your Pregnancy and Birth Third Ed. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Ch. 5.