Exercise is often considered a good thing when you’re pregnant. It not only helps reduce the many discomforts associated with pregnancy, such as bloating, fatigue, constipation, backaches and sleeplessness, but also goes a long way to improving mood, endurance and strength. In fact, many women are better able to cope with labor as a result of regular physical activity. This isn’t to stay certain restrictions don’t exist while you’re pregnant, but the idea that exercise can help dilate the cervix is more of a myth than anything based on fact.
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Walking appears to be the only exercise of any potential benefit. But this form of exercise isn’t going to actually induce labor or cause the cervix to dilate on its own. Instead, it can sometimes help speed labor along. According to Dr. William Camann, director of Obstetric Anesthesia at Brigham and Women's Hospital at the Harvard Medical School, women who get up and move around during labor tend to have an easier time with their labor than those who remain lying down.
The correlation between walking and ease of labor, however, is more of a “chicken-or-egg” scenario. It’s difficult to determine which came first. Whether the walking during labor made the labor easier or their ease of labor allowed the women to get up and move around during labor is still debatable. If your doctor gives you the OK, feel free to get up and take a stroll to gauge its benefits.
This may lead you to wonder why some women must restrict their level of activity. Most exercise restrictions you encounter during pregnancy are typically attributed to prenatal complications. If your pregnancy is normal, your doctor isn’t likely to ask you to reduce your level of physical activity to keep the cervix from dilating. Things like preeclampsia, preterm labor or vaginal bleeding can all lead to restrictions in exercise, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. But it’s the result of these conditions, not the likelihood of dilation, that is keeping you from your chosen athletic pursuit. For example, preeclampsia, which is a pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, can restrict blood flow to the placenta or even cause an abruption to the placenta.
Even if you don't have prenatal complications, certain activities are often restricted during pregnancy. But like complications, these restrictions don’t revolve around the potential for the cervix to dilate. Rather, they involve the likelihood of falling or injury during the pursuit, which can harm you or the baby. High-impact aerobics is one of the more common exercise restrictions, explains the American Pregnancy Association. Because your center of gravity has changed, the jumping and sudden movements can take you off balance and lead to a fall. You should also avoid ice skating, rollerblading, downhill skiing and other pursuits that increase the likelihood of falling. As always, talk to your doctor before getting involved in any type of physical activity, especially if you’re new to the pursuit.