If you’re pregnant, I’m sure you’ve heard from your doctor, your aunt, your cousin, and your nosy next door neighbor that exercising is important during pregnancy, and it’s recommended you get at least 30 minutes of light-to-moderate exercise every day. And this can be done just by going for a walk. I’ve been taking this advice to heart, but recently, after finishing a 30-minute walk at 6 months pregnant, I noticed some really bad cramping going on down there. I started to freak out, of course. But is cramping after exercise during pregnancy dangerous? Was I going into preterm labor? Am I hurting the baby?
Even in typical pregnancies, in the later trimesters, exercising may cause Braxton Hicks contractions, which mom will interpret as uterine cramping, says Dr. G. Thomas Ruiz, an OB-GYN at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, in an interview with Romper. But why is this happening? Ruiz says, “Some perceived cramping may also be due to overtaxing muscles, which have been stretched due to pregnancy. This usually will resolve with rest.” He also says the cramping should stop within 30 minutes to an hour.
When is the cramping worthy of seeing a doctor? Dr. Sherry Ross, an OB-GYN and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells Romper “when it’s associated with vaginal bleeding, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, pain with urination, fever, fast heartbeat, and worsening pain,” you should contact your doctor. To get rid of those Braxton Hicks contractions and other cramping during pregnancy, Ross recommends resting and hydrating, which will help relax your uterine muscles.
Even though the cramping can be uncomfortable and concerning after exercising, it’s still important you do try to get some light exercise in while you’re pregnant, as long as it’s been cleared by your doctor. Benefits of exercising while pregnant, according to Ross, include improving the mental and physical health of both you and your baby. “Research shows that exercise has long term benefits for a pregnant woman staying healthy and active that continues during the lifetime of a baby,” Ross explains. Exercising also improves the “vascular smooth muscle of your baby’s heart,” she says. And can even decrease the baby’s susceptibility to heart disease throughout his or her life, according to studies.
Exercising also decreases your risk of getting gestational diabetes (GD), which could cause “dangerous complications to the baby,” Ross says. “When a pregnant woman develops gestational diabetes, this puts the baby at risk for being much larger than normal, which can lead to a dangerous shoulder dystocia (shoulders get stuck coming out of the vagina), stillbirth, and neonatal complications including low blood sugar, respiratory distress and longer days in the neonatal intensive care unit. Regular exercise decreases these types of risks.”
Want a smart as a whip baby? Exercise will help with that, too. “Exercise during pregnancy improves a newborn’s brain power. Exercising three times a week for 20 minutes has an amazing impact on the brain of a newborn, showing faster and more attentive responses to external sounds,” Ross says.
Cramping after exercising, especially in the later trimesters, are completely normal — since those already stretched muscles are getting a workout. Nothing to worry about unless the cramping is accompanied by bleeding, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, pain when you pee, fever, fast heartbeat, and worsening pain. Otherwise, happy exercising as long as you can muster it. Exercising truly is really good for both you and your baby.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.