Medical attitudes to exercise, dance and pregnancy have altered radically in the past twenty years. Before then doctors were likely todvise the mother-to-be to avoid strenuous activity and just take gentle walks.

Today the considerable benefits of aerobic exercise are generally understood and acknowledged. Scientific research shows no correlation between moderate to vigorous levels of aerobic exercise and miscarriage or other pregnancy complications. The impression is that pregnant women who take regular aerobic exercise suffer less back pain, gestational diabetes, depression, medical interventions while in labor, ceasarian sections and other problems arising from pregnancy.

Exercising during this period brings numerous benefits. Fit women give birth to leaner babies thus reducing the likelihood of their offspring becoming overweight or diabetic as adults.Aerobic activity increases the size of the placenta which in turn increases its efficiency in exchanging oxygen, CO2, nutrients and waste products. Blood and oxygen are delivered to the brain and heart more effectively which helps to raise both concentration and energy levels. Furthermore,babies born to fit mothers have greater cardiovascular capacity right from their arrival in the world.

Another very important point is that cardiovascular exercise prevents excessive weight gain during the pregnancy which in turn reduces the risk of diabetes for both mother and child long term.

An expectant mother who exercises will get her figure back much sooner than one who has lazed about and taken little physical activity.

The maternal immune system is boosted by exercise and this also has positive benefits for the unborn child. Regular exercise reduces stress, anxiety and insomnia while lowering the risk of depression.

Other benefits of exercise during pregnancy are that come D-Day women who exercise have higher pain thresholds and greater stamina for labor and delivery. Good pelvic muscle tone leads to fewer episiotomies or tearing.

A mother-to-be's concern for her baby strengthens her motivation to improve her health in general which can lead to her taking up a fitness program, or stopping smoking and/or drinking.

I came across the following list of what are described as the best aerobic activities during pregnancy:- power walking, hiking at low altitude, low impact aerobics, step aerobics (low step level), Nia ( a personal growth mind-body-spirit fitness program),or other improvisational movement classes, treadmill, elliptical trainer, recumbent bicycle, swimming, aqua aerobics, dancing (low impact).

Personally I would always advocate a holistic dance based exercise program at this beautiful time in a woman's life.

Whether you are used to regular exercise or not it is very important to seek advice from a health professional especially if you want to start dancing for the first time.

Generally speaking the American College of Obsstetricians and Gynecologists no longer uphold restrictions on heart rate during aerobic workouts. So the previous advice of keeping the heart rate below 140 beats per minute no longer applies. Early in pregnancy the quantity of blood circulated by an expectant woman's heart increases, until in the final three months, it is between 30-50% higher than normal. The heart has to work harder to circulate this blood. The result will be that the mother-to-be tires more easily, and any exercise becomes more of a struggle, not matter how intense or gentle the exercise program is.

Heart rate is rising during this period too so a pregnant woman may need as long as 15 minutes before her heart beat returns to its resting rate. The needs of the heart and muscles can lead to the placenta having to compete for the extra blood which is circulating. Extreme aerobic activity can in fact divert too much blood away from the growing baby in the later stages of pregnancy. For this reason in the later stages pregnant women should not exercise to more than about 70% of maximum heart rate.

During pregnancy the hormone "relaxin" is released. It softens the ligaments and helps the uterus to expand. As the breasts get larger this may lead to the breakdown of their fibrous tissue. This effect is irreversible. So if you have never worn a bra now is the time to do so, especially when exercising.
Here are a few points which must be kept in mind:-

Do make sure that you have an experienced and competent instructor.

It is as important as ever to warm-up and cool-down at the start and finish of a session.

If you feel even slightly unwell stop. Listen to what your body is telling you. Clearly if you are feeling nauseous do not exercise.

A light snack an hour beforehand is a good idea.

Avoid activities where there is a risk of falling or violent body contact.

Only do strenuous routines for 15-20 minutes and restrict strenuous sessions to four times weekly.

It is very important to drink plenty of fluids, so drink before, during and after sessions.

Avoid exercising in hot and humid surroundings.

There should be no holding of breath.

Dance as exercise can be a great alternative to the more commonplace suggestions of yoga and walking. Certain movements and positions in dance should be avoided.

Expectant mothers should avoid exercising lying on their backs after the first three months.

Nor should they stand still for long periods of time as this could reduce the flow of blood to the uterus.

Keep one foot on the floor at all times.

March or step side-to-side instead of jumping.

Use fewer arm movements.

Avoid fast turns that might cause jarring. Instead always face in one direction.

Be careful with movements that result in a pronounced lumbar curve.

Avoid back bends.

Keep your bottom tucked under your pelvis.

Be aware of your bodies softened ligaments to avoid strains and sprains.

Learn how to contract your deep abdominals and pelvic floor muscles at the same time for stability and support.

The question, of course, arises as to how long a pregnant woman can and should continue dancing.

Tap dancing requires a great deal of hopping and jumping. This form of dance should be decreased if not stopped altogether after 16-20 weeks of pregnancy. The high impact jarring can be risky for both mother and baby. After three months low impact tap is advisable. A step can replace a jump and a heel a hop.

The first four months are said to be fine for Pole Dancing. After which it might become uncomfortable. There is also the danger of falling to be borne in mind.

Contemporary dance and yoga can generally be continued into the seventh month with a few moderations. Let your body and your medical professionals be your guides.

Each woman is a unique individual and there are reports of women dancing until a few hours before delivery. One woman proudly reported that with her third pregnancy she did dance aerobics, weights, and elliptical. She discontinued step after 34 weeks. She even worked out the day she went into labor and feels that this explains why there were only three hours from labor to delivery. I know of a young Spanish mother-to-be who at seven and a half months pregnant is still taking regular flamenco dance classes.

To sum up. As a rule a pregnant woman can keep on doing the type of exercise she did before - but with modifications. But there should be nothing about her physical condition that puts her and her pregnancy at high risk.

If you want your children to have a sense of rhythm and an appreciation of movement, exercise during your pregnancy!

Author's Bio: 

Dzagbe Cudjoe is a Dance and Movement Therapist, Intuitive Counselor, Healer and Ethnologist with a keen interest in promoting Dance as a means of achieving Mind-Body-and-Spirit integration... She is the author of the e-manual "Dance to Health -Help Your Special Needs Child Through Inspirational Dance". Dance to Health