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Pregnant? It's time to get moving!

You'd think that after having two kids, Tracy Coyne would have recognized the most obvious sign that she was pregnant once again: no energy. As a result, at night she was going to bed at the same time as her toddlers and during the day she found herself sneaking in naps whenever possible.

"I attributed my exhaustion to the hectic holiday season," said the suburban mother, who lives south of Boston. "Once I realized I was pregnant, it made sense. There's no feeling like the complete exhaustion of your first trimester."

While there's little you can do to offset low energy levels early on in pregnancy, healthcare experts agree that as long as there are no health-related conditions that would limit a woman's activity during pregnancy, exercise and a balanced diet are the best ways to fight off fatigue.

The benefits of regular activity are undeniable for pregnant women. Keeping fit during pregnancy not only helps maintain energy levels, but can also make it easier to get back in shape after childbirth. Exercising at least 30 minutes a day can reduce backaches, prevent gestational diabetes, improve mood, promote muscle tone, help you sleep and, yes, give you more energy, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

As with any exercise regime, always keep your mind in tune with your body, as there may be times when you physically can't participate in that low-impact step aerobics class at the gym. The first 24 weeks may be the easiest times to exercise because you don't have a large belly getting in the way. As the fetus grows, however, your joints are prone to injury because the hormones produced during pregnancy cause the ligaments supporting your joints to relax, according to the ACOG. In addition, the added weight of the baby may affect balance or cause back pain.

If during the first trimester you'd much rather sleep than swim, that's fine. For most women the second trimester gets easier. "At the end of my first trimester the weather improved, which allowed me to go for long walks," says Coyne. "This increased my overall energy level. I found I was sleeping better at night and able to sustain a higher level of energy throughout the day."

Other helpful hints include not skipping meals — especially breakfast — and getting outside for both the fresh air and the sunlight. "You don't have to run a marathon or overachieve, just go for a walk," says Ann Douglas, author of The Mother of All Pregnancy Books. "Find an exercise buddy and validate that you'll do something together on a regular basis."

Of course, in the third trimester, the extra weight and the lack of sleep can lead you full circle back to a state of exhaustion. But most experts say there's no reason why women can't exercise in their final weeks of pregnancy, although the activity will probably need modification.

Warning signs

While moderate exercise is recommended throughout pregnancy, stop exercising and call your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Dizziness or feeling faint
  • Increased shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Muscle weakness
  • Calf pain or swelling
  • Uterine contractions
  • Decreased fetal movement
  • Fluid leaking from the vagina

Stephanie Neil is a freelance writer based in Scituate, Massachusetts

Source: The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; www.acog.org

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