Exercise During Pregnancy: How to be Safe, Benefits & Guidelines

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Some Pregnancy women are exercising on a yoga ball

The Best Exercises for Each Trimester

How Much Exercise Do You Need During Pregnancy

10 Safety Tips for Pregnancy Exercises

Is it Safe to Exercise During Pregnancy

Are you worried about how your pregnancy will affect your body? Or are you simply concerned that your old exercise routine won’t be safe for you, now that you’re pregnant?

Exercise during pregnancy is generally considered safe, and it can even make you feel better as the number on the scale starts to move upwards.

Getting proper pregnancy workouts is good for you and your baby. Plus, it can help slow down the weight gain throughout pregnancy. Remember that weight gain is normal and healthy, but you would want to keep it to a reasonable level.

Staying active should be a priority during pregnancy. Let’s look at what you should know about exercise to do during pregnancy.

If your health care provider approves exercising whilst pregnant, then it is automatically considered safe. When you go to the doctor for the first time, you should ask your provider what type of activities are safe for you to do. Your doctor will then consider if you have any health conditions or complications.

Typically, your doctor will ask you if you were physically active before you were pregnant. If so, you can remain active during pregnancy so long as you’re comfortable and cautious.

If you weren’t active before pregnancy but want to now, it’s still safe. Your doctor might recommend that you start slow with very low-intensity pregnancy workouts such as yoga or swimming.

Maintaining a regular exercise routine throughout your pregnancy can help you stay healthy and feel your best. There is evidence that physical activity may prevent gestational diabetes (diabetes that develops during pregnancy), relieve stress, and build more stamina needed for labor and delivery. ​

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Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD

Is Exercise Safe for All Pregnant Women?

For the most part, exercise is safe for most pregnant women. Every pregnant woman should speak to her healthcare provider before starting a new pregnancy workout plan. Your doctor can let you know if your plan is safe for your body and your baby.

In some cases, exercises are not always safe. Those with pre-existing conditions like asthma or heart disease may be advised not to working out while pregnant. Also, exercise can be harmful if you have certain pregnancy-related conditions, such as:

  • Vaginal bleeding or spotting
  • Placental issues such as placenta previa
  • A threat of miscarriage
  • Recurring miscarriage
  • Previous early labors
  • Incompetent cervix
  • Pregnant with twins or triplets
  • You have a cerclage in place.
  • Severe anemia
  • Lung problems

How Much Exercise Do You Need During Pregnancy?

Healthy pregnant women need at least 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic activity each week. This means you need cardiovascular activities that will require you to move large muscles such as your arms and legs. These exercises will make you breathe faster and deeper as your heart beats faster. 

Don’t worry; you don’t need to fill those 2.5 hours all at one time. Break it up throughout the week. In general, three to five times a week is the recommended amount of exercise. That might be 30 minutes each day or 45 minutes. It doesn’t matter how you break down the time, so long as you maintain consistency and determination. 

If you’ve lived a mostly sedentary lifestyle, build up 150 minutes each week. Start with walking for 5 or 10 minutes at a time. Make the 2.5 hours per week your goal, but take small steps to get to it. Remember not to overdo it while you’re pregnant. 

13 Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy

It can feel like a lot of work to exercise when you feel like a growing whale, but it happens to be one of the most important things you can do during pregnancy for you and your baby. Here are some benefits of exercising while pregnant.

1. Helps with Gestational Diabetes

Weight gain and inactivity greatly contribute to gestational diabetes for some mothers, and workout can help control weight gain that plays a part. Also, proper workout helps lower your blood sugar if you do develop gestational diabetes.

2. Prevents Extra Weight Gain

Weight gain is healthy and expected during pregnancy, but you don’t want to overdo it. It is recommended for pregnant mothers to burn around 300 calories per day.

3. Reduces Back Pain

Everyone knows that back pain is a side effect of pregnancy. Trying physical activity, such as yoga, can help loosen up the muscles in your back. You’ll feel much better.

4. Fights Morning Sickness

When you’re suffering from morning sickness, exercise seems like the last thing that you want to do. Instead of reaching for your crackers and soup, try exercising. It can help reduce the queasy feeling that’s ruling out life. 

5. Gets Rid of Constipation

Prenatal vitamins and hormones lead to some severe constipation. Constipation is miserable. Exercising regularly can help loosen up things again and make things move for you.

6. Boosts Your Immune System

Pregnancy suppresses your immune system, which is why many pregnant women get sick. Exercise helps to boost your immune system, dodging colds and flu in pregnancy. 

7. Helps You Sleep Better

All pregnant women will tell you that sleep is indeed a tricky business. Your body is aching, you have severe heartburn, and your hormones are on overdrive. Getting good sleep is essential for you and your baby during pregnancy. Exercising helps your body process all the changes and stops you from being overtired.

Good Sleeping During Pregnancy
Photo by bruce mars from Pexels

8. Lowers Blood Pressure

Chances are your doctor has warned you about the dangers of preeclampsia. It can be a huge problem throughout pregnancy. Exercising can help to reduce the risk of this complication. Try to exercise three to five times a week.

9. Better Birth Weight

Since exercise helps to reduce the mother’s blood sugar, it helps to lower the risk of an obese baby. Having a large for gestation baby increases the risk of a cesarean section and NICU visits. 

10. Gives More Brain Power

You might not believe it, but exercising at least 20 minutes a day for three days a week can help to boost your child’s brain activity. So, put on those shoes and go for a walk. It’s worth it. 

11. Better Immune System for Baby

By exercising regularly, you can boost your baby’s immune system, just like it helps boost your immune system. 

Healthy baby - Exercise During Pregnancy: How to be Safe, Benefits & Guidelines
Photo by Daniel Reche from Pexels

12. Fights Back Post-Baby Blues

Postpartum depression is a serious problem that mothers face. Exercise is a known mood booster, and regular workouts can help make you feel less depressed. You’ll be able to meet more challenges when exercising often. 

13. Helps Mom Bounce Back After Baby

Women who exercise throughout pregnancy tend to have a better recovery period. It helps your body get into better shape sooner because your body is stronger. 

How to Pick the Right Pregnancy Exercise?

So, how do you know which exercises you should try? 

First, if you’ve participated in regular workout before you became pregnant, you can continue to do that activity throughout your pregnancy. So many exercises are safe during pregnancy, but always do it with caution, and never push yourself to your limit. 

Right Pregnancy Exercise yoga
Photo by freestocks.org from Pexels

Think about what activities you enjoy and what you would want to try. Make sure that there is no chance of impact with other players, the ground, or parts of the court area. You might love to swim or take walks. Perhaps you usually enjoy a few yoga and dance classes a month. Continue those classes! 

Once you have an idea about what exercises you want to try, speak to your health care provider to make sure they feel it’s a good idea. 

The Best Exercises for Each Trimester

Most exercises are safe for pregnant women, so long as you always use caution and don’t do too much. Activities such as swimming, brisk walking, indoor cycling, and low-impact aerobics. 

First Trimester Exercises

The first trimester is the easiest time to find an exercise that works for you. Aside from nausea, you should be able to handle most of the same activities that you did before your pregnancy. You might need to adjust the intensity and duration, but it should be the same. 

Right now, your uterus is still safe inside of your pelvis, so lying on your back or handling a different center of gravity isn’t an issue yet. 

If you aren’t exercising but would like to start doing so, try prenatal yoga workout. As your belly starts to grow, you’ll notice a reduction in aches and pains from all of the stretching. The first trimester is the time to build up a habit of exercising for a lifetime. 

A few exercises for you to try during the first trimester include:

  • Pilates
  • Yoga
  • Walking
  • Swimming and Water Aerobics
  • Stationary Bike or Spin Classes
  • Lifting Weights
  • Running

Second Trimester Exercises

By the second trimester, your blood volume has increased, causing your heart to work harder even when you aren’t exercising. So, now is the time to bring down the intensity of the workout. That means running a bit slower. You can work just as hard but reduce the intensity to match what works for your current body. 

That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy all of the exercises and activities you love! Most exercises and sports are safe for the second trimester, but now is the time to avoid lying flat on your back.

Some appropriate second-trimester activities include:

  • Dancing
  • Running or Jogging
  • Cycling
  • Lightweight Lifting
  • Yoga

Third Trimester Exercises

Time to tone it down even more. If you’re a weight lifter, start using lighter weights. Instead of increasing the weight, do more reps. During the third trimester, you’ll notice more aches and pains because of the size of your belly. That means higher intensity prenatal exercises might not work as well for you, such as running. 

  • Walking
  • Jogging
  • Swimming
  • Water Aerobics
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Cycling(source)

What Exercises to Avoid When Pregnancy?

Specific exercises and activities could be harmful when performed during pregnancy. Thus, they should avoid activities with a fall risk or an impact risk. For example, playing contact football when you’re pregnant is a risky choice. 

Exercises that you should avoid during pregnancy include:

  • Holding your breath during any exercise or activity
  • Skiing
  • Horseback riding
  • Exercises that cause abdominal trauma
  • Contact sports such as softball or football
  • Extensive jumping or running
  • Deep knee bends or full sit-ups
  • Bouncing while stretching
  • Waist-twisting movements
  • Exercising in hot, humid weather

10 Safety Tips for Pregnancy Workouts

Being cautious is essential when exercising while pregnant. You need to follow some basic guidelines to ensure that you’re always safe. 

Consistency Matters

Make sure that you exercise multiple times a week, usually three to five times. Exercising randomly every couple of weeks doesn’t offer you all of the benefits that you want to see. The key is consistency, so be consistent with your physical activity.

Stretch Before and After

Always stretch before you start exercising. Do some gentle stretching before and after you exercise. It’s best for your muscles. 

Likewise, resist the urge to plop down on the couch and rest after your workout is over. You might feel sore and stiff afterward if you do. Instead, walk for five minutes to cool down your muscles. 

Avoid the Heat

Any mom that has been pregnant throughout the summer can tell you that the experience is harsh and brutal. Pregnant women have an increased metabolic rate, so we have to avoid exercising in hot or humid weather. It increases the risk of overheating and becoming dehydrated. The heat can also cause you to have trouble breathing or to feel dizzy

Don't Jump to Your Feet

Burpees might have been your favorite pre-pregnancy exercise, but it’s actually not the best one. Quickly changing positions can cause you to feel lightheaded and dizzy. Fainting or falling isn’t a good thing during pregnancy, so take it slow when going from sitting to standing. 

Know Your Limits

You don’t need to plan to run a marathon or try a Tough Mudder competition during pregnancy. Your goal is to exercise at least the minimum recommended apart several days a week. Don’t bite off more than you can take. Save the extensive exercising for post-pregnancy.

Don't Stand Still

Yoga is a favorite for pregnant women because it helps them feel more flexible, and it feels good. Make sure you don’t hold poses for too long. Standing still for too long in pregnancy actually can decrease your blood flow, making you feel lightheaded and cause your blood pressure to drop.

Keep Up Your Calories

Your goal shouldn’t be to lose weight during pregnancy. You need to make sure you’re eating enough calories for your baby’s nutritional needs as well as your own. A woman’s body will take from her dietary stores to give to the baby, so you need to have enough for both.

The recommended daily calorie intakes for pregnant women are:

Stay Off Your Back

Lying on your back isn’t the most comfortable position for pregnant women. Your uterus is more substantial than average, and it starts to put pressure on a vein in your body. That pressure can reduce the blood flow to your heart, brain, and uterus.

Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated during pregnancy is essential, especially when you’re exercising and afterward. Dehydration during pregnancy can be dangerous, so keep tabs on how much you’re drinking.

Talk to Your Doctor

Last but not least, speak to your OB-GYN before you start to exercise while pregnant. Most likely, your health care provider will even encourage you to do it, and might provide some routines, too!

What Body Changes During Pregnancy?

As you know, pregnancy changes your body, creating different demands. You need to be mindful of those changes by listening to your body and adjusting your various activities. That means you might have to change your exercise routines at times to make sure you accommodate these body changes.

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Photo by Suhyeon Choi on Unsplash
  • Your body requires more oxygen and energy due to the developing baby and internal changes. As your uterus grows, it puts more pressure on the lungs, so they have to work harder. That means you might feel short of breath during a workout.
  • Pregnancy hormones cause the ligaments in your body to stretch, increasing the risk of injury.
  • As you add extra weight to your body and the distribution of the pressure changes your center of gravity, you have to learn how to shift that center of gravity. This shift of gravity can apply more stress on your joints and muscles throughout your pelvis and lower back.
  • During pregnancy, sweating starts at lower body temperature than before pregnancy to prevent mother and baby from becoming overheated. Moms need to drink plenty of water while exercising to avoid becoming dehydrated.
  • Your breast size may increase, so make sure you have a new sports bra that provides plenty of support and fits comfortably.
  • Feet tend to swell during pregnancy because you start to retain fluid. That means you might need a larger shoe size!

Signs to Watch Out for During Pregnancy

We know that, in most cases, pregnancy fitness is safe for pregnant women. If you notice any of these signs during exercising, you need to stop immediately and talk to your health care provider. 

  • Chest pains
  • Abdominal pain, pelvic pain, or persistent contractions
  • Headache
  • Notice a decrease in fetal movement
  • Feeling cold and clammy
  • Have vaginal bleeding
  • Feel faint, dizzy, nauseous, or light-headed
  • Experience a sudden gush of fluid from the vagina or a steady trickle
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty walking
  • Muscle weakness
  • Sudden swelling in your ankles, hands, and face

We know that exercise during pregnancy has great benefits. Despite what the rumors say, the risks of exercising while pregnant are slim, especially if you’re healthily carrying your soon-to-be blessing. Exercising can help reduce weight gain during pregnancy, and will increase the positive outcomes during labor and delivery. It’s worth a bit of sweat each week!

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