Exercise During Pregnancy: Which Activities are Safe and Which You Should Avoid
Exercising during pregnancy is an excellent way to maintain a healthy pregnancy and create positive habits that you can pass along to your child. Exercise benefits both you and your baby in many ways.
As long as you exercise safely and follow recommendations from your OB provider, exercise has been shown to be safe in pregnancy without risks to your baby. While you may need to modify some exercises, especially as your baby grows and your body changes, you don’t need to purchase special equipment. Stay consistent and listen to your body and you can exercise safely throughout your pregnancy!
Benefits of Exercising During Pregnancy
When you exercise throughout your pregnancy, you’re more likely to achieve a healthy level of weight gain. (Read our blog post about how much weight you should gain while pregnant.) You’ll also be much less likely to experience gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension (high blood pressure), and other disorders. Your baby will benefit from your exercise, too, with lower rates of preterm birth, C-section deliveries and low birth weight.
Regular physical activity can help reduce your body aches and pains, especially if you have back pain or sciatic pain. Exercise also helps strengthen your heart and blood vessels. Plus, you’ll find it easier to lose your pregnancy weight after your baby is born.
Physical activity even does wonders for your mental health! Aerobic exercise—whether you’re pregnant or not—reduces anxiety and depression during pregnancy and can help increase your energy levels. Women who exercise during pregnancy may be able to reduce their risks of postpartum depression.
How to Get Started Exercising While You’re Pregnant
Because every pregnancy and body is different, it’s important to meet with your OB provider before you get started. Some women can maintain their same level of activity and exercise throughout their pregnancy, and others may need to scale back in the beginning and at the end. Your doctor or midwife will help you determine the best approach.
It’s so important to listen to your body while you’re exercising. The easiest way to know if you’re “overdoing it,” is by doing a “talk test.” As long as you can carry on a light conversation while exercising, you’re probably not over-exerting yourself.
If exercise is a new habit you’re trying to build while pregnant, start slowly and add more minutes to your exercise routine each week. For example, start with 10-20 minutes per day 2-3 days a week, and then build up to maybe 30 minutes per day 3-5 days a week.
Some women like tracking their exercise and watching aerobics videos designed for pregnancy. Many of our patients have enjoyed using an app called Expecting and Empowered. While it isn’t free, it may help give you the motivation that you need to get started and stay consistent.
Here are some safe pregnancy exercises to get started.
Try any of these for 20-30 minutes a day, on most or all days of the week:
- walking — this is the best way to get started!
- stationary cycling / spinning
- aerobic exercises
- resistance exercises (weights, resistance bands, strength training) — use good ergonomics and form to avoid injury
- stretching and prenatal yoga
- hydrotherapy/water aerobics
- kegels to strengthen your pelvic floor (do this during pregnancy and postpartum)
If you were already doing higher intensity and longer workouts before you got pregnant, like jogging and aerobics, and you have an uncomplicated pregnancy, you can probably keep up those activity levels. Your doctor will help you determine if you have any restrictions or if you need to increase your calorie intake.
Specialty Exercises During Pregnancy
If you experience back pain while pregnant, consider adding core strengthening exercises for your abdominals and your back. Yes, you CAN do abdominal exercises while you’re pregnant, but you will need to modify them a little bit and limit how much time you lay flat on your back. Your OB provider or physical therapist will be able to give you exercises that are safe for your specific situation.
You can strengthen your pelvic floor while you’re pregnant by performing kegels during and after your pregnancy. To perform kegels, contract the muscles that you would use to stop your urine stream. Hold for 3 seconds, and then relax for 3 seconds. Repeat this 10 times, in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Try to increase your hold by 1 second each week until you reach 10 second holds.
Exercises to Avoid While Pregnant
It’s important that you avoid activities that could increase your risk of falling or sustaining abdominal trauma. Be sure that when you’re exercising, you don’t raise your core body temperature to an unsafe level (that is, above 102.2° F).
Activities to avoid:
- contact sports (football, volleyball, softball, wrestling, jiu jitsu, ultimate frisbee, etc.)
- extensive jumping (some jumping may be ok as long as you modify the exercises to reduce the risk of losing your balance)
- full sit-ups, leg raises
- scuba diving
- horseback riding
- skiing, snowboarding
- hot yoga
- exercising in hot, humid weather
Who Shouldn’t Exercise While Pregnant
If you have a high risk or complicated pregnancy, make sure to ask your OB provider about the types of exercises you can do while pregnant. In general, it is always good to touch base with your OB provider regarding your exercise routine and goals in pregnancy so they help you establish a safe routine for YOU.
When to Stop Exercising During Pregnancy
It’s very important that you listen to your body while you exercise. If you can’t carry on a light conversation while you’re working out, slow down, drink some water and then resume at a lower intensity after you have caught your breath.
If you’re used to using a heart rate monitor during exercise, you may find that it isn’t as useful of a tool to measure your exertion levels. That’s because your heart rate rises during pregnancy. Passing the “talk test” will be a more reliable measure of how hard your body is working.
If you experience any of the following warning signs, stop exercising and follow up with your OB provider:
- vaginal bleeding;
- abdominal pain;
- regular painful contractions;
- amniotic fluid leakage;
- shortness of breath BEFORE exertion;
- chest pain;
- muscle weakness affecting balance;
- or calf pain or swelling.
Listen to Your Body to Stay Healthy & Safe!
Whether you’re new to regular exercise or wondering if you need to scale back from pre-pregnancy activity, the most important thing to do is listen to your body! Stay well hydrated. And stop if you experience any of the above warning signs. Your OB provider will be your best resource as you get started or resume activity.
Exercising has so many benefits for you before, during, and after your pregnancy. At Madison Women’s Health, we’re excited to support you in your journey toward health and wellness. We’re glad that you’re interested in developing healthy habits for you and your family that will serve you for years to come.
Check out our prenatal yoga classes for our pregnant patients.
Dr. Shefaali Sharma has been providing healthcare to women in Madison since 2012 and joined Madison Women’s Health in 2016. She specializes in high- and low-risk obstetrics, pre-conception counseling, management of abnormal uterine bleeding, multi-modal approaches to pelvic pain, and contraceptive counseling.