As a Certified Nurse Midwife, I get asked about exercise during pregnancy all the time. As during all stages of your life staying fit during pregnancy is important. In this article I have attempted to help you do this safely during your pregnancy.
First, let me start by saying, I am not an exercise expert. The opinions stated below are not coming from any great expertise I have about exercise, they’re coming from my opinion as a Certified Nurse Midwife and are primarily focused on safety during pregnancy. While not an exercise expert, one of the things I am good at is doing research. For this post I have done a lot of research into the subject of exercise during pregnancy and have attempted to include what I consider to be the best thoughts on the subject. If you have thoughts or disagreements I would love to hear them in the comment section below.
- How does exercise help in pregnancy?
- What are the best exercises in pregnancy?
- Are there exercise should I avoid?
- If I am new at this exercise thing, what should I watch out for?
- How intense should workout routines be now that I am pregnant?
- Are there signs that I should stop exercising?
- As my pregnancy progresses should I change my routine?
- What are some reasons why I should not exercise?
Exercise during pregnancy is generally perfectly safe, and daily exercise is good for both you and your baby and may even help prevent complications, such as such as preeclampsia (a serious pregnancy condition marked by high blood pressure). There is some evidence that exercise may even shorten labor and increase your chances of giving birth vaginally.
Besides helping to prevent certain complications, exercising regularly during pregnancy can offer a host of benefits:
- Helps you feel better about the changes going on in your body
- Relieves some of the nagging symptoms of pregnancy such as backache, constipation, cervical pain, and fatigue
- Beneficial for maintaining appropriate body weight
- Help to reduce/prevent depression and improve overall self-esteem
- Often improves sleep
- Can help manage blood sugar levels
- Helps prepare your mind for upcoming labor and birth
I would say there’s no one “best exercise” because everybody’s bodies and preferences are different. However, a good exercise routine during pregnancy will:
- Increase your heart rate (moderately)
- work on keeping you stretched out
- stretch and strengthen your muscles for labor and birth
- burn calories (moderately)
- not push your body too hard
Walking, swimming, stationary bike, and ellipticals are all good forms of exercise. Yoga and Pilates can be great for strengthening toning, although you should make sure to find a qualified instructor who has experience teaching pregnant women. I would suggest avoiding hot yoga as the overheating can cause complications.
Varying the type of exercise you do can also be helpful. I suggest doing a combination of aerobic exercise, such as walking or swimming, and strength conditioning exercises, such as yoga or Pilates.
You should aim for about 30 minutes a day of moderately intense exercise. Breaking your daily exercise routine up into three sessions of 10 minutes can also be helpful to find time during the day. Basically, break it up however you need to in order to stick to it.
A good thing to remember is that all exercise does not have to be part of a formal exercise routine. You can try to get more exercise in by changing aspects of your normal life. Simple things, like parking your car further from the door or walking up the stairs instead of taking the elevator or escalator, can help out a lot.
Finding the time to exercise can be a struggle, especially if you have young children. The pressures they put on your life can feel overwhelming. It is important for you to look for the options that works for you. Again, don’t be afraid to get creative! Briskly push kids in the stroller, play with them at the park, take your dog for a walk. All of these are good options in order to find the time.
Obviously, sports that involve a high likelihood of taking heavy hits to the body are not good choices. This would include, but is not limited to, gymnastics, skiing, horseback riding, volleyball, water skiing, skating, and biking. While just about any physical activity could potentially involve a fall, certain activities have a higher likelihood that you WILL fall (like the ones discussed above). These are the ones you should avoid.
Once you get the okay from your medical professional, you can do some gentle/moderate exercises. If you have never exercised before, make sure to gradually work up to the recommended 30 minutes per day. You can start with 10 minutes per day for two weeks, then increase to 20 minutes per day for another two weeks, either with two 10-minute sessions or one straight 20-minute sessions. After those 2 weeks, increase the time again to meet the 30 minute recommendation. Again, you can keep with the 10-minute sessions, and do three of them throughout the day.
Remember that if you have never exercised before, now is not the time to start a new vigorous exercise routine. You will be surprised how much the gentle exercise routine recommended above will help.
If you notice any abdominal pain or vaginal bleeding, stop your routine immediately and speak to your healthcare provider before continuing.
As I stated above now is not the time to start a NEW strenuous exercise routine. However, if you are already a workout queen, there is no reason for you to slow down. As long as your health care provider clears you to keep working out you should be okay. This is a conversation you should have with your provider one-on-one. The caveat to this is that if you are doing any of the risky sports or exercise activities listed above you should put those on hold for a while.
No matter what level you are exercising, it’s important to always listen to your body. If you feel tired, take a rest. If you are in pain, make adjustments. Take time to warm up before exercising and cool down after. You know your body better anyone, so listen to it.
I must add that even if you are used to high-intensity workouts before you became pregnant, you may need to back off that a little. Again, listen to your body. There is no shame in admitting that your body is going through massive changes during this pregnancy.
If you have any of the following symptoms, stop exercising immediately:
- Vaginal bleeding or fluids
- concerning shortness of breath
- pain in your chest abdomen or legs
- dizzy or faint feeling
- having a hard time walking
- contractions (of course)
Monitor your baby’s movements while you’re exercising. If the movements slow down or stop, take a rest. If in doubt, talk to your healthcare provider.
In general, no. However, as was stated above, it depends on how active you were before you became pregnant and what type of activities you are doing. Some activities are hard to do with a large belly and may require you to change them simply because your belly is getting in the way.
Overheating can be a concern throughout pregnancy, especially in your first trimester. Don’t exercise in hot and humid conditions. Try to keep your exercise routine no longer than 45 minutes.
If you decide on water exercise, make sure you don’t exercise in a pool that’s above 90°F. Most swimming pools are kept at around 80°F to 85°F, unless the water has been heated for a specific reason. Most of the time this is not an issue, but it is something to be aware if you’re trying to exercise in a pool that feels very warm.
Again, always listen to your body when exercising; it will tell you if you need to slow down to rest.
Once you reach 16 weeks, skip exercises that have you lying flat on your back or standing in one position for long periods of time as this can reduce blood flow to your baby.
You should always talk to your healthcare provider before exercising in pregnancy, but this discussion is especially important if:
- you previously had a premature baby or miscarriage
- you are anemic (low levels of iron in the blood)
- it has been determined that your baby is “small-for-dates,” which is known as Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR)
- you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure or preeclampsia
- your body mass index (BMI) was over 40 before pregnancy
- your body mass index (BMI) was under 12 before pregnancy
- you are a smoker
- you have any signs of joint or muscle problems
- you have any signs of heart or lung problems
- you are having multiple babies (i.e., twins, triplets, etc)
- you have diabetes
You shouldn’t exercise if:
- there is any sign of premature labor or potential miscarriage
- you have placenta previa
- you have been diagnosed with cervical weakness
- you have a serious heart or lung disease
- you have persistent vaginal bleeding
- you have very high blood pressure
Obviously, no two women are the same, and your healthcare provider may be okay with you exercising with one of these conditions. However, you should speak to them first before you start.