Exercising During Pregnancy
Although you may not feel like running a marathon, most women benefit greatly from exercising throughout their pregnancies. But during that time, you'll need to discuss your exercise plans with your doctor or other health care provider early on and make a few adjustments to your normal exercise routine. The level of exercise recommended will depend, in part, on your level of pre-pregnancy fitness.
Benefits of Exercising During Pregnancy
No doubt about it, exercise is a big plus for both you and your baby (if complications don't limit your ability to exercise throughout your pregnancy). It can help you:
While the jury's still out on the additional benefits of exercise during pregnancy, some studies have shown that exercise may even lower a woman's risk of complications, like preeclampsia and gestational diabetes.
What's Safe During Pregnancy?
It depends on when you start and whether your pregnancy is complicated. If you exercised regularly before becoming pregnant, continue your program, with modifications as you need them.
If you weren't fit before you became pregnant, don't give up! Begin slowly and build gradually as you become stronger. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes (that's 2½ hours) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week for healthy women who are not already highly active or doing vigorous-intensity activity.
If you're healthy, the risks of moderate-intensity activity during pregnancy are very low, and do not increase risk of low birth weight, pre-term delivery, or early pregnancy loss.
Before you continue your old exercise routine or begin a new one, you should talk to your doctor about exercising while you're pregnant. Discuss any concerns you have and know that you might need to limit your exercise if you have:
Exercises to Try
Many women enjoy dancing, swimming, water aerobics, yoga, Pilates, biking, or walking. Swimming is especially appealing, as it gives you welcome buoyancy (floatability or the feeling of weightlessness). Try for a combination of cardio (aerobic), strength, and flexibility exercises, and avoid bouncing.
Many experts recommend walking. It's easy to vary the pace, add hills, and add distance. If you're just starting, begin with a moderately brisk pace for a mile, 3 days a week. Add a couple of minutes every week, pick up the pace a bit, and eventually add hills to your route. Whether you're a pro or a novice, go slowly for the first 5 minutes to warm up and use the last 5 minutes to cool down.
If you were a runner before you were pregnant, you might be able to continue running during your pregnancy, although you may have to modify your routine.
Whatever type of exercise you and your doctor decide on, the key is to listen to your body's warnings. Many women, for example, become dizzy early in their pregnancy, and as the baby grows, their center of gravity changes. So it may be easy for you to lose your balance, especially in the last trimester.
Your energy level might vary greatly from day to day. And as your baby grows and pushes up on your lungs, you'll notice a decreased ability to breathe in more air (and the oxygen it contains) when you exercise. If your body says, "Stop!" — stop!
Your body is signaling that it's had enough if you feel:
And if you can't talk while you're exercising, you're doing it too strenuously.
It also isn't good for your baby if you become overheated because temperatures higher than 102.6°F (39°C) could cause problems with the developing fetus — especially in the first trimester — which can potentially lead to birth defects. So don't overdo exercise on hot days.
During hot weather, avoid exercising outside during the hottest part of the day (from about 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.) or exercise in an air-conditioned place. Also remember that swimming makes it more difficult for you to notice your body heating up because the water makes you feel cooler.
Exercises to Avoid
Most doctors recommend that pregnant women avoid exercises after the first trimester that require them to lie flat on their backs.
Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, it's also wise to avoid any activities that include:
Typical limitations include contact sports, downhill skiing, scuba diving, and horseback riding because of the risk of injury they pose.
Although some doctors say step aerobics workouts are acceptable if you can lower the height of your step as your pregnancy progresses, others caution that a changing center of gravity makes falls much more likely. If you do choose to do aerobics, just make sure to avoid becoming extremely winded or exercising to the point of exhaustion.
And check with your doctor if you experience any of these warning signs during any type of exercise:
Although the effects of Kegel exercises can't be seen from the outside, some women use them to reduce incontinence (the leakage of urine) caused by the weight of the baby on their bladder. Kegels help to strengthen the "pelvic floor muscles" (the muscles that aid in controlling urination).
Kegels are easy, and you can do them any time you have a few seconds — sitting in your car, at your desk, or standing in line at the store. No one will even know you're doing them!
To find the correct muscles, pretend you're trying to stop urinating. Squeeze those muscles for a few seconds, then relax. You're using the correct muscles if you feel a pull. Or place a finger inside your vagina and feel it tighten when you squeeze. Your doctor can also help you identify the correct muscles.
A few things to keep in mind when you're doing Kegel exercises:
Always talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise program. Once you're ready to get going:
Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD