There are countless positive benefits to exercise during pregnancy. But, there are some negative effects that you should be aware of. Speak to your doctor before picking up your workout where you left off. Exercise during pregnancy can help you lose weight, tone up and feel better, but it does come with risks. Talk to your health care provider before starting an exercise program and make sure to avoid these exercises while pregnant.
Exercise during pregnancy can have a physical, mental and emotional impact on you and your baby. Exercise during pregnancy is generally safe, beneficial, and improves overall health of both mother and baby. However, there are certain exercises to avoid and some precautions to take before starting a new exercise regimen.
Is Exercise Affect Pregnancy
Exercise during pregnancy is encouraged because it lowers the risk of gestational diabetes and blood pressure problems, boosts energy levels, reduces stress, manages weight gain and stress level, enhances health postpartum, prevents stretch marks, reduces muscle pain and improves posture. Evidence suggests that women who exercise during pregnancy are less likely to experience high blood pressure in later pregnancy. Lack of exercise can affect your pregnancy, increase the risk for miscarriage and cause problems for the baby. In fact, pregnant women who get regular exercise are less likely to have a premature birth or deliver a low-birth-weight baby than those who do not exercise.
Exercise during pregnancy offers many health benefits to mom and baby. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that pregnant women get at least 6 to 7 hours of moderate-intensity exercise each week. This can include walking or swimming, as well as other activities. Keep in mind that it’s important not to overexert yourself during pregnancy. This is because your body needs energy, blood and oxygen to support your growing baby, so avoiding exhaustion and overheating is essential. If you haven’t been exercising regularly and want to start now, it’s best to talk with your doctor first — especially if there are any risk factors associated with your pregnancy. There are also some exercises that aren’t safe at all during pregnancy so it’s important to consult your doctor before taking these up. Exercise is good for your heart, and it will benefit you and your baby. Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and may help reduce some pregnancy symptoms. But talk with your doctor before starting or changing an exercise program during pregnancy.
Can Exercise Cause Birth Defects
Exercise does not cause birth defects. Exercise in general has been shown to improve health and wellbeing. While late pregnancy exercise may not be appropriate to all women, it can be safe if done under the guidance of a physician or other healthcare provider who is familiar with common birth defects and the effects physical activity can have on these.
- At your first prenatal care checkup, ask your health care provider whether exercise during pregnancy is safe for you.
- Healthy pregnant women need at least 2½ hours of aerobic activity, such as walking or swimming, each week.
- Regular physical activity can help reduce your risk of pregnancy complications and ease pregnancy discomforts, such as back pain.
- Some activities, such as basketball, hot yoga, downhill skiing, horseback riding and scuba diving, aren’t safe during pregnancy.
Is it safe to exercise during pregnancy?
Talk to your health care provider about exercising during pregnancy. For most pregnant women, exercising is safe and healthy for you and your baby.
If you and your pregnancy are healthy, exercise won’t increase your risk of having a miscarriage (when a baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks of pregnancy), a premature baby (born before 37 weeks of pregnancy) or a baby born with low birthweight (less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces).
How much exercise do you need during pregnancy?
Healthy pregnant women need at least 2½ hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. Aerobic activities make you breathe faster and deeply and make your heart beat faster. Moderate-intensity means you’re active enough to sweat and increase your heart rate. Taking a brisk walk is an example of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. If you can’t talk normally during an activity, you may be working too hard.
You don’t have to do all 2½ hours at once. Instead, break it up through the week. For example, do 30 minutes of exercise on most or all days. If this sounds like a lot, split up the 30 minutes by doing something active for 10 minutes 3 times each day.
Why is physical activity during pregnancy good for you?
For healthy pregnant women, regular exercise can:
- Keep your mind and body healthy. Physical activity can help you feel good and give you extra energy. It also makes your heart, lungs and blood vessels strong and helps you stay fit.
- Help you gain the right amount of weight during pregnancy.
- Ease some common discomforts of pregnancy, such as constipation, back pain and swelling in your legs, ankles and feet.
- Help you manage stress and sleep better. Stress is worry, strain or pressure that you feel in response to things that happen in your life.
- Help reduce your risk of pregnancy complications, such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. Gestational diabetes is a kind of diabetes that can happen during pregnancy. It happens when your body has too much sugar (called glucose) in the blood. Preeclampsia is a type of high blood pressure some women get after the 20th week of pregnancy or after giving birth. These conditions can increase your risk of having complications during pregnancy, such as premature birth (birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy).
- Help reduce your risk of having a cesarean birth (also called c-section). Cesarean birth is surgery in which your baby is born through a cut that your doctor makes in your belly and uterus.
- Prepare your body for labor and birth. Activities such as prenatal yoga and Pilates can help you practice breathing, meditation and other calming methods that may help you manage labor pain. Regular exercise can help give you energy and strength to get through labor.
What kinds of activities are safe during pregnancy?
If you’re healthy and you exercised before you got pregnant, it’s usually safe to continue your activities during pregnancy. Check with your provider to be sure. For example, if you’re a runner or a tennis player or you do other kinds of intense exercise, you may be able to keep doing your workouts when you’re pregnant. As your belly gets bigger later in pregnancy, you may need to change some activities or ease up on your workouts.
If your provider says it’s OK for you to exercise, choose activities you enjoy. If you didn’t exercise before you were pregnant, now is a great time to start. Talk to your provider about safe activities. Start slowly and build up your fitness little by little. For example, start with 5 minutes of activity each day, and work your way up to 30 minutes each day.
These activities usually are safe during pregnancy:
- Walking. Taking a brisk walk is a great workout that doesn’t strain your joints and muscles. If you’re new to exercise, this is a great activity.
- Swimming and water workouts. The water supports the weight of your growing baby and moving against the water helps keep your heart rate up. It’s also easy on your joints and muscles. If you have low back pain when you do other activities, try swimming.
- Riding a stationary bike. This is safer than riding a regular bicycle during pregnancy. You’re less likely to fall off a stationary bike than a regular bike, even as your belly grows.
- Yoga and Pilates classes. Tell your yoga or Pilates teacher that you’re pregnant. The instructor can help you modify or avoid poses that may be unsafe for pregnant women, such as lying on your belly or flat on your back (after the first trimester). Some gyms and community centers offer prenatal yoga and Pilates classes just for pregnant women.
- Low-impact aerobics classes. During low-impact aerobics, you always have one foot on the ground or equipment. Examples of low-impact aerobics include walking, riding a stationary bike and using an elliptical machine. Low-impact aerobics don’t put as much strain on your body that high-impact aerobics do. During high-impact aerobics, both feet leave the ground at the same time. Examples include running, jumping rope and doing jumping jacks. Tell your instructor that you’re pregnant so that they can help you modify your workout, if needed.
- Strength training. Strength training can help you build muscle and make your bones strong. It’s safe to work out with weights as long as they’re not too heavy. Ask your provider about how much you can lift.
You don’t need to belong to a gym or own special equipment to be active. You can walk in a safe area or do exercise videos at home. Or find ways to be active in your everyday life, like doing yard work or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
Is physical activity safe for all pregnant women?
No. For some women, exercise is not safe during pregnancy. Your provider can help you understand whether exercise is safe for you. The following conditions may make it unsafe to exercise during pregnancy:
- Preterm labor, bleeding from the vagina, or your water breaking (also called ruptured membranes). Preterm labor is labor that happens before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Bleeding from the vagina and having your water break may be signs of preterm labor.
- Being pregnant with twins, triplets or more (also called multiples) with other risk factors for preterm labor. If you’re pregnant with multiples, ask your provider if it’s safe for you to exercise. Your provider may ask you not to do intense or high-impact activities, such as running. You may be able to do low-impact activities, like walking, prenatal yoga or swimming.
- Cervical insufficiency or a cerclage. The cervix is the opening to the uterus (womb) and is at the top of the vagina. Cervical insufficiency (also called incompetent cervix) means your cervix opens (dilates) too early during pregnancy, usually without pain or contractions. Cervical insufficiency can cause premature birth and miscarriage. If you have cervical insufficiency or a short cervix, your provider may recommend cerclage. This is a stitch your provider puts in your cervix to help keep it closed so that your baby isn’t born too early. A short cervix means the length of your cervix (also called cervical length) is shorter than normal.
- Gestational hypertension or preeclampsia. Gestational hypertension is high blood pressure during pregnancy. It starts after 20 weeks of pregnancy and goes away after you give birth.
- Placenta previa after 26 weeks of pregnancy. This is when the placenta lies very low in the uterus and covers all or part of the cervix. The placenta grows in your uterus and supplies the baby with food and oxygen through the umbilical cord. Placenta previa can cause heavy bleeding and other complications later in pregnancy.
- Severe anemia or certain heart or lung conditions. Anemia is when you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to the rest of your body. If you have a heart or lung condition, ask your provider if it’s safe to exercise during pregnancy.
What kinds of activities aren’t safe during pregnancy?
Be careful and check with your provider when choosing your activities. During pregnancy, don’t do:\
- Any activity that has a lot of jerky, bouncing movements that may cause you to fall, like horseback riding, downhill skiing, off-road cycling, gymnastics or skating.
- Any sport in which you may be hit in the belly, such as ice hockey, boxing, soccer or basketball.
- Any exercise that makes you lie flat on your back (after the first trimester), like sit-ups. When you lie on your back, your uterus puts pressure on a large vein that brings blood back to your heart. Lying on your back can cause your blood pressure to drop and limit the flow of blood to your baby.
- Activities that can cause you to hit water with great force, like water skiing, surfing or diving.
- Skydiving or scuba diving. Scuba diving can lead to decompression sickness. This is when dangerous gas bubbles form in your baby’s body.
- Exercising at high altitude (more than 6,000 feet), unless you live at a high altitude. Altitude is the height of something above the ground. For example, if you’re at high altitude, you’re probably in the mountains. Exercising at high altitudes during pregnancy can lower the amount of oxygen that reaches your baby.
- Activities that may make your body temperature too high, like Bikram yoga (also called hot yoga) or exercising outside on hot, humid days. During Bikram yoga, you do yoga in a room where the temperature is set to 95 F to 100 F. It’s not safe for pregnant women because it can cause hyperthermia, a condition that happens when your body temperature gets too high. Some studies suggest that spending too much time in a sauna or hot tub may make your body temperature too high and increase your risk of having a baby who has birth defects. To be safe, don’t spend more than 15 minutes at a time in a sauna or more than 10 at a time minutes in a hot tub.
Does pregnancy change how your body responds to exercise?
During pregnancy, your body changes in many ways. When you’re active, you may notice changes in your:
- Balance. You may notice that you lose your balance more easily during pregnancy.
- Body temperature. Your body temperature is slightly higher during pregnancy, so you start sweating sooner than you did before pregnancy.
- Breathing. As your baby develops and your body changes, you need more oxygen. Your growing belly puts pressure on your diaphragm, a muscle that helps you breathe. You may even find yourself feeling short of breath at times.
- Energy. Your body’s working hard to take care of your baby, so you may have less energy during pregnancy.
- Heart rate. Your heart works harder and beats faster during pregnancy to get oxygen to your baby.
- Joints. Your body makes more of some hormones during pregnancy. This can make the tissues that support your joints more relaxed. Try to avoid any movements that may strain or hurt your joints.
When should you stop exercising? What are the warning signs you should watch for when exercising?
When you’re being physically active, drink lots of water and pay attention to your body and how you feel. Stop your activity and call your provider if you have any of these signs or symptoms:
- Bleeding from the vagina or fluid leaking from the vagina
- Chest pain, fast heartbeat or trouble breathing
- Feeling dizzy or faint
- Muscle weakness, trouble walking, or pain or swelling in your lower legs. Pain or swelling in your lower legs may be signs of deep vein thrombosis (also called DVT). DVT happens when a blood clot forms in a vein deep in the body, usually in the lower leg or thigh. If untreated, it can cause serious health problems and even death.
- Regular, painful contractions. A contraction is when the muscles of your uterus get tight and then relax. Contractions help push your baby out of your uterus.
- Your baby stops moving. This may be a symptom of stillbirth (when a baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks of pregnancy).
When can you start exercising again after giving birth?
Talk with your health provider to find out when it’s OK for you to be active again. If you have a vaginal birth without any complications, it’s usually safe to start exercising a few days after you give birth or as soon as you’re ready. During vaginal birth, the uterus contracts to help push your baby out of the vagina (birth canal).
If you have a c-section or a complications during birth, you may need to wait longer to start exercising after birth. Your provider can help you determine when your body is ready for exercise.
If you were active during pregnancy, it’s easier to get back into exercise after your baby is born. Just start slowly. If you feel pain or have other problems during exercise, stop doing the activity and talk to your provider.
Moderate exercise and physical activity is safe during pregnancy. If you exercise at moderate intensity or higher, you increase your VO 2 max, improve general conditioning and muscle tone, and increase strength and endurance. This helps reduce the risk of weight gain, which is associated with a variety of health problems that occur during pregnancy. However, intense exercise such as running should be avoided during pregnancy. Exercising while pregnant is good for both mother and baby. It helps reduce stress, which can affect the development of the baby. Exercise can also improve a mother’s mood and her ability to cope with labor and delivery later on. Generally, though, it’s best to avoid high-impact aerobic exercise during pregnancy. These types of exercises may increase your risk of developing anemia or dehydration. Going easy on your joints—especially your knees—is important too. By protecting your knees and other joints during vigorous workouts, you may help prevent injuries that could lead to pregnancy complications such as miscarriage or preterm labor.
What Happens If You Exercise During Pregnancy
Exercising during pregnancy is important. It will help you stay healthy and prevent complications, but there are certain precautions to take. Find out what happens if you exercise during pregnancy. Exercising during pregnancy can be a tough challenge, but it’s worth it.
Discuss your exercise plans with your doctor or other health care provider early on. The level of exercise recommended will depend, in part, on your level of pre-pregnancy fitness.
What Are the 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). It can help you:
- Feel better. At a time when you wonder how this strange body can possibly be yours, exercise can increase your sense of control and boost your energy level. Not only does it make you feel better by releasing endorphins (naturally occurring chemicals in the brain), appropriate exercise can:
- relieve backaches and improve your posture by strengthening and toning muscles in your back, butt, and thighs
- reduce constipation by accelerating movement in your intestines
- prevent wear and tear on your joints (which become loosened during pregnancy due to normal hormonal changes) by activating the lubricating fluid in your joints
- help you sleep better by relieving the stress and anxiety that might make you restless at night
- Look better. Exercise increases the blood flow to your skin, giving you a healthy glow.
- Prepare you and your body for birth. Strong muscles and a fit heart can greatly ease labor and delivery. Gaining control over your breathing can help you manage pain. And in the event of a lengthy labor, increased endurance can be a real help.
- Regain your pre-pregnancy body more quickly. You’ll gain less fat weight during your pregnancy if you continue to exercise (assuming you exercised before becoming pregnant). But don’t expect or try to lose weight by exercising while you’re pregnant. For most women, the goal is to maintain their fitness level throughout pregnancy.
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:
- pregnancy-induced high blood pressure (hypertension)
- early contractions
- vaginal bleeding
- premature rupture of your membranes, also known as your water (the fluid in the amniotic sac around the fetus) breaking early
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:
- heart palpitations (your heart pounding in your chest)
- shortness of breath
- pain in your back or pelvis
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.
What Are Kegel Exercises?
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:
- Don’t tighten other muscles (stomach or legs, for example) at the same time. You want to focus on the muscles you’re exercising.
- Don’t hold your breath while you do them because it’s important that your body and muscles continue to receive oxygen while you do any type of exercise.
- Don’t regularly do Kegels by stopping and starting your flow of urine while you’re actually going to the bathroom, as this can lead to incomplete emptying of your bladder, which increases the risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs).
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:
- jarring (anything that would cause a lot of up and down movement)
- a sudden change of direction
- a risk of abdominal injury
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:
- vaginal bleeding
- unusual pain
- dizziness or lightheadedness
- unusual shortness of breath
- racing heartbeat or chest pain
- fluid leaking from your vagina
- uterine contractions
How Can I Get Started?
Always talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise program. Once you’re ready to get going:
- Start gradually. Even 5 minutes a day is a good start if you’ve been inactive. Add 5 minutes each week until you reach 30 minutes.
- Dress comfortably in loose-fitting clothes and wear a supportive bra to protect your breasts.
- Drink plenty of water to avoid overheating and dehydration.
- Skip your exercises if you’re sick.
- Opt for a walk in an air-conditioned mall on hot, humid days.
- Above all, listen to your body
Exercising while pregnant can help you to stay healthy and fit, but too much exercise may be harmful. With your doctor’s permission, start slowly and only do what feels comfortable to you. While you may not be ready to hit the gym yet, it still is important to exercise during pregnancy. If you are already a regular exerciser, keep up your routine. If you are new to exercise or haven’t exercised in a while, speak with your doctor before getting started. Weight-bearing activities such as walking and water aerobics can help strengthen your muscles and prevent problems that occur when your body goes through so many changes over the course of nine months. Also, just 30 minutes a day of moderate activity can reduce some of the discomforts and risks associated with pregnancy.
Exercises during pregnancy doesn’t have to be tough, it can be fun too. Pregnant women can stay in shape with simple exercises such as walking and swimming. There are also different type of exercises with specific benefits to pregnant women.
How Does Exercise During Pregnancy Affect The Baby
Exercise during pregnancy brings a host of benefits for mom and baby. It helps moms-to-be get into shape, stay healthy and manage stress so they feel better both physically and emotionally. Along with improving fitness level, the physical changes that occur in a pregnant woman’s body also help to build strength through balance and muscle work. Exercise during pregnancy is beneficial for both mom and baby. Exercise can help you feel better and have more energy, it may help improve your mood and sleep patterns, it will increase your strength before delivery, and it will improve your cardiovascular fitness after delivery.
Exercise during pregnancy is beneficial to the health of both you and your baby. Here are some research-backed reasons it’s important to stay active while you’re expecting: Exercise during pregnancy is good for both you and your baby. It helps you stay fit, which is good for your health in general and for delivery. But some women like to stay physically active for other reasons: to prevent weight gain, reduce stress, or, in some cases, to recover from an injury or surgery.