Staying active is one thing that you can do to promote a healthy pregnancy. Not only is exercise during pregnancy good for you, but it also has benefits for your baby. Whether you are just starting to add a little more physical activity to your life, or you are already an avid exerciser or athlete, you likely have questions about staying active through your pregnancy. In this beginner’s guide to exercise during pregnancy, we answer some of the most common questions.
What types of exercise are safe during pregnancy?
For healthy women with a normal pregnancy, it is safe to continue exercising or start regular physical activity. In general, moderate-intensity aerobic activity is recommended.
There are many different types of activities you can do during pregnancy. The safest types of exercise for pregnant women include walking, swimming, stationary bicycling/spinning, and modified yoga and Pilates.
If you are an experienced runner, or you play certain sports, discuss these activities and your training regimen with your obstetrician (OBGYN) or another healthcare provider. You may be able to continue your training, or at least a modified version, during pregnancy.
Running during pregnancy is usually okay to continue. Many women stop running during the third trimester, although some women are able to continue to run throughout. Back and pelvic pain, as well as round ligament pain, can make running (and other sports) difficult as your pregnancy progresses.
What types of exercise should I avoid during pregnancy?
It is best to avoid contact sports or sports that increase the risk of getting hit in the abdomen (hockey, soccer, basketball, boxing) or falling (skiing, surfing, horseback riding, off-road cycling). Hot yoga is generally not safe because of the increased risk of overheating.
Activities performed at high altitude (above 6,000 feet) are not recommended for those who do not already live at high altitude, and scuba diving is also off-limits while you are pregnant.
Also, avoid exercises lying flat on your back after your first trimester. This is because the weight of your growing uterus puts pressure on a major vein called the vena cava, which can reduce blood flow to your heart, brain, and uterus.
How much exercise is safe during pregnancy?
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) recommends that pregnant women exercise at least 150 minutes every week. A good way to incorporate this could be 20-30 minutes of activity, most days of the week.
If you were not exercising before pregnancy, you can still start! Begin slowly (start with 5-10 minutes a day), and gradually increase your activity. Try increasing your activity by 5 minutes a day, each week, until you can stay active for 30 minutes on most days of the week.
If you were exercising regularly before pregnancy, you can likely keep up your same workouts, as long as your OBGYN approves.
What are the benefits of exercise during pregnancy?
Studies show that exercise has numerous benefits for both you and your developing baby, such as:
Exercise helps beat fatigue during pregnancy. Regular exercise can help you sleep better at night, which should keep you more alert and energized to get through your day.
Healthy weight gain.
Exercise during pregnancy promotes a healthy pregnancy weight. Staying active can help you stay within the pregnancy weight gain recommendations. According to a recent study, exercising 3 times a week for 30 to 45 minutes can reduce gestational weight gain for pregnant women.
Better pregnancy outcomes.
If you exercise during pregnancy, you may have a decreased risk of gestational diabetes and other pregnancy complications such as pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy) and having a baby with high birth weight.
Staying active during your pregnancy may improve your circulation. Improved circulation helps prevent constipation, varicose veins, and swollen ankles.
Shortens time in labor.
Studies show that women who exercise throughout pregnancy have shorter labors. Also, women who stay fit during pregnancy may have easier labors, recover more quickly, and feel better postpartum.
How does pregnancy change your body and the way you feel during exercise?
You may be surprised to learn that even if you were active and fit before you became pregnant, your body will change and react differently to exercise during pregnancy. Here are some changes you may experience:
More mobile joints.
During pregnancy, you produce more relaxin, a hormone that causes the ligaments and tendons that support your joints to loosen and relax. This is necessary for the pelvis to adjust to your growing uterus and prepare for giving birth. However, more relaxin means more mobile joints and a greater risk of injury. Avoid high-impact, jerky movement that can increase injury risk.
A shift in your center of gravity.
A shift in your center of gravity may throw off your balance. Late pregnancy may not be the best time to hike on a rocky trail since you are more likely to lose your balance and fall. This shift also puts extra stress on your pelvis and lower back, often causing pain.
Shortness of breath.
You require more oxygen during pregnancy. When you exercise, oxygen and blood flow are directed to your muscles and away from other areas of your body. Also, a growing bump can press against your lungs, causing you to feel short of breath.
Higher heart rate at lower efforts.
Due to increased circulating blood volume and other factors, your heart rate is higher during pregnancy, at rest and during exercise. When you are exercising, you do not need to limit your heart rate to 140 bpm, however, as was recommended in the past.
The annoying urge to run to the bathroom often is due to several factors, including pregnancy hormones, increased blood flow, and your growing uterus. If you are walking or jogging outside, be sure to choose a route with bathroom options.
Daily physical activity is an important part of a healthy pregnancy. Because your body changes in ways that make exercise more difficult, adjusting your expectations are key.
Remember to always check with your OBGYN or another healthcare provider before starting any exercise program. If you experience any complications while exercising (such as light-headedness, sudden shortness of breath, contractions, decreased fetal movement, or any vaginal bleeding or fluid leaking), please stop immediately and contact your OBGYN or another healthcare provider before resuming activity.
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