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Keep Active and Exercise in Pregnancy

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

Keeping Active has Great Advantages

Not only does staying physically active keep you healthy, it can relieve stress during pregnancy.

The best thing you can do for yourself and your baby during pregnancy is to make healthy lifestyle choices. This may be as simple as getting more rest and eating healthy foods or as difficult as starting a new exercise or fitness routine.

If you have been active before your pregnancy, there is no reason to change your routine. If you have not been active, this is the time to start. Beginning an exercise routine during pregnancy can benefit your health; prepare you for labor and delivery and help get you back into shape afterwards.

What are the benefits of exercise during pregnancy?

1. Exercise will boost your energy level and reduce fatigue. You may feel like you are too tired to work out, but once you do, you will quickly find your efforts well worth it.

2. Exercising will strengthen back muscles and help relieve pregnancy backaches and tone other muscles in the body.

3. Exercise helps stimulate the bowels and helps reduce constipation during pregnancy.

4. Exercise will promote better sleep and will help combat insomnia.

5. Exercising during pregnancy is a mood elevator. It provides an ideal outlet for reducing tension and anxiety.

6. Exercise will help you feel better about your body during pregnancy and can help you maintain a healthy weight gain during pregnancy.

7. Exercise will increase your endurance and prepare your body for the challenges of labor.

8. Women who exercise during pregnancy will typically regain their pre-pregnancy shape more quickly than those who do not.

Are there any precautions when exercising during pregnancy?

It is important that you take some safety precautions when exercising during pregnancy. Your body produces more of the hormone relaxin, which causes the ligaments that support your joints to relax and stretch when pregnant. This may make your body more susceptible to injury.

The weight from your baby and belly will shift your center of gravity making you less stable and more likely to fall.

Your heart will also have to work harder when exercising during pregnancy. The extra weight, shortness of breath and changes in blood volume all place a strain on the heart and makes it beat harder and faster.

Be sure to warm up and stretch before and after exercise to help protect your joints and muscles. However, the benefit of exercise is important to a healthy pregnancy so it is important to be aware of the precautions as you continue your exercise regimen.

Should I ask my doctor if I can start a new exercise program?

Yes, to make sure you do not have any health problems (high blood pressure, vaginal spotting, preterm contractions, etc.) that would limit your exercise program. If you are cleared by your physician, start with a moderate program of 30 minutes each day. If this is your first exercise program, you should split the 30 minute period up throughout the day or work up a little each day to the total 30 minute duration.

Exercise Routine Helpful Tips

You will find that most types of exercises are safe during pregnancy. Although, exercises that require you to lie flat on your back, stand for long periods of time, straining or involve movements that are uncomfortable should be avoided. Wear cool and comfortable clothing and sports bras that give your support and protection. Make sure you drink plenty of water to help you remain hydrated.

What are safe exercises and sports during pregnancy?

Walking - Brisk walking for 30 minutes is a good exercise for everyone. Walking involves almost every part of your body and is easy on your joints. If you did not exercise before your pregnancy, walking is a great way to slowly increase your endurance.

Swimming - Swimming is a great way for beginners to start an exercise routine. It is physically demanding because it works so many different muscles. The water supports your body while decreasing the risk for injury and muscle strain.

Biking - Early in pregnancy, getting out on a bicycle will give you a great aerobic workout. But later in pregnancy, your balance changes and you are at risk for a fall. You may want to stay indoors on a stationary bike when your belly begins to grow.

Aerobics - During pregnancy, low impact aerobic classes are a very good way to build stamina. There are many aerobic programs designed especially for pregnancy.

Pilates - Pilates are a great way to develop stamina during pregnancy. Its focus on good breathing techniques and improving flexibility makes it an optimal exercise during pregnancy.

What exercises should not be started during pregnancy?

Jogging - Done in moderation, jogging is safe, especially if you ran before you became pregnant. Jogging can cause muscle and joint strain and is considered a form of exercise that you should NOT start after the first few weeks of pregnancy.

Racquet Sports - Because of changes in your balance during pregnancy, racquet type sports can increase your chances of a fall. If you played tennis, racquet ball, etc. you may want to stop after the first few weeks of pregnancy.

Weight Lifting - The staining associated with weight lifting is not recommended during pregnancy, but light weights to help tone your muscles can be performed in moderation. Avoid holding your breath while lifting. You may want to wait to start a new weight lifting program after your delivery.

What exercises should be avoided during pregnancy?

For the safety of you and your baby it is advised to avoid all forms of contact sports. Hockey, football and basketball can be dangerous if you fall or are hit and can cause harm to you and your baby.

Avoid all forms of exercise that will increase your chances of falling. Gymnastics, horseback riding and skiing are just a few of the activities that should be avoided.

What are the warning signs that I should stop exercising?

1. Contractions
2. Vaginal spotting or bleeding
3. A gush of fluid or leaking from your vagina
4. Excessive dizziness or fainting
5. Shortness of breath beyond what you would expect during pregnancy
6. Sudden onset of pain in your chest or irregular heart beat
7. Pain or cramping in your lower leg
8. Headache
9. Decrease in baby movement

Routine exercise during pregnancy has many rewards, but don't get carried away. Do not exercise to the point of exhaustion and be alert to warning signs that you are working too hard. If you have any concerns, make sure to stop exercising and call your doctor.

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