A pregnant woman sits on an exercise ball and holds weights to safely work out during pregnancy.

Should you exercise during pregnancy?

Being pregnant can seem like it comes with a nearly endless list of things you should and shouldn’t do. You’ve got a tiny baby developing inside you, and you want to be careful to give your baby a healthy start to life. So, is it safe to exercise during pregnancy?

“Yes, you should definitely exercise during pregnancy. It has an insane number of health benefits,” said Holly Wiedenhamer, a physical therapist at OSF HealthCare. “Typically when we are up and moving during pregnancy, it helps with blood flow. It can decrease swelling, constipation, some of the other little things that you don’t feel so great with during pregnancy. It just kind of keeps everything moving, which is wonderful.”

Below are some tips for exercising while pregnant, so you have an idea how to do so safely. But keep in mind – it’s always wise to speak with your OB/GYN or primary care provider before starting any exercise regimen, especially if you’re pregnant.

How safe is exercise during pregnancy?

“It is very safe to exercise during pregnancy,” Holly said. “If for some reason your physician does not want you to exercise, they will let you know that.”

Almost any exercise or physical activity that you were doing before pregnancy is safe to do during pregnancy – except for high-impact sports. That means any sport that involves physical contact that could result in you suffering a blow to your midsection is off the table.

Is exercising safe for my baby?

Exercising while pregnant actually boosts your baby’s health.

Being active increases the flow of oxygenated blood throughout your body, which increases the blood flow to the baby, bringing them nutrients and oxygen.

“There is a direct correlation between the mother’s health and the baby’s health, so the healthier you can be, the healthier your baby will be,” Holly said.

Pregnancy exercises and fitness tips

Working out as an expectant mother helps build your endurance, which will be a big help if you’re having a vaginal birth. Labor and delivery is not easy, so you need to prepare for the physical challenge.

Holly’s top tips for working out while pregnant:

  • Address all three pillars of exercise – aerobic endurance, strength training and flexibility – during your workouts.
  • Aim for about 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every week. When you’re pregnant, it’s helpful to try for 20-30 minutes of exercise most days of the week, rather than doing fewer sessions for longer.
  • As your pregnancy progresses, take into account the changes of your body to modify positions and the length of time between rests.
  • Remember to engage your pelvic floor and make sure it is activated throughout your workout.
  • Work out at a moderate intensity. If you can hold a conversation without any heavy breathing, increase the intensity of your workout. If you are too winded to speak, you need to dial back the intensity.

Swimming, running, bicycling – that low-impact sort of stuff is safe to do throughout your pregnancy, as long as your physician doesn’t tell you to stop.

Whether you’re in your first, second or third trimester, walking is probably as safe and healthy as pregnancy exercises get. And if you weren’t working out before pregnancy, walking is a good exercise to start in your first trimester.

Walking has the benefit of needing no special facilities or equipment. Plus, walking is an activity that is easy to adjust, whether you need to pick up the intensity or slow down.

Lifting weights and stretching can be done throughout pregnancy, as well. As your baby grows, however, you may have to alter the weights, your positioning and the number of reps. Some lifts, such as anything that involves laying on your belly, will have to be abandoned altogether at some point.

Stretching is always good for your health, and it can help your body prepare for some of the positions you may use during labor.

Keep these factors in mind, too

As you progress in your pregnancy, and your baby gets bigger and takes up more space, you likely won’t have as much lung capacity as before. Plus, a lot of extra blood flow goes to the growing baby. So, you may notice that your endurance decreases.

“If you’re a runner, swimmer, things like that, you might not be able to go as fast or as far or do as much,” Holly said. “You may need more rest breaks.”

Also keep in mind that when you’re pregnant, your body releases a hormone called relaxin, which relaxes the ligaments in your body. This is a good thing because it relaxes your pelvis, which opens up the birthing canal so you can birth your baby.

The problem is relaxin relaxes all the ligaments in your body, so you may feel less steady or be more unstable than before your pregnancy. You will want to be more careful if you’re going to the extreme end ranges of stretching, because you can be injured more easily.

The relaxin can also cause another common problem – foot issues.

“If you’ve ever heard people say, ‘Oh, my feet got bigger when I was pregnant.’ Your feet don’t naturally grow bigger,” Holly said. “You actually just lose your arch, and the feet get wider because the ligaments in your feet slacken. So we always tell people if you’re participating in an activity, make sure you’re in a good supportive shoe because your feet will loosen in that arch and you may get some plantar fasciitis or ankle pain and discomfort.”

You may start having some urinary incontinence or leaking when you’re doing higher-level activities, such as running, or cross training. This may mean you need to strengthen your pelvic floor. Remember to contract your pelvic floor muscles before you lift heavier weights or go running and contact your physician or physical therapist if you notice leakage or incontinence.

Exercises to avoid during pregnancy

When you’re pregnant, you should avoid any activities that could deliver an impactful blow to your abdominal area or that may cause you to fall.

“The biggest thing that we’re worried about is trauma to your midsection, so anything that would make you want to dive to catch or fall to dig a volleyball, things like that, we don’t want you to be doing that,” Holly said. “Any type of rugby or roller derby, where you may fall, any of those really high-impact sports where there may be an impact to your midsection or you may fall are what you really want to avoid.”

Are there exercises to help induce labor?

No exercises to induce labor have proven to be effective. However, being active in itself helps progress the labor process. It doesn’t necessarily induce labor or make it go faster, but it’s definitely going to make you feel better during the birthing process.

If you’ve been put on bed rest or pelvic floor rest for any reason, listen to your physician’s guidance.

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About Author: Ken Harris

Ken Harris is the proudest father and was a writing coordinator for the Marketing & Communications division of OSF HealthCare.

He has a bachelor's in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked as a daily newspaper reporter for four years before leaving the field and eventually finding his way to OSF HealthCare.

In his free time, Ken likes reading, fly fishing, hanging out with his dog and generally pestering his lovely, patient wife.

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Categories: Birth & Maternity