Exercises for pregnant women should be approved by your doctor. But for most women who are expecting, exercise can be an important part of a healthy pregnancy.
When you are expecting, it’s normal to want to do everything possible to protect your unborn child. And you also want to have the healthiest, easiest delivery and childbirth possible. For most pregnant women, however, that doesn’t mean you should swear off exercise while you wait for your baby to be born.
In fact, as long as your doctor agrees, certain exercises for pregnant women are fine for you; staying active is a healthy choice.
Of course, it’s important your doctor gives you approval for participating in exercises for pregnant women. And if you have any existing medical or obstetric complications, it’s crucial to have a thorough evaluation to make sure exercise is safe for you and your baby. You also need to make sure you understand any red flags, such as spotting blood, indicating you should stop certain activities and call your healthcare provider.
However, the good news is exercise during pregnancy has minimal risks for most pregnant women, although some modification to exercise routines may be necessary, depending on changes in your body as the months progress, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) points out.
ACOG encourages women with uncomplicated pregnancies to engage in aerobic and strength-conditioning exercises during and after pregnancy. And if you aren’t expecting but hope to be, ACOG says exercising is also a smart way to prepare for a future healthy pregnancy.
Advantages of exercises for pregnant women
Physical inactivity during pregnancy can contribute to excessive weight gain — and both excess pounds and lack of exercise are independent risk factors for pregnancy complications, including gestational diabetes (a form of diabetes occurring only in pregnancy).
ACOG says exercise can benefit pregnant women these ways:
- Improves overall general fitness and strengthens cardiovascular health
- Reduces back pain
- Helps prevent and relieve constipation
- May decrease the risk of preeclampsia (a potentially dangerous pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure) and cesarean delivery
- Promotes healthy but not excessive weight gain during pregnancy
- Helps you shed the baby weight after your child is born
What are safe exercises for pregnant women?
Simply taking a brisk walk is a great way to work in exercise, and it won’t strain muscles and joints. Starting out with a walk, especially if you haven’t been very physically active, is a great way to get moving.
If you have access to a pool, the March of Dimes recommends swimming and working out in water. Water supports the weight of your growing baby, and swimming is easy on joints and muscles. It can help relieve low back pain, too.
Riding a stationary bike (far safer than riding a regular bicycle during pregnancy), yoga classes designed especially for pregnant women, and light gardening are other good choices for moms-to-be.
Strength training can build muscles and strengthen bones, and it’s safe for most pregnant women, as long as you don’t lift excessively heavy weights. Ask your doctor how much you can lift safely, the March of Dimes advises.
How long should pregnant women exercise?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a pregnant woman, with her doctor’s okay, should aim for about 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week. Moderate-intensity exercise means you are moving enough to raise your heart rate; you can still talk normally but not sing. Examples of moderate-intense exercises for pregnant women include brisk walking and general gardening (raking, digging, weeding).
ACOG recommends dividing the 150 minutes into 30-minute workouts on five days of the week or into smaller 10-minute workouts during the day. If exercise is new for you, start with as a little as a five-minute walk daily. Then add several minutes each week to your walk until you can comfortably be active for 30 minutes a day.
We can’t emphasize this enough: Avoid these exercises while pregnant.
Never participate in any activities that carry a risk of falling and that have bouncing, jerking movements — such as horseback riding, gymnastics, skating, and skiing. The March of Dimes also warns against sports such as soccer and basketball that could result in you being hit in the belly.
After the third month of pregnancy, avoid any exercise, such as sit-ups, requiring you to lie flat on your back. In that position, your uterus puts pressure on a vein carrying blood to your heart and can cause your blood pressure to drop, limiting blood flow to your baby, March of Dimes pregnancy experts warn.
Other activities to avoid while pregnant: surfing, diving, water skiing, and exercising at high altitudes (unless you are acclimated to living at a high altitude). Also, don’t participate in activities that can spike your body temperature to abnormal levels — whether exercising outside on hot, humid days; or participating in Bikram yoga (also called “hot yoga”); or spending any time over a few minutes in a hot tub, if at all. Becoming over-heated can cause hyperthermia and may be harmful for the baby.
Bottom line? Exercises for pregnant women are usually safe but be careful.
While exercises for pregnant women are safe for most, pregnancy complications and other health concerns can develop whether you work out or not.
Always pay attention to how you feel, and stop exercise or other activities and call your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms or signs of possible problems:
- Bleeding or leaking fluid from the vagina
- Severe or new headaches
- Chest pain, rapid or irregular heartbeats, or trouble breathing
- Feeling dizzy or faint
- Muscle weakness, trouble walking, pain or swelling in your lower leg (which may be a sign of a blood clot)
- Painful contractions
- You no longer feel your unborn baby moving or kicking
April 08, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN