How to Safely Exercise During Pregnancy

7 tips to stay safe and physically active during pregnancy

A pregnant woman sits in her bedroom exercising with light weights.

7 tips to stay safe and physically active during pregnancy

If you’re expecting, you may know that exercising during pregnancy is good for you and your baby. You may also know that exercise does not increase your chances of low-birth weight, early delivery, or early pregnancy loss.

Still, you may have questions about how to safely exercise or start exercising during pregnancy. What are my limits? How do I safely exercise during pregnancy? These are questions that can be established early with your doctor during a prenatal visit.

Before you do any exercises or activities while pregnant, discuss what activities you can do safely with your health care provider,” says Kirstin Lee, MD, an OB-GYN at Scripps Clinic La Jolla

“Most healthy women who are having a normal pregnancy can continue to be physically active, but it’s important to know your limits and practice caution. Your doctor will also let you know if exercise is not safe for you.”

Benefits of exercise during pregnancy

Beware of pregnancy myths about exercise and pregnancy. The fact is that exercising can reduce the risk of pregnancy problems, such as preterm labor and preeclampsia, and help ease back pain and constipation.

Exercising also promotes:

  • Better sleep
  • Improved mood
  • Better overall fitness
  • Healthy weight during pregnancy

Exercise can also help you lose any extra weight after your baby is born.

When exercising is unsafe

Certain medical conditions can make exercising during pregnancy unsafe, including:

  • Certain types of heart and lung disease
  • Preeclampsia
  • Severe anemia
  • Preterm labor

Seven tips for exercising safely during pregnancy

1.  Talk to your doctor about limitations

Expect some limitations exercising even if you are healthy with a normal pregnancy. When you’re pregnant, there is a shift in your center of gravity that can affect movement and balance.

In addition, “your heart rate naturally increases when you’re pregnant — even at rest — which can make what used to be an easy workout much harder,” Dr. Lee says.

“Let your doctor know what type of exercises or activities you regularly do and ask if you can continue them or if they put you at risk for injury,” Dr. Lee adds.

2.  Set reasonable goals

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends pregnant women and postpartum women should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week. You don't have to do this all at once. In fact, it’s best to spread it out, for example, 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Moderate exercise can be done with brisk walking and gardening.

If new to exercising, start slowly and gradually increase activity. If you were active before pregnancy, you may continue the same workout with your doctor’s approval.

3.  Exercise caution

Take time to warm up and cool down after exercising. Practice caution also by:

  • Drinking plenty of water before, during and after workout
  • Wearing a sports bra to help protect your breasts
  • Wearing a belly support belt to help reduce discomfort while walking or running
  • Avoiding becoming overheated
  • Avoiding standing still or lying flat on your back as much as possible

4.  Exercise safely at home and outside

If you don’t feel like going to the gym, you can safely work out at home or outside.

Get exercise and fresh air by going for a walk near your home or at a park or trail near you. Avoid exercising outside when it is very hot or humid.

If you live or work in a community with high number of COVID-19 cases or low COVID-19 vaccination, you can safely exercise at home.

Although the overall risks are low, if you are pregnant or were recently pregnant, you are more likely to get very sick from COVID-19 compared to people who are not pregnant. You are also at risk of complications that can affect your pregnancy and developing baby, according to the CDC.

At home, you don’t need special equipment to exercise but a temperature-controlled room helps for exercising.

Sign up for an online pregnancy exercise program or class, designed to make your workout comfortable and reduce the stress on your joints and back.

5.  Do safe exercises during pregnancy

Exercises considered safe during pregnancy include:

  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Riding stationary bike
  • Modified yoga and Pilates designed for pregnant women

6.  Exercises to avoid during pregnancy

Avoid activities that put you at increased risk of getting hurt, including:

  • High impact or contact sports, such as soccer and basketball
  • Activities that may result in a fall, such as downhill snow skiing, water skiing, surfing, off-road cycling, gymnastics and horseback riding
  • Hot yoga or hot Pilates that may cause you to become overheated

7.  Know when to stop exercising

When exercising, watch for these warning signs to stop and call your doctor:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Feeling dizzy or faint
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Muscle weakness
  • Calf pain or swelling
  • Regular, painful contractions of the uterus
  • Fluid gushing or leaking from the vagina

“Whatever you do, the most important thing to remember is to listen to your body,” Dr. Lee says. “Your body will tell you if you are doing too much.”

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