Is it Safe to Exercise During Pregnancy?

A question I frequently hear from my patients is, “Is it safe to exercise while I’m pregnant?” If you’re healthy and have a normal pregnancy, the answer is usually yes. However, it’s crucial to seek regular prenatal care and discuss with your obstetrician/gynecologist which exercises are safe for you and your baby.

Who shouldn’t exercise during pregnancy?

If you have one of the following conditions, it can be unsafe to exercise during pregnancy:

  • Preeclampsia (pregnancy-induced high blood pressure)
  • Severe anemia
  • Some lung and heart diseases
  • Cerclage (a procedure where your cervical opening is stitched closed to prevent or delay preterm birth)
  • Preterm labor or ruptured membranes (broken water) during your pregnancy
  • Being pregnant with twins, triplets or more and being at risk for preterm labor

Talk to your doctor if you have been diagnosed with any of these conditions to determine what activity level is safe for you.

The benefits of exercise during pregnancy

As long as your doctor says it’s safe for you, exercise during pregnancy has many benefits. It can:

  • Lower your risk of cesarean birth, gestational diabetes and preeclampsia
  • Reduce constipation
  • Ease back pain
  • Support healthy weight gain during pregnancy
  • Increase your fitness level
  • Strengthen your heart and blood vessels
  • Help you achieve a healthy weight after your baby is born

How much exercise do you need during pregnancy?

If your physician gives the OK, aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise weekly. Aerobic exercise works multiple muscle groups and gets your heart pumping. You’ll know you’ve reached a moderate-intensity pace if you:

  • Have an increased heart rate
  • Break a sweat
  • Can talk normally, but not sing

Safer aerobic activities during pregnancy include:

  • Walking
  • Riding a stationary bike
  • Swimming
  • Water aerobics

While they don’t usually increase your heart rate enough to be considered aerobic exercises, prenatal yoga and Pilates can also be beneficial during pregnancy.

If you didn’t exercise prior to pregnancy and would like to start, get approval from your physician, then start with five minutes of activity a day. Each week, increase your daily movement by five minutes. Work your way up to 30 minutes per day.

If you exercised regularly before pregnancy, you can likely continue the same workouts as long as you get the OK from your ob-gyn. However, you don’t want to lose weight during pregnancy, so be sure to eat a nutrient-rich diet full of:

  • Lean proteins
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Healthy fats
  • Whole grains

Exercises to avoid during pregnancy

When you’re pregnant, your body goes through many changes that can affect your:

  • Balance: Carrying extra weight in your middle can throw off your balance and stress your joints and muscles, especially your lower back and pelvis. Be mindful of your movements to reduce your risk of falls.
  • Oxygen level: When you’re pregnant, you need more oxygen than usual. When you exercise, your body sends oxygen to your muscles and away from other body parts. This can make it harder to do more strenuous activities.
  • Joint health: Hormonal changes can cause your joints to become more relaxed, which increases your risk of injury. Avoid bouncy, high-impact movements.

When you’re pregnant, you should also avoid:

  • Contact sports
  • Activities that increase your fall risks, such as off-road cycling, horseback riding or skiing
  • Scuba diving
  • Activities performed at a high altitude
  • Lying on your back or standing still for long periods of time

Standing still can cause blood to pool in your legs or feet, while lying on your back can cause the uterus to press on the vein that sends blood to your heart. These positions can cause a decrease in blood pressure.

When to seek medical care

You should stop exercising and call your ob-gyn if you experience:

  • Painful uterine contractions
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Fluid leakage from the vagina
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath before exercise
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Muscle weakness
  • Headache

While exercise can be safe during pregnancy, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider to determine what’s right for you. Find a provider near you.  

Maridee Spearman MD

Maridee Spearman, MD, FACOG

Board-Certified Obstetrician and Gynecologist
Pardee OB/GYN Associates

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