Exercise During Pregnancy: Is It Safe?

Sandra Gordon
Aug. 24, 2015

While most forms of exercise are safe to do while pregnant, some aren't. Get the facts about working out so you can make the best decisions for you and your baby. Check out these great exercise videos, too!

Pregnancy may seem like a great time to skip your exercise routine. After all, you're tired. Plus, you have morning sickness, a backache, heartburn and swollen ankles! Then there's the fact that just carrying around the weight of your precious cargo all day feels like a workout in itself.

But don't talk yourself off the treadmill! Unless you have a major complication, such as pre-eclampsia (pregnancy-induced high blood pressure), most exercise is beneficial for you -- and your baby. But before you start, play it safe and get your doctor's OK.

"Exercise during pregnancy is helpful for both mom and baby," says Dr. Siobhan Dolan, an obstetrician/gynecologist (ob/gyn) at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City and medical adviser for the March of Dimes. "Keeping moving helps you physically and mentally prepare for the challenges of pregnancy, labor and delivery.

It also helps regulate your weight and reduces the risk of pregnancy complications, such as gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia." You'll probably sleep better, too, and reduce some of your pregnancy aches and pains.

How Much Should You Exercise During Pregnancy?
Because each pregnant mom is different, you'll want to determine a reasonable amount of exercise given your situation. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends exercising for 30 minutes on most, if not all, days of the week -- a plan that's probably highly doable. "That's an attainable goal as part of a healthy lifestyle," Dr. Dolan says.

Once you have your doctor's approval, you can get started. If you haven't been exercising, begin from where you are and gradually work up to 30 minutes of daily physical activity. If you're already an ardent exerciser, or you participate in a specific sport, keep it up, but talk to your doctor about the need to modify your plan, if necessary.

What's Safe?
"Each trimester brings a new set of physical and emotional circumstances that may or may not change your exercise routine," says Dr. Sheryl Ross, an ob/gyn at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California. Safe exercise bets include low-impact options, such as walking, swimming, cycling, aerobics classes and prenatal yoga. Jogging is also fine.

"Taking a strength training class is OK, too, if you were doing it before you were pregnant," says Dr. Mireille Truong, an ob/gyn at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia Hospital in New York City. "But don't start doing strenuous physical activity during pregnancy, such as running or weight lifting, if you've never done it before."

Check out these workout videos for an idea of what exercises are good to do in each trimester:

  • First Trimester
    You might feel really fatigued or nauseated in the first trimester. Working out might feel like a major effort, but don't give up.//www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rjhi58tbrlI
  • Second Trimester
    You'll probably feel the most like your usual self and have maximum energy in your second trimester. Be sure to take advantage of this time, but don't push yourself. "Take into account that your body is already working extra hard when you're pregnant," Dr. Dolan says. "Your heart rate and your breathing is a little faster than normal throughout your pregnancy."//www.youtube.com/watch?v=btVp5F7HOfo


  • Third Trimester
    Your energy level might start to wane (or maybe you're still going strong!), but you're heavier now, and your balance might feel different.//www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1hTJuGevcU


What to Avoid?
There are certain activities and sports you'll want to avoid as soon as you find out you're pregnant. They include scuba diving and contact sports such as basketball, hockey, volleyball and football -- "anything that might throw you off balance and cause you to fall or possibly harm you or your baby," Dr. Truong says. You should also skip risky sports, such as downhill skiing, gymnastics, mountain biking and horseback riding.

After your first trimester, avoid flat-on-your-back exercises, such as sit-ups. Your growing uterus can press on the inferior vena cava, a large vein that carries blood from the lower part of your body to your heart, reducing blood flow. "But it's fine to do modified sit-ups on your side," Dr. Dolan notes.

When to Stop Exercising
Stop exercising and call your doctor or other health care provider if you have vaginal bleeding, contractions, vaginal leakage or if you have a headache, feel faint or more short of breath than usual, experience uterine contractions or weak muscles, calf swelling or pain or notice that your baby isn't moving like he normally does, cautions Dr. Ross. "But if you're feeling good and have an uncomplicated pregnancy, there's no need to stop exercising at any point," she says.

Want more ideas? Try these 4 Pregnancy Exercises You Can Do at Home.

Sandra Gordon helps new parents gear up for less at Baby Products Mom.com and writes about health and nutrition for leading websites, magazines and custom publications. She walked two miles daily during both of her pregnancies.

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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