Exercise during pregnancy is a great way to help you and your baby have a healthy journey together. Whether you did regular physical activity before you became pregnant or want to start exercising now, there are important things to know about how to work out when pregnant safely.
About Workouts When Pregnant
Talk to your obstetric care provider about exercise at your first prenatal visit.3 Healthy women are encouraged to get at least two and a half hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise during pregnancy per week. However, there are a few conditions in which exercise may harm you or your baby.1,4 If your OB care provider does give you the green light to work out when pregnant and you were already active before, you can discuss modification recommendations. If you were not physically active before pregnancy, they can help you develop a pregnancy workout routine to help promote your and your baby’s health.2
If you already have a packed schedule, you may wonder how you can make time to get the recommended 150 minutes a week of exercise.3 You can get creative and break it up into 30 minutes of activity at least five days a week. If that doesn’t sound feasible, try dividing 30 minutes into 10 minutes of activity three times daily.3,4
Changes in Pregnancy
As your body undergoes significant changes, your ability to work out when pregnant may require some adaptations due to the following:
This pregnancy hormone helps soften your pelvic ligaments to make room for your growing baby.2 Relaxin also loosens ligaments in other joints, making them more mobile, which can put them at an increased risk for injury. Try to avoid high-impact jerking movements that may strain your joints.3
As your baby grows, the distribution of weight in your body changes, causing your center of gravity to shift forward. This can impact your ability to keep your balance when performing certain exercises.2 To increase your stability and avoid falling, try to move mindfully and perhaps a bit more slowly during your prenatal workout.3
During pregnancy, your body demands more oxygen.4 You may notice some shortness of breath performing activities that you could previously do without much effort, such as walking uphill. This is due to an increase in progesterone, a pregnancy hormone that can cause you to breathe faster even in early pregnancy. As your uterus grows, this reduces the space your lungs have to expand, so feeling winded during exercise is common.5 It is okay to scale back your workout intensity to breathe more comfortably.
The natural progression of pregnancy causes the average heart rate for pregnant women to increase.3 Your heart must beat harder and faster, even without physical activity, To keep up with your body’s and baby’s oxygen demands.4 During exercise, your pre-pregnancy target heart rate is no longer helpful in monitoring the intensity of your workout. Your goal is to exercise at a moderate level of intensity, which means you are sweating, but you can talk throughout your activity.10
Benefits of a Workout When Pregnant
Here are some of the physical and psychological benefits you can gain when you exercise during pregnancy:2,4,10
- Increased energy level
- Maintenance of or increase in physical fitness
- Less back pain
- Healthy weight management
- Quicker physical recovery after childbirth
- Stress reduction
- Better-quality sleep
- Prevention or relief from constipation
- Possible decrease in risk for developing gestational diabetes or
- Lower risk of Cesarean delivery
The Dos: Workouts When Pregnant
Fatigue during pregnancy can make it hard to want to be physically active. To maintain motivation, you’ll want to choose things you will enjoy. There are lots of ways to work out that are safe to do when pregnant, such as walking, riding a stationary bike, and doing pregnancy exercises like prenatal yoga.4 But what about other activities?
Can You Run While Pregnant?
If you were a runner before your pregnancy and have talked with your OB care provider, continuing to run should not hurt your baby’s health.7 If you want to begin running during pregnancy, let your OB care provider know before starting a running regimen.8
Can You Lift Weights While Pregnant?
If your pregnancy is uncomplicated, strength conditioning with weights or resistance bands can be beneficial during and after pregnancy. Discuss weight lifting with your OB care provider for individualized weight amount recommendations.9 After your first trimester, try to avoid overhead weight lifting to prevent worsening of lower back discomfort.1
Can Pregnant Women Bowl?
Bowling is a low-impact activity, and as long as your OB care provider clears you, it should be safe. You may need to modify your form to keep your balance, as your growing belly causes your center of gravity to move forward. Also, remember that loosening joints increases your risk of injury, so bowl gently.9
What About Swimming When Pregnant?
Swimming is one of the safest pregnancy exercises you can do, and many OB care providers recommend it for their patients who are healthy enough to do so. Swimming gives you the benefit of getting a good aerobic workout while being gentle on your joints and without having the risk of losing your balance and falling.8
The Don’ts: Exercises To Avoid During Pregnancy
Certain activities are not recommended if you’re looking to work out when pregnant due to their increased risk of causing injury to you and your baby. These include anything that puts you at risk for:
- Getting hit in the abdomen. Examples include boxing, ice hockey, martial arts, and other contact sports.2,3
- Falling. Examples include downhill skiing, horseback riding, mountain biking, and gymnastics.3
- Overheating. Examples include exercising outside on a hot and humid day and “hot yoga” or “hot Pilates.” 3,4
- Experiencing extreme changes in pressure. An example would be scuba diving.2
- Exercising at a high altitude. An example would be hiking above 6,000 feet if you don’t already live at a high altitude.3
If you are uncertain if a specific workout is safe when pregnant, check with your OB care provider before trying it. Also, tune into your body. If you don’t want to work out on a day you had planned to exercise, it’s okay to rest and conserve your energy.2
When Can You Work Out Again After Giving Birth?
After delivery, you and your OB care provider can discuss when it is safe to resume workouts. If you have an uncomplicated vaginal delivery, it may be as soon as a few days after giving birth if you are feeling up to it. If you have a C-section, you may need to take things more slowly, as this is a major abdominal surgery, and your body will need more time to recover.4
Gradually increasing the intensity of exercise is vital postpartum. Physical activity postpartum has been shown to decrease the incidence of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders like postpartum depression. Physical activity is also encouraged in lactating women and should not affect your milk supply.10
If your OB care provider has given you the go-ahead, regular exercise during pregnancy is a great way to take care of yourself and your growing baby. Try to choose low-impact activities that you enjoy and make modifications as needed. This may mean reducing the intensity of your pre-pregnancy workouts or slowly building up your activity level if you weren’t physically active before pregnancy.4 When deciding how to work out when pregnant and achieve the recommended two and a half hours or 150 minutes a week of exercise, make it fun, be safe, and appreciate what your body can do.