Exercise in pregnancy can be a controversial combination. Some women feel strongly about maintaining their pre-pregnancy fitness while others may feel afraid to exercise during a time when their bodies are undergoing so many physical changes. Wherever you fall on that spectrum, here are six things you should know about exercising during pregnancy and how to do it safely so you and baby can reap the many benefits.
1: Exercise in pregnancy is safe.
Let’s start with some good news: the idea that exercise is unsafe during pregnancy is a myth. Not only is exercise safe for most mamas-to-be, it also offers a host of benefits including lower risks of complications like preeclampsia and gestational diabetes and fewer common pregnancy symptoms like backaches, constipation, difficulty sleeping, and swelling. Another perk? Exercise may contribute to easier labor and delivery. Staying active during pregnancy is associated with reduced need for pain medication, shorter labor, lower rates of episiotomy, lower rates of Cesarean delivery, and reduced need for other medical interventions.
Your mental health will also benefit from moving more, including lower rates of postpartum depression. Being active may also benefit your babe. It’s been associated with lower risk of future asthma, allergies, diabetes, and hypertension in babies of mamas who were active during pregnancy.
2: Reflect on your motivation to exercise during pregnancy.
Before you lace up your running shoes, take some time to reflect on why you want to exercise. Maybe it’s for one of the reasons mentioned above, or maybe it’s for an entirely different reason. For some people, exercise may be entangled with desires to try to control the changes in appearance and weight that are a natural part of pregnancy. If this resonates with you, it may be helpful to talk to a trusted person about your concerns and to practice embracing the changes with body appreciation exercises. There’s no better time than during pregnancy to build trust and appreciation for your body!
3: Base your exercise goals off of your pre-pregnancy fitness level.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, physical activity recommendations during pregnancy are the same as pre-pregnancy: 150 minutes of activity per week. It doesn’t matter whether you get your 150 minutes in 60 minute or 10 minute chunks.
The important part is to tailor this general guideline based on your pre-pregnancy activity level.
If you were sedentary pre-pregnancy: begin with low-intensity activities like walking or biking at a slower pace, yoga, or gentle swimming for 5 minutes at a time and gradually build from there. If you don’t love exercise, try these tips on how to actually enjoy working out.
If you were a light to moderate exerciser pre-pregnancy: you continue your pre-pregnancy routine as long as it’s safe (more on that below) and your OB or midwife agrees it’s okay.
If you were a vigorous exerciser pre-pregnancy: you can continue vigorous activities as long as the activities are safe and continue to feel good for your body. You’ll want to make sure you’re refueling well (more on that below).
4: You’ll likely need to switch up your routine during pregnancy.
Even though you can use your pre-pregnancy fitness level to help you determine where to start, you will still probably need to tweak your routine, especially as your body grows and changes! For example, increased joint flexibility during pregnancy can make you more injury-prone. Your center of gravity will also shift constantly as your belly and baby grow, making balance more challenging (and making the stakes higher if you fall). Another big change you’ll notice: your breathing capacity. As things get more crowded in there, your lungs have less room to expand. Pair that with increased oxygen needs during pregnancy, and you’ll likely find yourself feeling more winded during exercise.
What exercises are safe in pregnancy?
Here are some great pregnancy-safe activities to try. Everyone is different though, so make sure an activity is safe for you before trying it!
- Swimming and other water-based movement
- Walking, running, and hiking
- Biking on a flat, stable surface
- Gardening and yard work
- Pilates and yoga with pregnancy-safe modifications
- Lifting weights with pregnancy-safe modifications
What exercises should be avoided in pregnancy?
Not all exercise is safe during pregnancy. Because of the changes in joint flexibility, stability, and oxygen capacity, certain things should be avoided. Also, you’ll need to be careful with how you position your body. Obviously, lying on your belly is a no-go. But lying on your back is also not advised because it can restrict blood flow to you and the baby. You might not be clicking in to your snow skis for the foreseeable future, but you can modify other activities (like performing an exercise side-lying instead of on your back) to make them safe. Here are some things to avoid.
- Any activity with a risk of belly trauma or falling (downhill and water skiing, horseback riding, contact sports)
- Exercise in very hot or humid environments like hot yoga
- Activities with excessive jumping, bouncing, or deep stretching
- Exercises that require lying flat on your back, especially in the second and third trimesters (this can put pressure on the vena cava and restrict blood flow to your baby)
5: Check in with your body and make adjustments as your pregnancy advances.
Every week of pregnancy can feel like a brand new adventure since things change so quickly. With all of those changes taking place, you’ll want to check in with your body regularly and adjust exercise accordingly. This might mean lowering the intensity of an activity or throwing it out completely in favor of something else. Now is the time to listen to and honor your body’s signals. You’re growing a human, after all! Be gentle with yourself.
6: Make sure you’re refueling well.
Nutrition needs increase during pregnancy, with some nutrient requirements increasing by as much as 50%! Make sure you are meeting needs for both the demands of exercise and the demands of pregnancy. Never begin exercising on an empty stomach and plan to eat a balanced meal or snack immediately afterwards. Try these yummy and easy pre- or post-exercise snacks:
You also want to make sure you’re hydrating well. Being well-hydrated helps support your increased blood volume and the amniotic fluid around the baby. Aim for at least 8-12 cups of water per day, plus more before, during, and after exercising.
If you want to learn how to fuel your entire pregnancy and set yourself (and baby!) up for success, join the Plant-based Pregnancy Course.
Want more pregnancy tips?
Grab the free Pregnancy Checklist for the 12 things to do now for a healthy, happy pregnancy.