Exercise During Pregnancy: Safety, Benefits and Guidelines
Learn the benefits of exercise during pregnancy and how it is safe to exercise during the first trimester, second trimester and even the third trimester of pregnancy. Follow these exercise guidelines if you are pregnant.
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.
Congratulations on your pregnancy! I am so proud of you for taking the time to invest in your health and also your new baby’s health while being pregnant.
I want you to know right now before diving deep into this article whether or not exercise is safe. The answer is YES!
It’s so important to do during pregnancy. Taking care of your body is ultimately going to help take care of your baby’s growing body, so being in tune to your health is vital during pregnancy.
If you are looking to have a better understanding of why exercise is so important during pregnancy, how to perform it safely and what the basic guidelines are for exercise while pregnant, then you’ll want to continue reading.
Further down in this post you’ll find links to helpful articles that include safe pregnancy workouts and a list of 37 pregnancy exercises to avoid. There is also a pregnancy workout video that includes safe physical therapy recommended prenatal exercises. Be sure to take a look.
Is Exercise Safe During Pregnancy
Like I just mentioned, exercise is safe during pregnancy (for most women). Of course I can’t say that it’s safe for every single pregnant woman in the world because everyone has their own medical history. If you are suffering from a health condition, consult your doctor before beginning an exercise routine.
Generally speaking, physicians recommend that women who are pregnant should exercise to maintain a healthy weight and remain physically fit.
A good rule of thumb that many doctors say is:
“If you were physically active before you were pregnant, it is likely safe to remain active during pregnancy. Continue to do the same or decreased intensity workouts but do not increase the intensity of your workout compared to pre-pregnancy.”
I always recommend for you to first get a prenatal care check-up (around 8 to 10 weeks pregnant) prior to beginning a workout for the first time during pregnancy. This is when you ask your doctor’s approval to begin working out and what restrictions your doctor might have for you specifically.
If you have been working out for several months or years prior to pregnancy and you just found out you’re pregnant, I would say you are safe to continue working out. Just be sure to check out this list of 37 exercises to avoid while pregnant.
Can Exercise During Pregnancy Cause Miscarriage
If you have had this worry in the back of your mind that exercise can induce a miscarriage or cause your baby to be premature or have a low birth weight, I want to clear the air right now and tell you no, you are not at a higher risk of any of those. There is no evidence that proves exercise is the cause of miscarriage or premature babies. So I highly encourage you to get those thoughts out of your head if that’s something that has been filling your mind.
Exercise is safe during pregnancy only if you are doing it for the right reasons. If you are trying to exercise for weight loss purposes, then it becomes unsafe. The goal is not for weight loss but for the following benefits:
Why Is Exercise Important During Pregnancy?
1. Help prepare your body for labor and delivery and reduce your chance of c-section
The stronger your body is, the more prepared you are for labor. Labor is no joke. It takes strength, endurance and power. You’re training for the marathon of your life: child birth!!
2. Improve your heart rate which will help with labor and delivery
Childbirth requires endurance – endurance to keep pushing, breathing, typically without rest breaks. You need your heart to be just as strong as your other muscles in your body. Strengthen your heart so that you can withstand the cardiovascular challenge from labor and delivery.
3. Improves your level of energy throughout the day
Pregnancy can be fatiguing. Well, it is fatiguing. Your body is working none stop to grow a baby. Exercise is known for improving energy levels. You might feel fatigued right after a workout, but your body will adapt and have more energy day after day.
4. Help prevent injury
Conditioning your body with exercise during pregnancy will only help your body to withstand the rapid changes that take place during the next 9 months. Hormone fluctuations cause your ligaments to become lax and thus increases your chance of injury. That is why so many women are prone to injury during pregnancy. Prevent this from happening to you by conditioning your muscles and ligaments.
5. Be able to tolerate the increased weight gain from your growing belly
Just imagine a giant bowling ball was attached to your body, with no preparation or conditioning to withstand the added weight. That would hurt. If you exercise and prepare your body for the added weight gain, your legs and back will be able to tolerate it more. Going up stairs and walking longer distances will be easier when the 3rd trimester comes around since you’ve been working out consistently.
6. Combat gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia
Gestational diabetes is a kind of diabetes that can happen during pregnancy. It’s a condition in which your body has too much sugar (called glucose) in the blood. Pre-eclampsia is a kind of high blood pressure some women get after the 20th week of pregnancy or after giving birth. These conditions can increase your risk of having complications during pregnancy, like premature birth (birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy).
7. Decrease stress and improves your mood
Exercise is known to release endorphins which helps combat stress. Pregnancy can be quite stressful with the rapid hormonal changes, morning sickness and lack of sleep. Exercise can help mitigate those negative factors by reducing your stress levels.
8. Improve sleep habits
As your belly continues to grow and your bladder continues to get compressed, sleep will inevitably be disturbed. Help sleep better at night with the benefits of exercise being a natural sleep inducer.
9. Decrease back pain and other body aches
Physical therapists prescribe exercise to treat back pain in pregnant women. Why not work preventatively by doing those exercises before the back pain begins?
Back pain is common in pregnancy due to the added pressure on the spine from the ligaments that are stretching with your growing belly. Maintain a strong back to prevent back injury during pregnancy.
10. Improve GI tract and reduce constipation
Exercise is a natural GI stimulator. Muscle contractions that occur during exercise will help to stimulate the natural contraction of intestinal muscles as well.
11. Reduces swelling in your lower legs and feet
Swelling in the lower legs during pregnancy is extremely common, especially in the 3rd trimester as blood volume increases and veins begins to expand, thus valves start working improperly. Exercise, specifically lower body exercise, can help to reduce swelling by pumping blood back up to the heart and assisting in normal vein function.
Medical Conditions That make Exercise During Pregnancy Unsafe
Some women should avoid exercise while pregnant. In this article the March of Dimes lists examples of pregnancy complications women might suffer from. In these certain conditions, you would want to avoid exercise during pregnancy:
Preterm labor or bleeding from the vagina
Twins, triplets or other multiples
Gestational hypertension – also known as pregnancy induced hypertension
Pre-eclampsia – for more information visit preeclampsia.org
Placenta previa – for more information visit americanpregnancy.org
Anemia (or other heart and lung conditions) – for more information visit webmd.com
If you are unsure if you have any of these diagnoses or are concerned about the risk of exercise related to your individual health, I highly recommend following up with your physician before beginning an exercise routine. Your gynecologist can screen you for any of these conditions listed above plus more.
You may want to include these basic guidelines in planning exercise during pregnancy:
1. Wear proper foot wear that fits snuggly so that you are less likely to sprain your ankle during a workout routine. Make sure there is enough arch support since you will be having added weight gain.
2. Wear loose fitting clothing that is comfortable around your growing body. Maternity activewear is definitely the way to go.
3. Exercise in a place where you are less likely to slip, trip and fall. Flat, dry environments are best.
4. Avoid exercise in extreme weather like hot, humid days or freezing cold temperatures. Also avoid rainy days. Dry comfortable temperatures is always best.
5. When transitioning from the floor, be sure to perform a log roll rather then sitting up (which strains your core). Move slowly and roll to your side, then push up to a sitting position before rising to your feet.
6. Be sure to eat the proper amount of healthy calories to supplement your workout. Be sure never to burn more calories than you consume.
7. Be sure not to consume a large meal right before exercising. It’s recommended to eat 1 hour prior to exercise or wait until your workout is finished before eating.
8. Drink water before, during and after your workout. The recommended amount of water a day is 8 – 8 oz glasses. Keep drinking!!!
9. Get your doctor’s approval before beginning an exercise routine for the first time during pregnancy. When you do begin exercising, start very slowly and monitor your body’s response to exercise. If you have pain, stop that exercise completely. If you have pain and muscle soreness days after your workout, cut back on some of the exercises in that routine.
10. Never exercise to lose weight and never exercise to the point of exhaustion. It’s dangerous for you and your baby.
11. Take regularly scheduled rest breaks during your workout routine. Every 10-20 minutes, stop, drink some water and rest until you feel you are ready to do the next exercise. Listen to you body and don’t overdo it.
12. Schedule in warm-up, stretching and cool down times during your workout routine.
13. Avoid contact sports all together. Your baby is at risk, and so are you.
14. Be cautious when doing heavy weight training. Any weight training should be done with light weights and for the purpose of toning. Never strain your back when lifting weights and maintain a strong core and good form to prevent injury.
15. Avoid all exercise that involves lying flat on your belly (this is especially important for the second and third trimester). Ask your doctor if it is okay for you to do during the first trimester.
What Exercises Should Be Avoided During Pregnancy
When choosing an exercise program during pregnancy, there are some important factors that you need to remember so that you don’t increase your risk of injury to yourself or any harm to your baby.
Women have sudden and dramatic increases in estrogen and progesterone during pregnancy.
A woman will produce more estrogen during one pregnancy than throughout her entire life when not pregnant.
During pregnancy, another hormone called relaxin also increases. This helps loosen your joints to help prepare your body (especially your pelvis) for delivery.
Because of these hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy, exercise is more difficult and you are more prone to injury.
Ligaments become looser during pregnancy, and it increases the risk of sprains and strains throughout your body.
So which exercises should you avoid?
Exercises lying on your belly
Exercise in high heat environments
High impact dancing
Weight loss workouts
Fall risk exercises/activities
Heavy Weight Lifting
Exercise that involves holding your breath
Traditional Abdominal Exercises
For more information and details on which specific exercises to avoid continue reading 37 Exercises and Activities To Avoid While Pregnant.
Can You Do Squats During Pregnancy
You sure can! In fact, I absolutely love prescribing squats to women who are pregnant. There are a lot of benefits from doing squats throughout the entire 9 months of pregnancy.
Performing a squat, the correct way, with proper technique, will help to open up the pelvis. This is so important for childbirth. The motion of squatting mixed with gravity tugging down against you will help your baby to drop down as your pelvis begins to open.
There are various ways to perform squats, but my favorite way to perform a squat while pregnant is to do a wall sit squat against a physio ball. It’s comfortable on the back and is easier to perform. The physio ball helps you to maintain the correct form throughout the movement.
This exercise is by far the best exercise to help prepare for childbirth so be sure to do this all the way leading up to your due date.
How To Perform A Squat While Pregnant
To perform squats safely while pregnant follow these steps:
1. Place physio ball behind your back and against a blank wall
2. Legs are positioned about shoulder width apart and slightly out in front of you about 6 inches.
3. Slowly and gradually squat down while maintaining a flat back up against the ball. Your body will roll down as the ball rolls.
4. When you squat, if your knees go way over top of/in front of your toes, you’re not performing the squat correctly and you need to position your feet further away from the wall. Your knees should only maximally go right over your feet/toes and not past them.
5. Lower your body, and only go as far down as your body is comfortable doing. Do not go too deep into the squat where you are unable to get back up. Have a sturdy chair nearby if you need support and balance assistance.
6. Do not strain, and do not hold your breath.
7. Hold the squat for 2 seconds. Optional: to progress, hold the squat for 5-10 seconds.
8. Push through your feet and straighten your knees as your back begins to roll on the ball and you return back to starting position (standing). Slowly and smoothly return to the starting position.
9. Repeat 5-10 reps x 1-3 sets. Perform 3-6 days a week.
Now that you know how important exercise is during pregnancy, the benefits, safety measures to take into consideration and guidelines for all three trimesters, it’s time to start a workout routine.
Here I have created a Total Body Prenatal workout routine that is specifically designed with safety in mind. Physical therapists recommend these exercises to women who are pregnant throughout all three trimesters. They are safe and effective.
Don’t just start any random exercise routine, be sure to choose only exercises that are safe during pregnancy. There’s as laundry list of workouts that are to be avoided now that you are pregnant so take caution when watching YouTube videos randomly online, and be sure to get your doctor’s approval before starting a new routine.
If you have any questions along your pregnancy journey when it comes to physical fitness, or anything for that matter, you can always contact me on my contacts page or comment below.
Dr. Jena Bradley, DPT
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.
**It is important to always consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program and get medical clearance. Always warm up thoroughly and stretch after all workouts. LiveCoreStrong.com and Jena Bradley will be not be responsible or liable for any injury sustained while exercising at home, gym or elsewhere. Perform exercises at your own risk.
About Dr. Jena Bradley
Jena is a mom of 4 darling little girls, a physical therapist and founder of Live Core Strong, a blog focusing on motivating moms to live a life that incorporates fitness and fun throughout their motherhood journey. She aims to be the friend you always wanted to have who could guide you through the “fog” when faced with an “I don’t know what to do” mommy moment. At the most inconvenient time of her life, she embarked on a journey of sharing her story and expertise to inspire the next generation of healthy moms. You can learn more about Jena by visitng her ABOUT page.