Maintaining regular exercise during pregnancy can help you stay healthy and feel better. Regular exercise during pregnancy can improve your posture and reduce some common ailments such as back pain and fatigue. There is evidence that physical activity can prevent gestational diabetes (diabetes that develops during pregnancy), relieve stress, and build more endurance which is needed both during pregnancy and birth.
If you were physically active before your pregnancy, you should be able to resume your activity but in moderation. Do not try to exercise as before. Instead, do whatever is most comfortable for you now. Aerobic exercise with mild intensity is an ideal choice.
If you are an athlete and have to train, you need to be closely monitored by your gynecologist.
If you’ve never exercised regularly, you can safely start an exercise program during pregnancy after consulting your health professional, but under no circumstances try a new, strenuous activity. Walking is considered safe to start when you are pregnant.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise per day on most, if not all, days of the week unless you have a pregnancy complication.
When should you not exercise during pregnancy?
If you have a medical condition, such as asthma, heart disease, or diabetes, exercise may not be appropriate. Also, exercise can be harmful especially if you have a pregnancy-related condition such as:
- Bleeding or spotting
- Low placenta
- Threatened or recurrent miscarriage
- Previous premature births
- Weak cervix
Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program. Your doctor can also give you personalized exercise instructions based on your medical history.
What exercises are safe during pregnancy?
Most exercise is safe during pregnancy as long as you exercise with caution and don’t overdo it.
The safest activities are swimming, brisk walking (in extreme weather such as heat, use an indoor air-conditioned treadmill ), cycling on an exercise bike, elliptical machine (doesn’t stress the knees), strength training with soft tires gymnastics, and gentle aerobic exercise (taught by a certified aerobics instructor). These activities involve little risk of injury, benefit your entire body, and can be continued until birth.
Tennis is generally a safe activity, but changes in balance during pregnancy can affect quick movements. Other activities such as jogging can be done in moderation, especially if you did them before your pregnancy. You may want to choose exercises or activities that don’t require a lot of balance or coordination, especially later in pregnancy when the body gets heavier and the center of gravity changes.
Here are some exercises to help you stay fit during your pregnancy. Before starting an exercise program, consult with your healthcare professional, who can provide you with exercise guidelines based on your medical history and risk level.
Stretching for pregnancy
Stretching makes the muscles flexible which can be especially helpful when you are pregnant. Here are some simple stretches you can perform before or after exercise.
- Neck rotation: Relax your neck and shoulders. Throw your head forward. Slowly turn your head to your right shoulder, and slowly to your left shoulder. Complete four slow rotations in each direction.
- Shoulder Roll: Bring your shoulders forward and then roll them toward your ears and then down. Make four rotations in each direction.
- Swim: Place arms at sides. Bring your right arm up and extend your body forward and twist to the side, as if swimming. Follow with the left hand. Do the sequence ten times.
- Thigh move: Stand with one foot about 30cm in front of the other, toes ‘pointing’ in the same direction. Lean forward, resting your weight on the front thigh. Switch legs and repeat. Do four on each side.
- Ankle rotation: Sit with your legs extended and keep your toes relaxed. Rotate your feet and ankles, making large circles. Rotate your ankles four times to the right and four times to the left.
Kegel exercises during pregnancy
Kegel exercises help strengthen the muscles that support the bladder, uterus, and bowels. By strengthening these muscles during your pregnancy, you can develop the ability to relax and control the muscles in preparation for birth. Kegel exercises are also recommended during pregnancy and after childbirth for the healing of the perineal tissues, to increase the strength of the pelvic floor muscles, and to return them to their previous normal function.
To do Kegels, imagine trying to stop the flow of urine. When you do this, you contract your pelvic floor muscles and do Kegel exercises. While doing Kegel exercises, do not move your leg, butt, or abdominal muscles. You can do them anywhere!
We recommend doing five sets of Kegel exercises a day. Each time you contract your pelvic floor muscles, hold for 5-10 sec and then relax. Repeat this ten times for one set of Kegels.
What exercises should be avoided during pregnancy?
There are certain exercises and activities that can be harmful if performed during pregnancy. These include:
- Exercises where you have to hold your breath.
- Activities where a fall is likely (such as skiing and horseback riding).
- Contact sports such as football and basketball.
- Any exercise that may cause mild abdominal injury, such as activities that involve rapid changes in direction.
- Activities that require extensive jumping, such as jumping rope or vigorous running.
- Deep seats, sit-ups, etc.
- Bounce when stretching.
- Waist rotation exercises while standing.
- Exercise in hot, humid weather.
What Should a Pregnancy Exercise Program Include?
An exercise program during pregnancy should strengthen you and improve your physical condition.
Always start with a warm-up and stretching. Include at least fifteen minutes of cardiovascular activity. Measure your heart rate during periods of maximum activity. Then perform the aerobic exercise with five to ten minutes of slower exercise in between, ending with gentle stretching.
Here are some basic exercise guidelines for pregnant women:
- Wear loose, comfortable clothing, as well as a good supportive bra.
- Choose shoes designed for the type of exercise you do. The right shoes are your best protection against injury.
- To avoid harm, exercise on a flat surface.
- Eat enough calories to meet the needs of your pregnancy (300 more calories per day than before your pregnancy) as well as your exercise program.
- Do not eat for at least one hour before exercise.
- Before, during, and after your workout, drink water.
- After doing floor exercises, stand up slowly and gradually to avoid dizziness (orthostatic hypotension).
- Never exercise to the point of exhaustion. If you can’t talk normally while exercising, you’re probably overexerting yourself and should slow down your activity.
What changes in pregnancy can affect exercise?
Physical changes during pregnancy place additional demands on your body. When considering the changes listed below, remember to listen to your body and adjust your activities accordingly.
- Your growing baby and other internal changes require more oxygen and energy.
- Hormones produced during pregnancy cause a stretch in the ligaments that support your joints, increasing the risk of injury.
- The extra weight and its uneven distribution shift your center of gravity. The extra weight puts strain on the joints and muscles in the lower back and pelvic area, making it easier for you to lose your balance.
*Warning for pregnant women
Stop exercising immediately and consult your doctor if:
- You feel chest pain.
- You have abdominal pain, pelvic pain, or persistent contractions.
- You have a headache.
- Note the absence or reduction of fetal movement.
- Feel faint, dizzy, nauseous.
- Feel chills.
- You have vaginal bleeding.
- You suddenly have enough vaginal fluid.
- Notice an irregular or fast heartbeat.
- You have sudden swelling in your ankles, hands, face, or calf pain.
- You catch your breath.
- You have difficulty walking.
- You have muscle weakness.
How soon can I exercise after giving birth?
It is best to ask your doctor how soon you can start exercising after your baby is born. (Read here: How to get back in shape after pregnancy)
Most women can safely perform mild activity one to two weeks after a vaginal birth (or three to four weeks after a C-section birth). Do about half of your normal floor exercises and don’t try to overdo it.