Exercise During Pregnancy – What and How Much Should I do?

Exercise During Pregnancy…Let’s start with the benefits – why should I do it?

During pregnancy, exercise can:

  • Ease or prevent back pain and other discomforts
  • Boost your mood and energy levels
  • Help you sleep better
  • Prevent excess weight gain
  • Increase stamina and muscle strength
  • Exercise during pregnancy might also reduce the risk of gestational diabetes and pregnancy-related high blood pressure, as well as lessen the symptoms of postpartum depression. In addition, it might reduce the risk that your baby is born significantly larger than average (fetal macrosomia).
  • Improved fetus fitness – that’s right.  New research shows that your baby gets more fit too! :)
  • stay healthy and feel good
  • improve posture
  • decrease back pain
  • decrease fatigue
  • relieve stress
  • build more stamina
  • decrease labor and delivery rates
  • improve recovery times from delivery

What if I was not exercising before I got pregnant?

Good question.  You’re still OK.  As long as you have clearance from your physician, and you start slow, follow the guidelines listed below and use your common sense there is no reason why you can’t start now.  The second trimester is the best time to start.  Give your body a chance to adjust to the new workload of “baby-building” and once that 12th week hits, you can start giving it a go.

If you were already exercising, however, keep in mind that you won’t be able to do as much as you did before and that you too need to use your own common sense and the guidelines below about what is best for you.

What types of exercise can I do?

Most exercise is safe during pregnancy as long as you use common sense, and keep in mind the guidelines and precautions listed below.  Your intensity level should be “Moderate” which means that you feel like your working “Light to “Somewhat Hard” but not “Hard.”  You can refer to my RPE scale and video about intensity here (Once I’ve posted it :) .

The safest and most productive activities are swimming, brisk walking, indoor stationary cycling, step or elliptical machines, and low-impact aerobics (taught by a certified aerobics instructor). These activities carry little risk of injury, benefit your entire body, and can be continued until birth.

Strength training is OK too, but generally you should rely on machines and not free weight to prevent the risk of abdominal trauma.

Are there any exercises or movements I should avoid?  You bet.  here they are:

  • holding your breath
  • exercises where falling is likely
  • contact sports
  • anything that might cause even mild abdominal trauma – like training with free weights
  • Deep knee bends – because your joints are lax and you may hurt your knee, hip or low back
  • full situps – lying in a supine position (face up) can cut off circulation (venous return)
  • double leg raises – terrible for your back
  • straight leg toe touches
  • waist twist movements while standing
  • bouncing while stretching
  • exercise in hot humid weather

Guidelines for Exercise During Pregnancy:

  • Get clearance from your physician even if you are already exercising when you get pregnant
  • Use common sense
  • finish eating at least one hour before you start
  • invest in a good support bra
  • wear comfortable and supportive shoes
  • exercise on a flat surface to prevent instability and falls
  • eat enough – you need 300 extra calories per day + what you burn for the exercise
  • rise off the floor slowly to prevent dizziness
  • NEVER exercise to the point of exhaustion
  • Never lie down in the supine (face up position) – both while you’re exercising and any other time

Stop exercising and consult your health care provider if you:

  • Feel chest pain
  • Have abdominal pain, pelvic pain, or persistent contractions.
  • Have a headache
  • Notice an absence or decrease in fetal movement
  • Feel faint, dizzy, nauseous, or light-headed
  • Feel cold or clammy
  • Have vaginal bleeding
  • Have a sudden gush of fluid from the vagina or a trickle of fluid that leaks steadily
  • Notice an irregular or rapid heartbeat
  • Have sudden swelling in your ankles, hands, face, or calf pain
  • Are short of breath
  • Have difficulty walking
  • Have muscle weakness
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Dyspnea prior to exertion
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Calf pain or swelling (need to rule out thrombophlebitis)
  • Preterm labor
  • Decreased fetal movement
  • Amniotic fluid leakage