Actively Expecting: Why You Should Exercise During Pregnancy

April 26, 2024  By: Women's Health Team


Content medically reviewed by Rebecca Hartman, MD

With a baby on the way, your to-do list is growing. You have a nursery to decorate, pregnancy and birthing classes to attend, and much more. No matter what’s on your list, ensure you make time to exercise during pregnancy. Being active is beneficial for both you and your baby.

The Benefits of Getting Active With a Baby Bump

Physical activity provides all the typical benefits you’re likely familiar with—weight management and strong bones and muscles, to name a few—plus several unique to expectant moms and babies, according to one Essentia Health expert.

“The ways exercise can benefit pregnancy specifically include lower rates of gestational diabetes, hypertensive disorders, and preterm birth,” said Rebecca Hartman, MD, OB/GYN at Essentia Health. “Those who exercise regularly in pregnancy are also more likely to have a vaginal delivery, which is the safest route for both mom and baby.”

Without exercise, your risk for obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes during pregnancy rises. In addition, managing back pain may be more difficult. Regular exercise can reduce back discomfort, and it also helps with constipation and bloating—all the more reason to remain active during pregnancy.

Getting Started: Easing Into Exercise During Pregnancy

Several myths about exercise during pregnancy persist. A common one is that if you don’t exercise already, you shouldn’t start during pregnancy. Nothing could be further from the truth, so long as you don’t overdo it.

“For those who were not previously incorporating regular exercise into their routine, pregnancy provides a unique and almost natural opportunity to make healthier lifestyle choices in all facets of life, including activity level,” Dr. Hartman said. “In the absence of certain obstetric or medical complications affecting the pregnancy, there’s no reason pregnant women should not be encouraged to participate in regular exercise.”

New to exercise? Start slowly and work your way up to the recommended weekly physical activity level. You don’t have to exercise for long periods to reap the benefits. If you exercised regularly before pregnancy, keep up the good work, but be sure your prenatal provider approves your exercise program.

“It’s all about finding a sustainable and manageable routine,” Dr. Hartman said. “It doesn’t even have to be a dedicated workout. Climb stairs during breaks at work or walk laps around the rink during your kids’ hockey practice—anything that gets you moving at a moderate intensity for at least 30 to 60 minutes five to seven days per week.”

Find Your Fit

Many physical activities, including aerobic exercises and strength training, are safe for moms-to-be and can help you stay fit during pregnancy. Squatting can help prepare you for labor, and pelvic tilts may help your back feel better, according to The American Pregnancy Association.

Aerobic exercises help build muscle tone, strength, and endurance. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, safe aerobic exercises for expectant moms include –

  • Prenatal yoga and Pilates
  • Stationary bicycling
  • Swimming
  • Walking
  • Water aerobics

How to Safely Exercise During Pregnancy

Not every physical activity is safe during pregnancy. You should avoid contact sports, for example, because of the risk of traumatic injury. The extra weight of pregnancy can shift your center of gravity, so steer clear of activities that could cause you to lose your balance, such as skiing or horseback riding.

More steps you can take to stay safe and comfortable while exercising include –

  • Fuel up. Focus on proper pregnancy nutrition to support overall good health and a regular exercise program.
  • Get the right workout gear. Wear loose-fitting clothes, activity-appropriate shoes, and a sports bra that provides plenty of support. Listen to our Dare to Ask Podcast for tips on choosing a sports bra from an Essentia Health athletic trainer.
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise.
  • Listen to your body. “During pregnancy, your lungs have less reserve,” Dr. Hartman said. “Therefore, you may find your tolerance for activities such as running and biking to be lower than it once was. Listen to what your body tells you, and don’t push past what feels comfortable or safe.”
  • Mind your joints. To prepare for delivery, hormones cause ligaments to relax, which can lead to less stable joints, Dr. Hartman said. To protect your joints, she recommends avoiding activities that require quick, explosive movements in favor of exercises featuring stable, controlled movements, such as squats.
  • Stay out of the heat. Avoid hot yoga and other activities that expose you to heat for long periods of time.

Focus on the Most Important Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy

Gaining weight during pregnancy is natural and healthy, although the appropriate amount of weight gain varies from person to person. Another common myth about exercise during pregnancy is that the main benefit of doing so is to speed up post-pregnancy weight loss. That misses the main point. Exercise promotes healthy weight gain during pregnancy, which nourishes you and your developing baby.

“I encourage people to focus more on the internal benefits of exercise as the major benefit of staying active,” Dr. Hartman said. “Although it may be difficult to look past the changes that occur to your body as a result of growing another human, the muscular strength, vascular health, and metabolic changes that result from exercising are so much more important.”

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