Can I Exercise During Pregnancy?
Exercising during pregnancy is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your growing baby. From helping to manage weight gain, boosting your mental health, preparing you for labor and aiding in your postpartum recovery, there’s really no downside to working out while pregnant.
You’re here because you’re wondering, can I exercise during pregnancy? Well mama, yes! In fact, the CDC recommends healthy pregnant women get at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity each week.
You just want to choose a workout routine that’s safe for you. That will vary depending on your activity level prior to getting pregnant and any restrictions your doc might have for you.
So whether you’re here because you put on a little more weight than you wanted to during the first trimester, you’re an avid exerciser looking for advice now that you’re pregnant, you’re just looking to stay healthier, or something in between, let’s find out more about exercise during pregnancy.
In this article:
- Benefits of working out while pregnant
- What if I wasn’t active before getting pregnant?
- I worked out regularly before getting pregnant. Should I change my routine?
- Is it okay to stop working out during the first trimester?
- Safe workouts to do while pregnant
- Exercises to avoid during pregnancy
Benefits of working out while pregnant
1. Shorter Labor and Delivery
Let’s start off our list of benefits to working out while pregnant with the ultimate motivator—an easier and shorter labor and delivery! Yes, you read that right.
While it’s not a guarantee that you won’t still have a 24+ hour labor (just being real here), a research study published in 2018 showed that women who exercise during pregnancy will experience a significantly shorter labor AND delivery than those who do not.
A study from 2016 also looked at the effect of exercise on labor length. This study concluded that exercise during pregnancy is associated with a far shorter first stage of labor. The first stage of labor is the longest for almost every mama. It’s defined as the time active labor begins until you are 10 cm dilated.
2. Better prepared for a natural birth
If your goal is to have a natural childbirth, that is-- to avoid an epidural and maybe other pain interventions, exercising during pregnancy will help with your goal. Birth is often likened to that of a marathon. You’d never attempt a marathon without prior training, am I right?
Having a strong core and cardiovascular system, as well as a toned and well-stretched body will help you achieve your dream of a natural childbirth.
The research backs it up too! That same study I mentioned above published in 2018 linked regular exercise during pregnancy to less use of an epidural during labor.
3. Boosts your energy throughout the day
Listen, mama—pregnancy exhaustion is REAL. It’s one of those things that you just can’t appreciate until you’re in the midst of it. What’s worse is pregnancy exhaustion happens during a time when you’re advised to limit your caffeine intake.
When all you want to do is stay in bed all day or catch an afternoon nap, trust me when I tell you that exercising is one of the best ways to combat pregnancy exhaustion. Even a short, brisk walk around the block during your lunch hour will energize you for the rest of your work day. It will also count towards your activity goal for the week.
If you can fit exercise into the start of your day, you will be amazed at how much more energy you’ll have throughout the day.
4. Helps with mood and may reduce the risk of prenatal depression and anxiety
It’s no secret that exercise releases endorphins, which makes you feel happier. Working out during pregnancy is no different. So capitalize on the endorphin effect and help reduce your pregnancy mood swings.
Research shows that exercise of any kind results in improved mood for pregnant women and reduces symptoms of prenatal depression.
5. You’ll be less likely to experience pregnancy discomforts
Unfortunately, pregnancy is often filled with a variety of pains and discomforts that all get filed under ‘normal’. However, you can decrease your pregnancy discomforts and pain by working out during pregnancy.
This includes reduced back and pelvic pain, less leg and joint swelling, easier time sleeping and easing bouts of constipation. Check out specific exercise recommendations later in the article that help with pregnancy discomforts (hello, yoga!).
6. Lowers your risk of some pregnancy complications and birth interventions
Regular exercise during pregnancy has been linked to a decrease risk of pregnancy complications including gestational diabetes and preeclampsia.
There’s also an association between regular prenatal workouts and a lower likelihood of unplanned C-section and forceps delivery.
Yes, mama—all you have to do is work out regularly throughout your pregnancy to reduce the risk of these potentially dangerous complications.
7. Limits your weight gain to the healthy range
Not surprisingly, another benefit of working out during pregnancy is keeping your weight gain in check. If you have a BMI in the normal range before getting pregnant you will be advised to gain 25-35 pounds during pregnancy.
This will be a lot easier to achieve if you work out regularly in addition to eating mindfully. You also won’t have to be as worried about that extra scoop of ice cream after dinner ;-)
8. Meet your newest bump buddy
When you’re pregnant, especially as a first time mama, it can feel pretty lonely sometimes. Of course you’ve got your partner and loved ones to lean on, but they can’t really empathize in real-time with you.
Why not check out an exercise class specific to pregnancy to meet other expectant moms? Many gyms, YMCAs, community centers, and even women’s healthcare facilities offer prenatal exercise classes of all kinds. Checkout prenatal yoga, spinning, aerobics, water aerobics and more.
Surround yourself with other pregnant women and make an effort to get to know some mamas that are due around the same time as you. You’ll love having a bump buddy during pregnancy as well as after birth.
Now that you’ve learned all of the amazing benefits of exercising during pregnancy, let’s talk about where to start and what workouts are best for you. Exercising during pregnancy is often recommended by OB/GYNs and midwives to most low-risk pregnant mamas regardless of their activity level before pregnancy.
What if I wasn’t active before getting pregnant?
If you lived an inactive or sedentary lifestyle prior to pregnancy, you should definitely still jump on the bandwagon and reap the amazing benefits of exercising while pregnant.
Start out by aiming for 15-20 min of aerobic activity 3 times per week. Gradually your goal will be to increase your workouts to 30-45 minutes 4 to 5 per week.
In the end, remember that this isn’t a numbers game. Any amount of activity that you can gift yourself and your baby each week is considered a win.
I worked out regularly before getting pregnant. Should I change my routine?
If you were active prior to becoming pregnant there’s probably no reason to decrease your exercise or activity level at all. Be sure to discuss your fitness routine with your doc, but most of the time maintaining your routine is totally safe.
Below you can read some advice on what exercises should be avoided during pregnancy for your safety.
Is it okay to stop working out during the first trimester?
Lastly, whether you were active or not, if you’re reading this in your first trimester and can barely look at your phone without puking don’t pressure yourself to get moving just yet!
It’s totally fine to take some time to rest until your nausea subsides. You can pick-up your pregnancy workouts when you’re feeling better in the second trimester.
Safe workouts to do while pregnant
When it comes to working out during pregnancy you don’t need to limit yourself too much or pick specific prenatal workouts (unless you want to!). However, low impact exercises can be especially beneficial to relieve pain and discomforts. Exercising in water also adds an extra level of comfort due to the weightless feeling the water will give you.
Additionally, workouts specially designed to be prenatal workouts also put extra emphasis on strengthening and stretching muscles that will help most with an easier childbirth.
If you decide to participate in a group exercise class that isn’t specific to pregnancy, just be sure to let the instructor know that you are expecting at the beginning of the class. Most are happy and able to give modifications on any parts of the class that aren’t appropriate for you.
And to keep your workouts as safe as possible remember to always listen to your body and comfort level. There’s never any reason to overdo it!
So what are some of the best pregnancy workouts:
- Brisk walking
- Light hiking
- Water aerobics
- Group aerobic classes
- Group dance classes
- Prenatal yoga
- Prenatal Pilates
- Barre classes
- Cycling or spin classes
- Elliptical or step machine
Exercises to avoid during pregnancy
Most exercises are considered safe during pregnancy, especially if you were involved in them before becoming pregnant. For example, if you were a regular Cross Fit person or Orange Theory nut, you can probably continue with these types of workouts. However, most doctors will advise against beginning a high intensity-type workout for the first time when you’re pregnant.
The main exercises to avoid during pregnancy are those that put you at risk for falling or serious injury. This includes things like downhill skiing, horseback riding, and even outdoor bicycling later in pregnancy.
Remember it’s best to discuss any pregnancy workout plans with your prenatal care provider whether it’s something new to you or not, but especially if you are unsure of its safety.
Here’s a more comprehensive list of exercises to avoid during pregnancy:
- Contact sports such as rugby, soccer or basketball
- Hot yoga or exercising in extremely hot weather
- Exercises that involve full ab crunches or twists
- Excessive jumping or bouncing
- Exercise where the majority of time is spent lying on your back
- Exercising in high altitudes
- Exercises that involve a fall-risk or injury to your abdomen
Get active and rock your pregnancy workouts, mama!
Now you know all about the amazing benefits of working out during pregnancy and how to exercise safely. And remember, it’s never too late in pregnancy to get moving.
Can you exercise while pregnant? You betcha! And with so many different ways to get moving you’re bound to find a way to stay active during pregnancy that you love.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Exercise During Pregnancy, July 2019.
Health and Human Services, Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, February 2019.
National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, Exercise during pregnancy is associated with a shorter duration of labor. A randomized clinical trial, May 2018.
SAGE Journals, Regular Exercise Throughout Pregnancy is Associated with a Shorter First Stage of Labor, January 2016.
Science Direct, Aerobic exercise training during pregnancy reduces depressive symptoms in nulliparous women: a randomised trial, March 2012.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans At-A-Glance, 2008.
- Alli Wittbold