In December 2015, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) stated that women who already had an exercise routine when they became pregnant should continue getting 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week. The organization also changed course from previous recommendations, stating that women who did not exercise before pregnancy should start.
We used to be concerned that exercise during pregnancy would restrict blood flow to the uterus. It was a little like the old recommendation not to swim for an hour after you ate – we thought your body couldn’t regulate blood flow to the stomach and to major muscle groups at the same time. There were concerns that exercising might lead to an increased risk of poor fetal growth. We’ve learned that just isn’t the case.
ACOG cited multiple benefits to having an exercise regimen while pregnant, including helping with weight management, reducing the risk of gestational diabetes in obese women, and enhancing your psychological well-being.
Exercising during pregnancy also can help you bounce back quicker after birth, both with recovery and getting back to your pre-pregnancy weight. By continuing your new routine after you deliver, you’ll also be setting a healthy example for your child.
Is exercising during pregnancy safe?
Some women ask me if there is a reason why they shouldn’t exercise during pregnancy or worry it may harm their baby. I reassure them that for uncomplicated pregnancies, there hasn’t been any research to indicate that physical activity during pregnancy causes miscarriage, poor fetal growth, or premature delivery.
There is a very small number of women for whom vigorous physical activity may not be recommended. They may have pre-existing problems with blood flow to the uterus, conditions such as coronary artery disease, diabetes, or hypertension.
How to get started working out while pregnant
You don’t need fancy equipment or a gym membership to adopt a more physically active lifestyle. Walking is the easiest thing to start with. Recruit a friend or co-worker to go with you and make it a social activity. Also, after the delivery, you can put your baby in a stroller and continue your walking routine.
Experiment with different activities to see what you like. Download a yoga video or try a spin class. Find something you enjoy, because if you don’t like it, you won’t continue it. Whatever you end up doing, remember these tips:
- Talk with your physician about your exercise plan.
- Stay cool and well-hydrated.
- Dial down the intensity.
- Modify exercises if needed.
- Listen to your body.
What activities are safe for pregnant women?
We discourage pregnant women from engaging in a few physical activities. You should avoid contact sports or activities in which there is a risk of falling, but many of the activities you may already be doing or want to start are perfectly safe and are good for you and your baby.
Activities that are safe during pregnancy:
- Stationary cycling
- Low-impact aerobics
- Strength training
Activities to avoid during pregnancy:
- Contact sports (hockey, boxing, soccer, and basketball)
- Activities with a high risk of falling (downhill snow or water skiing, off-road cycling, gymnastics, and horseback riding)
- Scuba diving
- Sky diving
- Hot yoga or hot Pilates
We don’t want to deal in absolutes. For example, not all outdoor cycling is unsafe. If you are going out for a leisurely ride on a bike path – and your growing belly hasn’t caused your center of gravity to shift too much yet – it should be fine. It’s when you’re going off-road or trying to be a daredevil when it becomes dangerous to you and your baby.
If you experience any of these symptoms during physical activity, stop what you’re doing and talk with your physician:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Regular contractions
- Chest pain
Determining what and how much exercise you can do
We want you to continue being active throughout your entire pregnancy. Listen to your body for what and how much you can do. You may have to vary your routine from trimester to trimester – or even day to day – depending on what your body tells you. If you find a certain activity triggers contractions, or you feel like you’re not staying hydrated, back away from that activity. Above all, you want to keep yourself and your baby safe.
During the first trimester, you may feel nauseous. At this point, your body may be telling you that you can still run 10 miles, just like you did before you were pregnant. But if you can’t keep down liquids, you run the risk of becoming dehydrated. You physically may be able to run the distance, but if you can’t do it safely, back off.
As you enter your third trimester, you’ll start to notice your center of gravity shifting. This may cause you to rethink or modify some of your activities to adjust for your expanding belly. You also may have to avoid some positions – including certain yoga positions or lying on your back – that can lead to hypotension (low blood pressure) or compress a major blood vessel, disrupting blood flow to your baby.
Resuming exercise after baby’s birth
What activities you can do and when you can do them after your baby is born depends to some extent on the mode of delivery. Women who had a vaginal delivery may be able to resume physical activity days after delivery as they feel comfortable.
If you had a cesarean section, you’ll have a longer recovery time, but you can still be up walking that week and increase the time and distance as you feel comfortable. Narcotic pain medication can cloud your judgment and make you feel a little goofy – so we don’t want you exercising under those circumstances.
Research has not shown exercise to have an adverse effect on breast milk production. However, you may want to nurse before exercising if breast engorgement is an issue. And remember to stay hydrated.
If you need a little encouragement to get moving again after the birth, see if there is a community “mom and baby” exercise class nearby that you can join. By banding together, new moms can inspire each other to stay physically active – and make their babies part of the process.
So, if you already had an exercise routine when you became pregnant, keep it up and modify it as necessary. If you weren’t already physically active, there’s no better time than now to start – for the benefit of your health and of your baby’s. Talk to your physician about the best way to get started.
If you want more information about pregnancy, labor, and delivery, visit our Your Pregnancy Matters blog. We publish new stories every Tuesday.