Tips for Exercise During Pregnancy

Can you exercise when you’re pregnant? What type of exercise is best when you’re pregnant? Can you start a new workout regime when you’re carrying a baby? There are a lot of rumors out there about what you can and can’t do when it comes to exercising during pregnancy. But don’t worry, we’re here to clear it up for you...

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Is exercise safe during pregnancy?

First things first, let’s clear this up. Yes, you can exercise when you’re pregnant. For most women, working out during pregnancy is a great idea. It helps to keep both you and your baby healthy, and can help reduce the risks of certain conditions, including a reduced risk of gestational diabetes, reduced risk of pre-eclampsia, and lower level of lower back and pelvic pain.

For the majority of women with low-risk pregnancies, exercise is not only safe, but encouraged as part of a healthy pregnancy. Of course, some exceptions apply - it’s always a good idea to discuss your options with a healthcare professional, but make sure you talk to your doctor or OB-GYN if you have any pre-existing health conditions such as:

  • Heart problems or lung disease
  • Pre-eclampsia
  • Placenta praevia, where the placenta is close to the cervix

If you have a healthy pregnancy and you exercised before you got pregnant, then you should be fine to keep up with the activities you did before - including if you’re an athlete or have a heavy training regime.

You might be surprised to know, though, that it’s also safe to exercise during pregnancy even if you’ve never worked out before. In fact, now could be the perfect time to get active and start adding more movement into your daily routine.

Benefits of exercise during pregnancy

There are a huge number of benefits to working out for the nine months you’re carrying your baby. 

Regular exercise during pregnancy can help to keep you fit and healthy, if you worked out regularly before - and if you didn’t, physical activity will help you to improve your overall fitness levels.

Exercise can help to manage the risk of gaining excessive weight during your pregnancy, and can also help to relieve conditions commonly experienced by pregnant women, including back pain, constipation, and varicose veins.

Regular physical activity can also decrease your risk of experiencing more serious conditions such as gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia. After you’ve given birth and have been signed off for exercise by your doctor, continuing to exercise can decrease the risk of postpartum depression - and if you do experience PPD, gentle activity may help to relieve your symptoms.

How much exercise should you do when pregnant?

So, assuming you have a healthy pregnancy and you’ve been cleared for exercise, how much activity should you aim to do? Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition, recommends that you aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week. You don’t have to do it all at once - in fact, it’s better to spread it out across the week, if you can. So that could be 30 minutes of exercise, 5 days a week. 

Moderate activity is intense enough so that you break into a sweat and have a raised heart rate, but you should still be able to carry a normal conversation. 

If you already did vigorous aerobic exercise, like running, before your pregnancy, then you can continue to do this when you’re pregnant.

What about if you’re new to exercise? It’s recommended that you start slowly and increase the amount and intensity of your exercise as time goes on. You could begin with just 5 minutes a day, then gradually add another 5 minutes at a time until you’re comfortable with 30 minutes of moderate exercise at once.

What exercises should you do when pregnant?

As with exercise at any time in your life, the most important thing is to find an exercise that you enjoy - that way, you’re more likely to stick at it!

Walking

When you’re thinking of workouts, your mind might immediately go to running or sweaty HIIT workouts in the gym. But don’t overlook walking as a great full-body workout. The key to walking is moving briskly, rather than going for a gentle stroll. Walking is an easy way to incorporate exercise into your daily routine, especially if you’ve never exercised before. Why not start by getting off the bus a stop early, or going for a 10-minute walk on your lunch break? It’s a low-impact exercise that’s easy on your joints and muscles, making it suitable for most people.

Swimming

Swimming is another great full-body workout that targets all of your muscles whilst also being low impact. Because the water supports your weight, it can help to avoid injuries.

Running

If you’re already an experienced runner, don’t feel like you have to give up your favorite sport when you’re pregnant. However, if you don’t already run, then now probably isn’t the best time to take it up.

Yoga and pilates

Yoga and pilates are both safe during pregnancy, with a few modifications. Yoga is a great way to reduce stress, and pilates can help to strengthen your core muscles, all-important for pregnancy and birth. There are some things you should avoid when doing yoga or pilates, such as lying on your back after 16 weeks, strong twists and backbends, so you should look for a specific prenatal yoga or pilates class with a qualified teacher who’ll be able to advise you on modifications to take and poses to avoid.

Weight lifting

Weight lifting is not only a great way to keep fit, but can also help to prepare your body for labor, and for carrying around a baby! There are some common exercises that you should avoid, so it’s best to speak to your gym instructor or personal trainer before lifting weights. You shouldn’t, for example, do anything with a large barbell that could hit your bump, and you shouldn’t do any weight lifting whilst lying on your back after 12 weeks.

Cycling

Cycling is wonderful for improving your cardiovascular fitness and is another low-impact option. However, as your bump grows you might start to feel a little off-balance on your bike, so you might want to switch to stationary cycling as you enter the later stages of pregnancy.

Pelvic floor exercises

A slightly different type of exercise, but just as important as any other. Pelvic floor exercise during pregnancy will help to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, setting you up for a healthy pregnancy and birth.

Are there any exercises to avoid when you’re pregnant?

In general, you should avoid any exercises where there’s a risk of falling or impact. That means avoiding racquet sports like squash, badminton, and tennis, as well as contact sports where you risk getting hit. Boxing, ice hockey, soccer, and basketball are all off-limits for pregnant women.

You might also want to be careful with sports where you might fall, like horseback riding, skiing, and mountain biking. 

Finally, whilst yoga and pilates are great options for exercising when pregnant, you’ll want to stay out of the hot studio, as you run the risk of overheating.

Tips for exercising when you’re pregnant

The first, and most important rule, when it comes to working out during pregnancy is to listen to your body. Just because a pregnant friend is doing a particular exercise doesn’t mean it will work for you, so only do what feels right for your body. If you have any concerns, speak to your doctor or OB-GYN.

Always be sure to warm up and cool down properly before and after your workout, and take measures to avoid overheating. That means avoiding exercise during the hottest part of the day and remembering to bring a bottle of water with you to sip as you work out.

If you go to the gym, a yoga class, or a workout class, always let the instructor know that you’re pregnant, and how many weeks along you are. They’ll be able to offer you tips to keep you safe, and will offer alternatives for anything you’re unable to do.

Exercising for a healthy pregnancy

Exercising when you’re pregnant is perfectly healthy for most women, and can help you to have an easier pregnancy and birth. Not only is it good for your body, but it’s also great for your mind and can support you through what can be a stressful time for many women. 

If you’re starting to think about getting pregnant, then starting to exercise now will set you up for a healthy pregnancy - check out our list of 5 things to know before planning a pregnancy to find out more ways you can prepare for this exciting journey.

At Natural Cycles we can support you to find your most fertile days, and after conception, you can even use our app to keep track of the changes happening to your body and baby throughout your pregnancy.

Discover Natural Cycles.

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Written By

Lauren McKay

Lauren is an Edinburgh-based writer, yoga teacher, and advocate for driving women's health knowledge. When she's not at her laptop you'll find her in the yoga studio, running up a hill, or exploring Scotland's beautiful scenery.

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Scientifically Reviewed

Jack Pearson

With 10 years of experience working in the field of fertility, Dr. Jack Pearson is Natural Cycles’ in-house expert. As Medical Affairs Manager, he dedicates his time to conducting groundbreaking research and educating healthcare professionals.

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