Exercise During Pregnancy

Your Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy

A regular exercise routine throughout your pregnancy can help you stay healthy and feeling you best.

How can I stay fit?

Regular exercise during pregnancy can improve your posture and decrease some common discomforts such as backaches and fatigue. Being fit during pregnancy means safe, mild to moderate exercise at least three times a week.

If you were physically active before your pregnancy, you should be able to continue your activity in moderation.  Don’t try to exercise at your former level.  Instead, do what’s most comfortable for you now.

If you have never exercised regularly before, you can safely begin an exercise program during pregnancy—after consulting with your health care provider. If you did not exercise three times a week before getting pregnant, do not try a new strenuous activity.  Start with a low-intensity activity and gradually move to a higher activity level.

Is exercise safe for everyone?

Every pregnant woman should consult with her health care provider before beginning an exercise program.  Your health care provider can give you personal exercise guidelines, based on your medical history.

If you have a medical problem, such as asthma, heart disease or diabetes, exercise might not be advisable for you.  Exercise might also be harmful if you have an obstetric condition such as:

  • Bleeding or spotting
  • Low placenta
  • Weak cervix
  • Threatened or recurrent miscarriage
  • Previous preterm births or history of early labor

What exercises are safe?

Most exercises are safe to perform during pregnancy, as long as you exercise with caution and do not overdo it.

The safest and most productive activities are swimming, brisk walking, indoor stationary cycling and low impact aerobics.  These activities carry little risk of injury, benefit your entire body, and can be continued until birth.

Other activities such as jogging can be done in moderation.  You might want to choose exercises or activities that do not require great balance or coordination, especially later in pregnancy.

Exercises to avoid:

  • Holding your breath during any activity
  • Activities during which falling is likely
  • Contact sports such as softball, football, basketball and volleyball
  • Any exercise that might cause even mild abdominal trauma such as activities that include jarring motions or rapid changes in direction
  • Activities that require extensive jumping, hopping, skipping, bouncing or running
  • Deep knee bends, full sit-ups, double leg raises and straight-leg toe touches
  • Bouncing while stretching
  • Exercises that require lying on your back or right side for more than three minutes
  • Waist-twisting movements while standing
  • Heavy exercise spurts followed by long periods of inactivity
  • Exercise in hot, humid weather

What should an exercise program include?

For total fitness, an exercise program should strengthen and condition your muscles.

Always begin by warming up for five minutes and stretching for five minutes.  Include at least 15 minutes of cardiovascular activity.  Measure your heart rate at times of peak activity.  (Your heart rate might range from 140 to 160 beats per minute during activity).  Follow aerobic activity with five to 10 minutes of gradually slower exercise that ends with gentle stretching.

Basic exercise guidelines

  • Wear loose fitting, comfortable clothes, as well as a good support bra
  • Choose shoes that are designed for your type of exercise.  Proper shoes are your best protection against injury
  • Exercise on a flat, level surface to prevent injury
  • Consume enough calories to meet the needs of your pregnancy (300 more calories per day than before you were pregnant), as well as your exercise program
  • Finish eating at least one hour before exercising
  • Drink water before, during and after your workout
  • After doing floor exercises, get up slowly and gradually to prevent dizziness
  • Never exercise to the point of exhaustion.  If you cannot talk normally while exercising, you are probably over-exerting yourself, and you should slow down your activity.
  • Stop exercising and consult your health care provider if you:
    • Feel pain
    • Have abdominal pain, pelvic pain or persistent contractions
    • Notice an absence of 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 or face
    • Are short of breath
    • Have difficulty walking

What physical changes might affect my ability to exercise?

Physical changes during pregnancy create extra demands on your body.  Keeping in mind the changes listed here, remember that you need to listen to your body and adjust your activities or exercise routine as necessary.

  • Your developing baby and other internal changes require more oxygen and energy.
  • Hormones produced during pregnancy cause the ligaments that support your joints to stretch, increasing the risk of injury.
  • The extra weight and the uneven distribution of your weight shifts your center of gravity.  The extra weight also puts stress on joints and muscles in the lower back and pelvic area, and makes it easier for you to lose your balance.

How soon can I exercise after delivery?

It is best to ask your health care provider how soon you can begin your exercise routine after delivering your baby.

Although you might be eager to get in shape quickly, return to your pre-pregnancy fitness routines gradually.  Follow your health care provider’s exercise recommendations.

Most women can safely perform a low-impact activity one to two weeks after a vaginal delivery and three to four weeks after a cesarean birth.  Do about half of your normal floor exercises and don’t try to overdo it.  Wait until about six weeks after birth before running or participating in other high-impact activities.