Exercising During Pregnancy

A pregnant woman exercising in a park.

If you’re having a normal pregnancy, you can continue to exercise regularly — and safely — during each trimester.

But you may need to adjust the duration or types of exercises as your body changes. So talk to your health care professional to determine what exercises are safe for you (and your unborn baby).

Benefits of exercising while pregnant

Physical activity may lower the risk of pregnancy complications such as hypertension, preeclampsia and gestational diabetes, reduce the length of labor and postpartum recovery and lower the risk of having a cesarean section.

Exercising during your pregnancy may also:

  • Improve overall health support the function of the heart and lungs
  • Ease back pain
  • Lessen constipation
  • Promote healthy weight gain and make it easier to lose weight after delivery
  • Improve mood and reduce symptoms of postpartum depression

Exercise has not been shown to increase the risk of low birth weight, preterm delivery or early pregnancy loss.

Safe exercise options

In general, pregnant women should aim to do at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as brisk walking), preferably spread throughout the week. Take it slowly if you’re new to exercising. Start with just 5 minutes a day and gradually increase until you can stay active for 30 minutes.

Options that are usually safe during pregnancy include:

  • Walking: Brisk walking is a total body workout and easy on the joints and muscles.
  • Stationary bicycling: Cycling on a stationary bike is safer than riding a traditional bike during pregnancy.
  • Swimming and water workouts: The water supports body weight and lessens injury and muscle strain. Plus, water workouts use many of the body’s muscles.
  • Modified yoga and Pilates: Prenatal yoga and Pilates classes include modified poses that are ideal for a pregnant woman’s shifting balance.
  • Other activities: If a patient has been doing them prior to pregnancy, a health care professional may allow other exercises such as running, jogging or playing racquet sports.

Take some precautions

Changes during pregnancy can affect how you exercise. When exercising, keep in mind:

  • Balance is less stable. Extra body weight shifts your center of gravity. This stresses joints and muscles, especially those in your pelvis and lower back, increasing the risk of losing your balance or falling.
  • Breathing becomes more difficult. During pregnancy, the need for oxygen increases. Oxygen and blood flow are directed to muscles when you exercise. This may affect the ability to do strenuous exercises, especially if you’re overweight or obese.
  • Joints are more mobile. Pregnancy hormones cause ligaments to become relaxed — increasing the risk of injury. Avoid jerky, bouncy or high-impact exercises.
Avoid becoming overheated. Drink plenty of water, wear loose-fitting clothing, and do not exercise outside if it is very hot or humid. The best place to exercise is a temperature-controlled room.

Skip these activities

After the first trimester, skip exercises that involve lying on your back. This position can restrict blood flow to the uterus and fetus. Also, don’t do physical activity that increases the risk of injury, such as getting hit in the abdomen. Contact sports such as ice hockey, soccer and basketball are generally not recommended.

Other activities to avoid include:

  • Skydiving
  • Scuba diving
  • Those that have a risk of falling, such as downhill snow skiing, water skiing, surfing and horseback riding
  • Activities performed at high altitudes (if you don’t already live at a high altitude)

Know when to stop

If any of the following warning signs occur when you exercise during pregnancy, stop and call a health care professional:

  • Chest pain
  • Feeling dizzy or faint
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Fluid leaking from the vagina
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headache
  • Muscle weakness
  • Calf pain or swelling
  • Regular, painful contractions of the uterus
  • Less fetal movement