The Ultimate Guide to Exercise During Pregnancy

Are you worried about what all this eating for two is doing to your body? Have you ditched your old exercise routine because you’re worried it’s too aggressive for you now that you’re pregnant?

As you see the numbers on the scale creep up every week and your energy levels start to lower, the last thing you may feel like doing when you’re pregnant is exercising. But it’s exactly what you should be doing.

When done correctly, getting exercise while you’re pregnant is good for both you and your baby. As a side perk, it can help you cut down on all the extra junk in the trunk you’re starting to store up.

During my pregnancies, staying active helped keep me sane. It made me feel better — both physically and emotionally. This guide will show you why you should consider exercise during pregnancy and hopefully it’ll help you find motivation to do so.


40 Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy

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Are you worried about what all this eating for two is doing to your body? Have you ditched your old exercise routine because you’re worried it’s too aggressive for you now that you’re pregnant? As you see the numbers on the scale creep up every week and your energy levels start to lower, the last thing you may feel like doing when you’re pregnant is exercising. But it’s exactly what you should be doing. Click here to learn how to stay fit and healthy during pregnancy #pregnancy #fitness #exercise
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There are no shortcuts in life, no matter how much we wish there were sometimes. And pregnancy is one of those times we would like a shortcut — it would be nice to ditch some of the aches and pains, hardship on our bodies and the worry that comes along with carrying another life in your belly.

While women will always have to tough out the full nine months of pregnancy, exercise is one of the biggest things you can do to help both yourself and your baby. It helps in every aspect of your pregnancy. Let’s take a look at 40 of the big benefits of exercising during pregnancy.

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  1. Can ward off or help with gestational diabetes: Weight gain and inactivity during pregnancy set the stage for gestational diabetes for some mothers-to-be. Exercise can help control weight gain that in part leads to gestational diabetes. And getting exercise can help lower blood sugar if you do develop gestational diabetes, which can eliminate the need for insulin injections.
  2. It can help prevent extra weight gain: While some weight gain during pregnancy is healthy, you don’t want to overdo it. If you burn 300 calories per day during pregnancy from exercise, in 40 weeks, you will have prevented a weight gain of 24 pounds.
  3. More energy: Pregnancy can sap your energy like nothing else can, but exercise can help restore it.
  4. Fighting morning sickness: The next time you suffer from morning sickness, you can try putting down your crackers and doing some exercise. It helps with that queasy feeling.
  5. Alleviate back pain: Back pain is a well-known side effect of pregnancy and physical activity can help loosen it up.
  6. Gets things moving in the bathroom: Those iron pills we have to choke back in pregnancy can lead to some fierce constipation. Exercise can help loosen things back up again.
  7. Fight off muscle cramps: When your muscles start painfully tightening up during pregnancy, exercise can loosen them up.
  8. You’ll sleep better: Getting sleep is so important for both you and your baby during pregnancy. It helps your body deal with all the changes and it prevents you from being so overtired and frazzled.
  9. It builds up your immune system: Exercise is a known immune system booster, which is great when you’re trying to dodge any harmful colds or flus in pregnancy.
  10. You’ll be more flexible: If you’ve always envied other people’s flexibility, you’ll be pleased to know that your joints are more relaxed during pregnancy (source). You may be able to do yoga poses you’ve only dreamed of.
  11. Lower your blood pressure: Preeclampsia is a big problem in pregnancies and you can lower your risk for this complication by exercising three to five times a week (source).
  12. Less swollen legs: Leg swelling can be intense during pregnancy. Luckily, exercise can cut back on that pesky swelling (source).
  13. Exercise can help smokers quit: You shouldn’t be smoking when you’re pregnant and exercise can stop you from wanting cigarettes. That’s a win for you and the baby.
  14. Get ready for extra pounds: Weight training in early pregnancy can get you ready to carry the extra pounds your baby will add on (source) to your body.
  15. It can give you balance: As you get further into pregnancy, you start to lose your balance. Exercises like bike riding in early pregnancy and pilates can help you maintain that balance.

  1. Take the stress off: Pregnant women seem to have the weight of the world on their shoulders — we worry about our health, our baby’s health, finances and the birthing process. Exercise is a known stress buster so it can help take that emotional edge off at the end of the day.
  2. It helps avoid that “just a baby incubator” feeling: You’re more than just a pregnant woman and exercise can help you remember that — you’ll feel more like your old self.
  3. Better mood: You’ll continue to get that exercise high even when you’re pregnant.
  4. You’ll get a lot of encouragement: Everyone loves to see a pregnant woman pursuing fitness. Be prepared to get some high fives from family and friends for your efforts.
  5. You’ll make your doctor happy: One of the biggest stressors for moms-to-be can be those nerve-wracking doctor’s visits where we worry we’ll be lectured about taking care of ourselves and having reasonable weight gain. You might earn a gold star at the doctor’s office for the exercise you’re doing.
  6. Feel more attractive: Let’s face it — losing your looks even temporarily isn’t fun. No one likes feeling dumpy and pregnancy can do that. Exercise can make you feel more attractive.
  7. Make new friends: If you join an exercise class, you can meet other moms there and develop a strong circle of friends.
  8. A sense of control: So much about pregnancy is beyond your influence, but exercise can make you feel like you’re in the driver’s seat.
  9. You’ll boost that pregnancy glow: While we may be heavier and winded easier, pregnancy does give us a Jennifer Lopez-like glow. That effect is increased by exercise.

  1. It makes you stronger: For labor, you’re going to need strength and endurance. You’ll get both from regular exercise.
  2. Better chance of handling pain: Exercise can help you achieve the mental toughness you’ll need to get through labor.
  3. It can strengthen those pelvic muscles: Strong pelvic muscles can make for a better delivery experience. Exercise is a great way to build up those muscles.
  4. Cuts your risk of C-section: Getting a moderate amount of exercise in your pregnancy can help you avoid a C-section (source). Most moms I know would rather run or walk a few miles a week than deal with surgery pain.
  5. Shorter labor: Moms who continued to exercise throughout pregnancy often have shorter labors than those who didn’t.

  1. You bounce back quicker: Having the physical conditioning throughout your pregnancy can help you be in better shape right after delivery because your body is stronger. When you do begin your exercise program a few weeks after delivery, you won’t be starting from scratch.
  2. Fight off those post-baby blues: Exercise is the ultimate mood booster. With a short workout, you can feel less depressed and more able to tackle the challenges you’re facing.
  3. You’ll enjoy better lifelong fitness: Taking that exercise break during pregnancy can lead to you being less fit even years later. It’s often hard to find motivation after taking a long break from exercise.
  4. Trying new activities: Pregnancy is good for expanding your horizons. If you normally do a lot of skiing, which is a no-no in pregnancy, maybe you can try an activity you wouldn’t normally do instead.

  1. A better birth weight: Exercise lowers mama’s blood sugar and cuts down on the risk of an obese baby.
  2. Greater oxygen flow: Your baby will be treated to increased oxygen when you exercise and start taking deeper breaths.
  3. More brain power for your baby: It may seem hard to believe but exercise for just 20 minutes at a time three days a week can boost your child’s brain activity (source). That’s worth the struggle to put your tennis shoes on!
  4. More mature lungs: Your lungs aren’t the only one benefitting from your exercise. Your baby’s lungs will too (source).
  5. Better immune system: Your baby’s immune system will also benefit from regular exercise during pregnancy, just like yours will.
  6. More blood vessels: When exercising during early pregnancy, extra blood vessels develop to help carry nutrients to your baby (source). Those blood vessels will still develop without exercise, but there will be more of them with exercise.
  7. Lower heart rates: By late pregnancy, fetuses whose moms exercise have lower heart rates than that of fetuses whose moms don’t exercise (source).

Risks of Exercise During Pregnancy

Exercise during pregnancy isn’t without risk. But doctors continue to recommend it because, despite its risks, it gives both you and your baby the best chance at health.

For certain women, exercise should be avoided during pregnancy because it can endanger their health or the health of their baby. At other times, doctors recommend exercise just as they would with any other pregnancy, but they’re unaware of a problem that’s developing like uncontrolled high blood pressure.

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There are many medical conditions that will put the brakes on your aerobic exercise programs.

  • Suffer from lung and heart disease.
  • Have cervical insufficiency.
  • Are dilating early.
  • Are expecting multiple babies and your doctor is worried about preterm delivery.
  • Have had bleeding issues in your second or third trimesters.
  • Had placenta previa following your 26-week mark.
  • Are in preterm labor.
  • If your water has broken.
  • Have preeclampsia.
  • Suffer from severe anemia.

While some medical issues make exercise an automatic no-no, there are other ones your doctor will consider on a case-by-case basis. They may indicate exercise won’t be safe for you.

  • Are extremely obese or severely underweight.
  • Have anemia.
  • Have irregular heart rhythm.
  • Are suffering from chronic bronchitis.
  • Have uncontrolled blood pressure.
  • Don’t have your diabetes under control.
  • Have done very little exercise in the past — this isn’t the time to suddenly decide to exercise intensely.
  • Have bone or joint problems.
  • Suffer from seizures that you can’t control.
  • Have hyperthyroid issues that aren’t controlled.
  • Are a very heavy smoker.

Whether you know exercise is risky or you believe you’re perfectly safe to exercise, you should always pay attention to any signs that things might be wrong (source). Whenever I exercised during pregnancy, I always paid attention to my body afterwards, just in case.

  • Any unexpected shortness of breath — more than usual in pregnancy.
  • Leaking fluid or vaginal bleeding.
  • Abdominal pain that keeps happening or any contractions you experience.
  • Pain in your chest.
  • Pain in your calf or swelling that’s different from the swelling you get in your ankles.
  • Racing heartbeat or skipping heartbeat.
  • Headaches.
  • Lightheaded feeling, dizziness or feeling faint.
  • Your baby isn’t moving as often.

If any of these things happen, you need to call your doctor right away.

15 Rules for Safe Exercise During Pregnancy

While there’s no guarantee that following any rules will safeguard your and your baby’s health during pregnancy, they can give you a better chance of getting to the delivery room safely for both of you.

Here are 15 rules you should consider following.

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Exercising once every couple of weeks isn’t going to earn you all the benefits you want to see for both you and your baby. The key to getting everything you want out of physical activity is to do it every week multiple times.

Write it on your calendar, just as you would any other appointments. Try to do at least 20 minutes a day as many days as you can every week.

Don’t sit on the couch the minute your workout ends. If you do, you’ll feel sore and stiff soon after. After your workout ends, try to find time to take a five minute walk to cool down your muscles.

When that’s done, do some gentle stretching. Your muscles will thank you the next day.

Pregnancy isn’t the best time to start adding burpees into your routine because changing positions quickly during pregnancy can leave you feeling lightheaded and dizzy.

You don’t want to faint of risk falling because you’ve changed positions too quickly. So whatever activity you’re doing, take it slow when you go from sitting to standing positions.

I had summer babies and for me, along with every other mom I’ve ever talked to about it, summer heat was brutal. I felt hot in 85 degree weather, let alone those days when the thermometer hit triple digits.

Because of our increased metabolic rate when we’re pregnant, we should stay away from exercising in hot or humid weather. You might overheat and end up dehydrated, dizzy or having trouble breathing.

You don’t need to run a marathon while you’re pregnant to reap the benefits of exercise. All you need is a minimum of 20 minutes a few days a week.

Make sure you don’t bite off more than you can chew with your exercises. You shouldn’t feel like you have to crawl back into your house afterward — if you do, reduce the intensity or duration of the exercise.

Exercises like yoga are good for pregnant women because they help us stay limber and more flexible. Plus, they feel good and can be energizing.

But make sure you’re not holding those poses for too long. Standing still for too long in pregnancy can decrease your blood flow, which in turn can lower your blood pressure and make you feel lightheaded.

If this happens to you, sit down until you feel better and make sure to move around a bit more in the future.

At your doctor’s visits after you first found out you were pregnant, your doctor probably told you that you should stop sleeping on your back. When you do that, your heavier-than-usual uterus puts pressure on a big vein. That pressure cuts back on how much blood flow your heart, brain and uterus receive (source).

To be on the safe side and avoid any dizziness that position can cause, you’re best off to stay off your back.

Drinking enough water is important when you’re exercising and after you’re done. You don’t want to become dehydrated, which is a real possibility if you’re a heavy sweater or it’s warm out.

Instead of counting ounces, which can be hard to remember with the effects of the forgetful pregnancy brain, keep tabs on your urine color. If you see it’s darker yellow, you need to increase your fluids.

You don’t want to go from sitting down right into a hard workout with no warm-up time in between. That’s asking for more soreness the next day and your muscles will feel tighter after the workout ends too.

Start with some milder exercise to warm up your body first, like walking.

It’s best to avoid the form-fitting workout clothes that you probably favored pre-pregnancy. Go for loose-fitting clothes that let a lot of air circulate. You’ll stay cooler as you exercise so you’ll feel more comfortable and stay safer.

You might have been an avid skier before you became pregnant, but you’re going to have to hold off on that activity until after your baby is born. It’s just not safe. You should avoid any exercise where you risk falling because you can hurt your baby (source).

During pregnancy, once my belly started expanding, I gave up bicycling because I didn’t trust my balance and I knew a fall could be catastrophic. Instead, I stuck with a stationary bike because it was safer.

Pregnancy isn’t a time when you should be losing weight. Make sure you’re eating enough calories to support your baby’s nutritional needs as well as your own. Keep in mind that if you’re exercising you’ll need a little more food than you normally would.

But you should also remember that you don’t need more than a couple hundred extra calories a day if you’re exercising for 20 or 30 minutes at a time. Doing some exercise doesn’t give you a free ticket for repeated trips to the buffet line.

Before you begin to exercise, you need to get clearance from your doctor. It doesn’t require a special doctor’s visit. Ask your doctor when you are at a regular pre-natal appointment if there is any reason you shouldn’t be exercising.

Most moms-to-be can safely incorporate exercise into their schedules.

What may have seemed easy for you during early pregnancy can seem challenging as your belly expands and you become a little more breathless. Be prepared to adjust your routine accordingly.

You may find yourself swapping your daily run for a walk during later pregnancy and that’s perfectly okay. A brisk walk is still better than nothing.

You should try to stay under 6,000 feet when it comes to elevation because it can be harder to breathe at higher elevations — you’re already having that problem just being pregnant. It’s not smart to aggravate it by throwing high elevation into the mix.

You should also pass on scuba diving because the change in pressure.

Safe Exercises for Each Trimester

Each trimester will have its own specific challenges and needs. By understanding what exercises are appropriate for each one, you’ll be better informed to keep both you and your baby safe.

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The first trimester will be the easiest one when it comes to exercise. You’ll be able to keep doing many of the same exercises you were doing before your pregnancy. The intensity level and duration of your workouts should be able to remain similar, within reason.

If you’re a runner, you can continue doing that safely. But you shouldn’t start adding distance though — stick with what you did pre-pregnancy.

If you find that your normal workouts now seem too hard, you can try cutting back a little on the intensity or exercising a few minutes less.

Those of you who aren’t into yoga may want to sign up for a prenatal yoga class. You may not notice a lot of benefits in your first trimester, but by the time your belly starts expanding and you get a lot of aches and pains, all that stretching will come in handy.

Your blood volume has increased by the time you reach your second trimester (source). That means your heart is working harder, even when you aren’t exercising. During this trimester, it’s time to tone down the intensity of those workouts a little bit. Whether you’re running or using a stationary bike, slow it down a bit. You’ll still be working hard, but the reduced effort will be more appropriate for your body.

The second trimester is when I gave up my bicycling in favor of a stationary bike. My balance wasn’t as great as it was before my baby bump came along. You might want to consider doing the same. You’ll still get a great workout on a stationary bike, but you’ll ditch the falling risk.

If you are an experienced cyclist, you should still be able to safely continue, as long as you avoid “off road cycling” (such as mountain biking), due to the increased risk of falls.

You should still be able to enjoy many of the same exercises and sports as you did in your first trimester. Some appropriate choices include dancing, running, cycling, light weight lifting and yoga.

If you lift weights, switch to a lighter weight. Instead, you can do more reps to still feel the burn.

You’re going to be having a lot of aches, pains and pressure at this point because your belly will be so big. If you find a higher-intensity exercise like running isn’t working out as well for you as it was earlier in your pregnancy, you should slow it down. Or you can swap it out in favor of swimming, which will help ease some of those aches.

10 Pregnancy Workouts You Can Try on YouTube

If you are looking for a variety of workouts to incorporate into your routine to keep it fresh, here are some of the best ones on YouTube you might want to check out.

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One reason I really like this video is that the instructor seems like a motivated and inspirational best friend instead of a drill sergeant. Sometimes when you’re watching a workout video while you’re pregnant, you feel intimidated by the complicated moves of the instructor. But with this one, the moves won’t have you hitting the rewind button to figure out what just happened.

Type of Workout:Pregnancy cardio workout.
Difficulty Score:6 out of 10. There’s a lot of constant movement, but there are some slower moves incorporated throughout so you’ll get some breathers in there.
Length of Workout:20 minutes.
Safe Trimesters:First, second and third.
Equipment Needed:None, just your body.

I love this video because bodyweight workouts are a good way to give yourself some strength training. Push-ups are a great exercise to help work your muscles and the instructor shows you some modifications that can make them more doable in pregnancy.

Type of Workout:Pregnancy bodyweight workout.
Difficulty Score:5.
Length of Workout:25 minutes.
Safe Trimesters:First, second and third.
Equipment Needed:A chair, and a mat is optional if you want to be more comfortable.Type of workout: Bodyweight workout.

I love this video because bodyweight workouts are a good way to give yourself some strength training. Push-ups are a great exercise to help work your muscles and the instructor shows you some modifications that can make them more doable in pregnancy.

Type of Workout:A short prenatal toning and strengthening workout.
Difficulty Score:3.
Length of Workout:6 minutes.
Safe Trimesters:First, second and third.
Equipment Needed:You can use a chair for balance if you want.

For only being an 11-minute workout, this one is surprisingly vigorous. It isn’t difficult, but you will be constantly moving — if you need to slow down for a minute, hit the pause button and take a breather.

Type of Workout:Pregnancy dance workout.
Difficulty Score:6.
Length of Workout:11 minutes.
Safe Trimesters:First, second and third.
Equipment Needed:None.

Core workouts aren’t my favorite — I’d rather be doing cardio. But these types of workouts are immensely important because they’ll help your core deal with the added weight of your belly and keep you strong for your upcoming delivery.

There are some side planks in this, which may be challenging, but you don’t have to hold them for long.

Type of Workout:Prenatal core workout.
Difficulty Score:5.
Length of Workout:12 minutes.
Safe Trimesters:First, second and third.
Equipment Needed:A mat to make you more comfortable.

If you find positional changes make you dizzy during your pregnancy, you should consider skipping the downward-facing dog pose or moving very slowly afterward to an upright position. If you find you aren’t as flexible as the woman performing this video, just do the best you can.

It’s okay to take shortcuts and if something doesn’t feel right and you think you’re overdoing it, make sure you scale back.

Type of Workout:Prenatal yoga.
Difficulty Score:2 or 3, depending upon your yoga experience.
Length of Workout:20 minutes.
Safe Trimesters:First, second and third.
Equipment Needed:Mat or carpet.

This exercise video looks deceptively simple. But you’ll feel the burn on your tush in no time so you’ll know it’s working. The exercises are easy to do, but the burn you feel is what upped the difficulty score.

Type of Workout:Pregnancy glutes/butt workout.
Difficulty Score:4.
Length of Workout:5 minutes.
Safe Trimesters:First, second and third.
Equipment Needed:A mat or carpet.

[yotube url=”https://youtu.be/XK2PXZo_yws”] This is a long video, which makes it more challenging. If you find you can’t complete it, that’s fine. Just do what you can. Any amount of activity is better than sitting on the couch.

Type of Workout:Prenatal strengthening workout.
Difficulty Score:7.
Length of Workout:50 minutes.
Safe Trimesters:First, second and third.
Equipment Needed:Mat, light weights (3 pounds), a chair, and foam wedge or pillows.

Strength is a component of fitness that many women skimp on. I like that this video helps you build muscle while avoiding any working out on the back, since that’s a no-no in pregnancy. Muscles will also come in handy when you start to lug your baby around in your arms instead of in your belly.

Type of Workout:Pregnancy strength workout.
Difficulty Score:6.
Length of Workout:30 minutes.
Safe Trimesters:First, second and third.
Equipment Needed:Dumbbells and mat.

These moves aren’t difficult to perform — you’ll be able to follow along easily. This does include a fair amount of core work. Just make sure you pay attention to the form of the instructor and mimic it.

Type of Workout:Prenatal pilates — strengthening and stretches.
Difficulty Score:4.
Length of Workout:20 minutes.
Safe Trimesters:First, second and third.
Equipment Needed:Mat.
Related Reading:
Help Yourself Stay Active With These Great Prenatal Exercise DVDs

Keep It Up Mama, You're Doing Great!

I know the thought of exercising when you’re pregnant can be overwhelming at times, but it helped me sail through both of mine. Whenever my energy was sinking and the idea of even putting on my tennis shoes seemed like too much, I convinced myself just to do five minutes of exercise. I promised myself I could stop if I still felt tired after that.

There were only a couple days where I felt I couldn’t continue beyond those five minutes. I was always happy when my workout was over because I felt invigorated and stronger.

Let us know how you’re feeling about working out when you’re pregnant and give us some of your best tips. I love to hear from one momma to another.

And don’t forget to save this post on Pinterest for later!

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