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.
We’ll show you why you should consider exercise during pregnancy and hopefully, it’ll help you find the motivation to do so.
Physical Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy
- 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.
- 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.
- More energy: Pregnancy can sap your energy like nothing else can, but exercise can help restore it.
- Fighting morning sickness: The next time you suffer from nausea or morning sickness, you can try putting down your crackers and doing some exercise. It helps with that queasy feeling.
- Alleviate back pain: Back pain is a well-known side effect of pregnancy and physical activity like yoga can help loosen it up.
- Gets things moving in the bathroom: Those prenatal vitamins we have to choke back in pregnancy can lead to some fierce constipation. Exercise can help loosen things back up again.
- Fight off muscle cramps: When your muscles start painfully tightening up during pregnancy, exercise can loosen them up.
- 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.
- 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 flu in pregnancy.
- 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. You may be able to do yoga poses you’ve only dreamed of.
- 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 (1).
- Less swollen legs: Legs and feet swelling can be intense during pregnancy. Luckily, exercise can cut back on that pesky swelling (2).
- 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.
- Get ready for extra pounds: Weight training in early pregnancy can get you ready to carry the extra pounds your baby will add on (3) to your body.
- 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.
The evidence continues to show us that the benefits of having a fit pregnancy are numerous and the risks aren’t necessarily present (4). If you’re a healthy woman with a low-risk pregnancy, the best way to continue on that path is to keep up your fitness routine.
If you are new to fitness, it’s acceptable to start a plan as long as your OB provider clears you. You now have a growing reason to be healthy!
For best results, exercise 30 minutes a day, five days a week, for at least 150 minutes. Be aware of appropriate modifications to your fitness regime, like avoiding laying flat on your back in the second and third trimesters and listening to your body (5).
Editor's Note:Caitlin Goodwin, MSN, RN, CNM
Emotional Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy
- 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.
- Connect with your growing bump: 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.
- Better mood: Thanks to endorphins, you’ll continue to get that exercise high even when you’re pregnant.
- 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, and maybe even strangers at the gym, for your efforts.
- You’ll make your doctor happy: One of the biggest stressors for moms-to-be can be those nerve-wracking OB 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.
- Feel more attractive: Let’s face it — losing your looks even temporarily isn’t fun. Exercise can make you feel more attractive.
- Make new friends: If you join an exercise class, you can meet other moms there and develop a strong circle of friends.
- 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.
- 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.
Assistance for Moms in Labor
- It makes you stronger: For labor, you’re going to need strength and endurance. You’ll get both from regular exercise.
- Better chance of handling pain: Exercise can help you achieve the mental toughness you’ll need to get through labor.
- 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.
- Cuts your risk of C-section: Getting a moderate amount of exercise in your pregnancy can help you avoid a C-section (6). Most moms I know would rather run or walk a few miles a week than deal with surgery pain.
- Shorter labor: Moms who continued to exercise throughout pregnancy often have shorter labors than those who didn’t (7). A regular physical fitness program may result in a shorter first stage of labor- where cervical dilation happens. If this stage goes quickly, you will endure less painful contractions.
Benefits for Moms After Labor
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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, you can try an activity you wouldn’t normally do instead like a hike or a prenatal yoga class.
Bonuses for Your Baby
- A better birth weight: Exercise lowers mama’s blood sugar and cuts down on the risk of an obese baby. Large for gestation babies increase the risk of cesarean, NICU visits, and even heel pricks to your baby.
- Greater oxygen flow: Your baby will be treated to increased oxygen when you exercise and start taking deeper breaths.
- More brainpower 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 (8). That’s worth the struggle to put your tennis shoes on!
- More mature lungs: Your lungs aren’t the only ones thriving from your exercise. Your baby’s lungs will too (9).
- Better immune system: Your baby’s immune system will also benefit from regular exercise during pregnancy, just like yours will.
- More blood vessels: When exercising during early pregnancy, extra blood vessels develop to help carry nutrients to your baby (10). Those blood vessels will still develop without exercise, but there will be more of them with exercise.
- Lower heart rates: By late pregnancy, fetuses whose moms exercise have lower heart rates than that of fetuses whose moms don’t exercise (11).