Safe Exercises During Pregnancy
Whether you're a first-time mother or you're already a mum, you probably have questions about working out in pregnancy. The good news is that most exercise for pregnant women is not only safe, it's also healthy — for both you and your baby!
Everyone wants to stay fit in pregnancy, but some pregnancy exercises are better suited for certain stages of your trimesters. From walking and swimming to yoga and Pilates, there are multiple workout options to help you stay fit and healthy.
Read on to learn more about working out while pregnant.
Benefits of Exercise for Pregnant Women
It's no secret: Exercise is great for everyone, and that includes pregnant women! Working out while pregnant offers a range of benefits. In fact, regular exercise can even help alleviate some of the discomforts that come along with pregnancy. Pregnancy workouts can even help your recover faster after giving birth.
Evidence shows that pregnancy exercises offer a number of health benefits to mums-to-be, such as:
- Reduced risk of gestational diabetes
- Less weight gain
- Lower risk of caesarian delivery (c-section)
- Improved cardiovascular function
- Increased blood flow to the placenta (which gives baby more nutrients)
- Better posture
- Lower stress levels
- Sleep promotion
- Backache relief
- Better muscle tone
- Improved stamina
- Reduced post-partum depression and anxiety
Are Pregnancy Workouts Safe?
There are a few types of exercise to avoid during pregnancy. These include contact sports, such as football, rugby, hockey and roller derby. Avoid activities that may impact your abdomen — such as kickboxing, squash or judo — or cause a fall, such as horseback riding, ice skating or rock climbing. You should also avoid exercises that raise body temperature considerably, such as Bikram yoga or hot Pilates.
For those who've been physically active before pregnancy, it's usually safe to keep activity at the same rate for the first two to three months of pregnancy. However, you'll likely have to change up your routine to accommodate for your growing belly and other physiological changes as your pregnancy progresses. Work with your healthcare provider to make sure your workout is safe.
For those who weren't active before pregnancy, don't worry: Though now's not the time to jump into an intense workout regimen for the first time, pregnancy is the perfect time to start gentle exercises. Luckily, some of the best exercises to try when just starting out are perfect pregnancy workouts.
For instance, low-impact cardiovascular activities such as walking and swimming can be carried on throughout your pregnancy. So can pregnancy-specific workouts like pre-natal Pilates and pregnancy yoga. Not only can these types of workouts help reduce joint stress, but they can also help decrease fluid retention, a common occurrence for many mums-to-be.
Again, before continuing or starting any exercises during pregnancy, check with your doctor or midwife. They'll help you determine what's safe and effective.
Let's look at some ways to stay fit in pregnancy.
Walking is one of the easiest pregnancy workouts. It's low-impact, costs nothing and lets you ease into exercising while pregnant.
Taking a brisk walk offers a way to rev up your cardiovascular system, without jarring your joints. If you already walked regularly before your pregnancy, you can keep up with your current regimen.
If you're just starting out, try a 15-minute walk, three times a week. Build up to a 30-minute walk, at least four times a week (or even more) and increase your speed as you feel more fit. If you feel pain or fatigue, simply slow down.
It's easy to incorporate walking into your daily routine. If possible, take a stroll during your lunch break, or walk instead of driving or taking the bus. Bring water to stay hydrated!
Pregnancy yoga is popular for a reason. Studies show that this gentle exercise can help decrease stress and anxiety, lower cortisol levels, reduce depression and relieve pain. It's been found to be especially effective when combined with breathing exercises and meditation.
Now's not the time to try to build flexibility; that can wait until you're no longer pregnant. Why? Because mums-to-be have looser ligaments and muscles, and it's very easy to overstretch and overextend, leading to injury.
Instead, focus your yoga sessions on improving stability and strength. Use props to keep yourself stable, and modify poses when needed. For example, rather than doing cobra pose, which puts weight on your abdomen, do a cow-cat pose on all fours.
Be sure to tell your yoga instructor that you're pregnant. They can help you avoid poses that put weight on your belly or require laying flat on your back in the second and third trimester.
Better yet, choose a pregnancy yoga workout that specifically designed for expecting mums.
Pelvic Floor Exercises
During pregnancy and childbirth, the layers of muscles in your pelvic floor do a lot of work. Think of this part of your body as a hammock, stretching from front to back to support additional weight of the baby.
Stress incontinence is a common side effect of pregnancy. That means when you sneeze, laugh, jump or run, you may notice a bit of urine leakage. Pelvic floor exercises can help.
You can do these exercises anytime, anywhere... whether you're sitting at your desk at work, taking a walk or watching the telly.
- Locate your pelvic floor muscles by trying to stop urine flow when you're on the toilet (just don't try to stop your urine regularly, as this is bad for your bladder)
- Find a comfortable place to sit and squeeze these muscles 10 to 15 times in a row
- Keep breathing regularly while you squeeze
- Once you get used to the feeling, try to hold the squeeze for a few seconds each time
- Add more repetitions each week, and hold squeezes for longer
- Work up to three sets each day, holding squeezes for 10 seconds each time
Squats are a well-known way to build lower body strength. But did you know they're a great exercise for pregnant women, too?
Squatting can help make childbirth easier. Practicing this exercise while pregnant will help you build strength to squat during labor and delivery. This opens the pelvis so the baby can descend.
You can squat using just your body weight as resistance, add dumbbells or use an exercise ball against a wall. Start with these easy pregnancy squats:
- Place feet shoulder width apart
- Hold arms straight in front of you (or grab a bar for balance)
- Keeping your back straight, lower into a squat
- Your weight should be in your heels and your knees should be behind or above your toes
- Squeeze your glutes and slowly straighten up to starting position
- Work up to three sets of 15 squats
If there's a perfect exercise for pregnant women, it's probably swimming. Not only do water workouts get your heart rate up, the water also supports your growing baby's weight, giving your joints a break.
Swimming is a great way to use lots of muscles without a high risk of injury. Plus, on hot days, that cool water feels simply amazing!
Swimming for 20 minutes provides a great workout. Try doing laps or joining a pre-natal water workout class. Just remember to keep drinking water while swimming to stay hydrated.
Pro-tip: If the smell of chlorine triggers nausea during the first trimester, try to find a saltwater pool.
Pilates is a whole-body workout that can improve flexibility, strength and mobility. While a typical workout isn't necessarily best for pregnant people, Pilates has a huge number of modifications that make it easy to create a pregnancy-friendly workout.
Consult with a Pilates instructor that's experienced in pre-natal workouts. You may also choose a class or program that's designed for pregnancy.
As exercise for pregnant women, Pilates offers a number of benefits, such as:
- Lowering blood pressure
- Improving stamina (helps with labor and delivery)
- Reducing the rate of c-sections and other interventions
- Speeding post-partum recovery
- Decreasing back pain
- Better sleep
During the first trimester, Pilates can help you relax and reduce anxiety. Take it easy during this stage of pregnancy, as your body is changing rapidly and you may feel easily fatigued.
Pilates workouts in the second trimester can be supplemented with props to keep weight off your back. Avoid full planks and other movements that build abdominal pressure.
In your last trimester, focus on mobility and stretching. Avoid laying on your back.
How can I stay fit while pregnant?
Staying fit in pregnancy has been shown to boost your overall health, make labor and delivery easier, and help speed your post-partum recovery. In fact, the more active you can stay during pregnancy, the better you're likely to feel throughout the process and beyond.
Focus on pregnancy workouts that boost cardiovascular activity, build strength and stamina, improve mobility, and help reduce stress and anxiety. Some of our top choices include walking, swimming, squats, pelvic floor exercises, pregnancy yoga and pre-natal Pilates.
If you already worked out before becoming pregnant, you can keep on being active. And if you weren't working out already, pregnancy is the perfect time to (gently) ease into exercise.
Either way, check in with your healthcare provider before starting pregnancy workouts.
When should you stop exercising during pregnancy?
Many people can work out safely throughout their pregnancy. But if you notice any of the following signs, take a break from activity and call your healthcare provider:
- Feeling lightheaded, dizzy or faint
- Chest pain
- Fast heartbeat
- Difficulty breathing
- Blood or fluid leakage
- Weak muscles
- Difficulty walking
- Lower leg pain or swelling
- Painful contractions
Whether you've been working out regularly for years or you're just getting started, exercise for pregnant women is a great way to reap health benefits before, during and after giving birth. Finding pregnancy workouts at the level of intensity and activity that's right for you is key.