When it comes to staying fit while pregnant, there are mixed opinions. Some say you should follow your usual fitness regimen and exercise like normal, while others say you had better take it easy.
While many women worry that continuing their exercise routine while pregnant will negatively impact the baby, research suggests otherwise. In fact, many women who exercised during their pregnancies reported feeling less tired and having more energy than those who didn’t.
In general, it is best to follow your doctor’s advice about fitness during pregnancy. Pregnancy can have a profound effect on your body and it is important to make sure you are healthy enough for exercise.
If your doctor gives you the go-ahead, remember that your baby needs you to take care of yourself. If that means following a less strenuous fitness program than usual, then that’s what you should do.
The Benefits Of Getting In Shape While Pregnant
Maintaining A Healthy Body Weight
One of the best things about exercise during pregnancy is that it keeps your weight under control (7). This is not only good for health; studies show that mothers who stay fit during pregnancy are less likely to develop gestational diabetes.
Staying Fit While Pregnant: Reduce Stress And Anxiety
Moms-to-be may find it difficult to stay fit when they feel ill, exhausted, stressed or depressed. But exercise can reduce these symptoms by releasing endorphins—chemicals that elevate your mood and relax your body (11).
Staying fit during pregnancy has several health benefits, including better sleep (4).
Exercise can help you get more shut-eye at night, so you feel refreshed when you wake up.
Staying Fit While Pregnant: Fewer Digestive Issues
As your baby grows, you may have more pressure on your stomach and intestines, which can lead to uncomfortable symptoms such as constipation (12). Exercise works to ease these symptoms by helping you digest your food better.
Pregnancy puts a lot of pressure on the veins that carry blood into and out of the uterus. This results in swelling in the legs and feet, which can be uncomfortable. Exercise helps reduce this swelling by improving the blood flow to your lower body (15).
Staying active during pregnancy also reduces backaches and other pains that may develop as a result of the extra weight you’re carrying around (2).
Staying Fit While Pregnant: Increased Energy
Pregnancy is exhausting for most women. With the added demands of daily life and a developing baby, many moms-to-be look forward to yoga and other restorative exercises.
Better Able To Cope With Labor And Delivery
By staying fit, you are training your body to better handle the physical stress of pregnancy and childbirth. Regular exercise during pregnancy makes it easier to get through labor and delivery (1).
Staying Fit While Pregnant: Easier To Get Back In Shape After Delivery
Generally, moms who were physically active during their pregnancy find it easier to get back in shape after giving birth. They recover more quickly than others and are less likely to experience the negative side effects of pregnancy.
What’s Safe And What’s Not When Pregnant
Before you start an exercise program, consult your doctor to see if pregnancy exercise is recommended for you. Your doctor can also help determine what exercises are appropriate once you have conceived.
The first trimester is the time when most pregnant women experience morning sickness, fatigue, and other symptoms that make it difficult for them to continue their usual fitness routines (5).
However, if you can muster the energy, your doctor may recommend light exercise such as walking. Once the nausea and fatigue subside, women who exercised before and during their first trimester usually go back to their normal fitness activities.
In general, it is best to avoid strenuous workouts such as running and high-impact aerobics until after your second trimester. However, doing low-impact workouts such as yoga or swimming can be safe during your entire pregnancy.
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Here are some pregnancy-safe exercises you can do:
Walking is by far the most common form of exercise recommended to pregnant women.
With your doctor’s approval, start a walking program two weeks after conception and aim for 30-minute sessions, at least three times a week. Depending on your fitness level, you may want to warm up with a five-minute walk and cool down with a five-minute walk.
Hold stretches for 15 to 30 seconds, relax, and then repeat each stretch three times.
If you’re fighting morning sickness, try going out in the evening when it’s cooler.
You can increase the intensity of your walk by carrying light dumbbells, by speeding up your pace, or by going uphill.
Yoga includes a wide range of stretching exercises that have been specifically designed for pregnant women.
If you’re new to yoga, start with basic poses such as downward-facing dog and plow pose. Once you’ve mastered these basic poses, you can move on to challenging yoga asanas such as the warrior pose.
To avoid overheating, choose a room with air conditioning or open a window if it’s warm. You can exercise in loose clothing and wear comfortable yoga pants.
Water exercises are ideal for pregnant women because they are gentle on the joints, help improve blood flow and are good for the baby (12). Like most low impact exercises, water exercises are safe throughout your pregnancy.
Avoid hot tubs and saunas. These are not good for your baby because the steam can cause dehydration.
Dancing is a great way to enjoy music while you exercise. It’s a great cardio workout that exercises your arms, legs, and abdomen. You can do this with a partner or take a dance class.
Just be careful that the dance moves are low-impact and that you don’t overheat while exercising in highly-crowded, closed rooms or doing strenuous dances such as aerobics.
When you think of strength training, free-weights and weight machines usually come to mind. But there are many creative ways you can do this type of exercise during pregnancy. For example, you can use elastic bands or hand weights to tone your arms and shoulders. You can also use your own bodyweight.
Some exercises you may do are:
- Squats – these target your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves.
- Wall sits – these are great for toning your leg muscles.
- Pushups – these help tone the arms, chest, shoulders, back and core.
- Leg lifts – these work out your abdominal muscles.
- Tricep dips on a chair – these work out the triceps and shoulders.
- Seated dumbbell row – these work out your back.
Be sure to slowly build up the number of repetitions you do during each workout session, especially if you’re starting a new exercise routine after taking some time off.
If you’ve been active before pregnancy, chances are you can continue most of your activities throughout your entire pregnancy. However, you must take it easy so you don’t overdo it. Always work out under the supervision of a trained professional and within the limits your doctor sets for you (16).
When doing any type of strength training program during pregnancy, remember these essentials:
- Warm up – Two to three minutes of low-intensity, easy warm-up exercises should be part of your routine.
- Breathe – Always remember to inhale and exhale while you exercise. Never hold your breath.
- Safety – Avoid exercises that place excessive stress or strain on your body because this may hurt the baby. Be especially cautious of exercises that put you at risk of falling.
- Good posture – Maintain good posture when you’re exercising, especially when performing weight-bearing activities like squats, lunges, chest presses, and overhead presses.
Pelvic Floor Exercises
These exercises target muscles in your pelvic floor, which help support the uterus and bladder.
Pregnancy and childbirth can weaken these muscles, increasing your risk of bladder incontinence and other pelvic health issues (18).
One common pelvic floor exercise you can do is the kegel. To do this exercise:
- Tighten the muscles of your pelvic floor as if you’re stopping a stream of urine.
- Relax your muscles for a count of three and repeat ten to fifteen times a day.
- This can be done while sitting at home or when you’re on the go.
Remember that you should never tighten these muscles when you’re urinating because this may interfere with the bladder’s ability to empty completely.
Exercises To Avoid During Pregnancy
Here is a list of exercises you should steer clear of while pregnant (6):
If you’ve never lifted heavy weights before, pregnancy is not the time to start. You can seriously hurt yourself or your baby, no matter how strong you are.
Lifting very heavy weights increases your intra abdominal pressure and may raise your blood pressure or decrease blood flow to your uterus.
Sports like football, soccer, basketball, golfing and horseback riding involve a lot of running and jumping. Many high-impact sports put excessive stress on the abdominal area which can be harmful for the baby. Ask your doctor if the sport you’re interested in is safe for pregnant women.
Using plyometrics, you jump up and down off the ground quickly to strengthen your leg muscles. When done too vigorously, this exercise results in loss of balance which can lead to injury to yourself or your baby.
Supine exercises are those that require you to lie on your back. Avoid them because they have been associated with decreased blood flow from the uterus and compression of major blood vessels.
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Keeping Fit During Pregnancy: Diet Is Important, Too
While exercise is definitely important when it comes to pregnancy fitness, you should not neglect diet. Eating healthy foods is key for both your health and your baby’s health (13).
There is a popular myth that says pregnant women should “eat for two”. This is false. Women should only eat the amount of food they need for their daily activities, which includes exercise and carrying a baby.
How many calories should you eat? The answer depends on how far along you are in your pregnancy, how much you weigh before becoming pregnant, and whether or not you are exercising.
The general guidelines are (3):
- First trimester – keep your daily caloric intake the same as usual. Most women need 1800-2000 calories a day.
- Second trimester – Add an extra 300-350 calories a day. This may add up to at least 2200 calories.
- Third trimester – Add an extra 100 calories to your second-trimester intake. So if you were taking 2200 calories in the second trimester, you’ll take 2400 in the third trimester.
Keep in mind that eating more doesn’t necessarily mean you’re eating better. You should eat nutritious foods that are high in protein, calcium, and other vital nutrients. Although diet alone cannot replace prenatal vitamins (which can be found in most pharmacies or supermarkets), eating healthy will do wonders for both you and your baby.
Here are some of the most nutritious foods you can use to fuel your body:
High Quality Protein
Lean meats, eggs, and seafood are all good sources of protein. When it comes to seafood, you should avoid eating shark, swordfish and king mackerel because they contain high levels of mercury. Make sure to get enough protein every day (14).
Staying Fit While Pregnant: Fruits And Vegetables
Fresh fruits and vegetables have a high nutrient content. They also help prevent constipation while providing fiber that cleanses the digestive tract.
The World Health Organization recommends you aim for at least four servings of fruits and vegetables every day (9). If you’re unable to get your daily servings of fruits and vegetables, consider taking vitamin supplements.
You can get your carbohydrates from whole grains such as brown rice, whole-wheat bread, and 100 percent whole-wheat pasta. Whole grains help keep your blood sugar stable and provide you with the energy you need to get through your day.
It’s best to avoid saturated fats that can be found in processed foods or fast food because they increase your risk of cardiovascular diseases. Instead, choose polyunsaturated and monounsaturated good fats such as those found in olive oil, peanut butter, avocados, and salmon.
The American Heart Association recommends eating fish twice a week to get the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids (8).
Staying Fit While Pregnant: Water And Fluids
You should drink at least 8–10 glasses (at least 64 ounces) of water every day to stay hydrated and flush out toxins in your system. You can also drink unsweetened tea, juice, and other clear liquids to avoid dehydration.
For pregnant women, it may be challenging not to succumb to caffeine cravings throughout the day. But remember that caffeine can impact your unborn baby, so you should limit your caffeine intake. There is no definitive answer regarding safe caffeine limits during pregnancy; check with your doctor to determine what works for you.
Staying Fit While Pregnant: Quit Smoking And Other Unhealthy Habits
Aside from caffeine, there are many types of substances that can have adverse effects on the unborn baby if they are ingested via a pregnant woman. Although a cigarette may be the last thing you feel like giving up, quitting smoking will benefit you and your unborn baby in many ways (17).
Staying Fit While Pregnant: In Summary
Moms-to-be need to understand that the effects of prenatal fitness extend far beyond pregnancy. Not only does it make it easier for you to recover from labor and delivery—it makes it easier to get back in shape after. Pregnancy fitness is all about being healthy, so you and your baby can benefit for years to come.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Association between aerobic fitness in late pregnancy and duration of labor in nulliparous women (2010, onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
- Back Pain During Pregnancy (2020, acog.org)
- Eating right during pregnancy (2020, medlineplus.gov)
- Effects of Exercise on Sleep Quality in Pregnant Women: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials (2020, sciencedirect.com)
- Examining to what extent pregnancy-related physical symptoms worry women in the first trimester of pregnancy: a cross-sectional study in general practice (2019, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Exercise in Pregnancy (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Exercise in pregnant women and birth weight: a randomized controlled trial (2011, biomedcentral.com)
- Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids (2021, heart.org)
- Fruit and Vegetable Intake: Benefits and Progress of Nutrition Education Interventions- Narrative Review Article (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Gastrointestinal diseases during pregnancy: what does the gastroenterologist need to know? (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Impact of prenatal exercise on both prenatal and postnatal anxiety and depressive symptoms: a systematic review and meta-analysis (2018, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Maternal swimming pool exposure during pregnancy in relation to birth outcomes and cord blood DNA methylation among private well users (2019, sciencedirect.com)
- Nutrition During Pregnancy, Lactation and Early Childhood and its Implications for Maternal and Long-Term Child Health: The Early Nutrition Project Recommendations (2019, karger.com)
- Protein and Amino Acid Requirements during Pregnancy (2016, academic.oup.com)
- Response of pregnancy leg edema to a single immersion exercise session (2005, onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
- Safety and Efficacy of Supervised Strength Training Adopted in Pregnancy (2011, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Smoking during pregnancy and harm reduction in birth weight: a cross-sectional study. (2018, biomedcentral.com)
- Vaginal Childbirth and Pelvic Floor Disorders (2013, journals.sagepub.com)