Is Exercise During and After Pregnancy Safe?
Pregnancy changes everything from your priorities to your shoe size. But what about your exercise regimen? Ask around, and you’ll hear some variation of either “Just take it easy!” or “Just keep doing what you’ve always done!” So which is it? Are exercise and pregnancy a safe combo, or should you put your workouts on pause for now?
Here’s what you need to know.
Is It Safe to Exercise During Pregnancy?
Your OB/GYN has the final say on this one. But for healthy pregnancies, when done correctly, exercise during pregnancy is safe.
“The reality is that pregnant women aren’t ‘delicate,'” says Trevor Thieme, CSCS, Openfit’s director of fitness and nutrition content. “Indeed, the pregnancy and birthing processes are a testament to just how strong, powerful, and resilient the female body is.”
In fact, exercise during pregnancy may actually improve certain health outcomes.
Women who engage in aerobic exercise and strength training during pregnancy may experience fewer complications, says Tanya Tringali, certified nurse-midwife, NASM-certified personal trainer, and pregnancy and postpartum athleticism coach.
“They also tend to gain less weight than women who do not exercise at all and have an improved overall sense of psychological well-being,” Tringali adds.
How much exercise is safe during pregnancy?
As long as your doctor gives you the green light to exercise, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity throughout the week.
If you’re new to exercise, start slowly — brisk walks and prenatal yoga are good entry points — and gradually build up to that amount. But if you were already active pre-pregnancy, you can typically continue with your usual workout routine once you become pregnant — as long as your doctor approves, and as long as you stay hydrated and don’t overdo it.
Just be sure to pay close attention to what your body is telling you. If a movement, exercise, or intensity doesn’t feel “right,” stop immediately.
What Exercises Can You Do During Pregnancy?
Research suggests low- to moderate-intensity strength training can also be safe during pregnancy — again, as long as your doctor gives you the go-ahead. One great strength move to try: squats. “Squatting opens the hips, allowing the baby to dip into the pelvis,” Tringali says.
What Exercises Should You Avoid During Pregnancy?
As your pregnancy progresses, you may need to scale back your workouts a bit. That can be challenging if you have an athlete’s mentality and you’re used to pushing through discomfort, but it’s important to keep your expectations reasonable.
“In early pregnancy, if nausea and fatigue are a barrier, take it easy,” Tringali says. “Reduce weight and speed of movements. Consider a day off when you’re feeling particularly bad.”
Beyond that, there are a few specific movements you should avoid while pregnant:
- Avoid any exercise with a risk of falling or taking a blow to the abdomen. Horseback riding, cycling, skiing, and contact sports all fall under this category.
- Once you start showing, avoid exercises such as planks that put your bump “in a precarious and potentially dangerous position between you and the ground,” Thieme says.
- Scuba diving is advised against, because the pressure changes can negatively impact a developing fetus.
- As your bump gets bigger, it becomes inadvisable to perform exercises that involve lying on your back, as this may reduce blood flow to the baby.
- Single-leg exercises (such as single-leg deadlifts) tend to be challenging and may contribute to pelvic pain for some women, Tringali says.
- “Overhead lifts can strain the linea alba — the connective tissue that runs up the middle of the rectus abdominis, or ‘six-pack’ muscles,” Tringali says. This may worsen diastasis recti, a relatively common separation of the ab muscles during pregnancy.
When Is It Safe to Exercise After Pregnancy?
If you had a healthy pregnancy and vaginal delivery, you may feel ready to resume light activity within a few days after delivery, according to the ACOG.
But it’s important to allow yourself ample time to rest, heal, and bond with your baby. So don’t rush it if you don’t feel ready yet, and make sure you talk to your doctor first.
If you had a cesarean birth or any other complications, ask your doctor when it’s safe to start exercising.
When you’re ready to get moving again, walking is a great way to ease back in. Tringali also recommends gentle stretching, especially of the chest and back, which can become tight and rounded due to nursing, holding a newborn, and sitting for extended periods of time.
When your doctor says it’s safe, you can start to add in foundational core exercises, such as dead bug, Tringali says. Be sure to increase exercise volume and intensity very, very slowly. If possible, get input from a pregnancy and postpartum fitness coach.
Should I be concerned about my pelvic floor during postpartum exercise?
If you’re experiencing any pelvic floor issues, like incontinence or pain, exercise may exacerbate the underlying condition. In addition to seeing your doctor for a postpartum follow-up visit, Tringali recommends getting evaluated by a pelvic floor physical therapist (PFPT) who can address any concerns.
- Foot facts: Changes in foot size caused by pregnancy may increase arthritis risk now.uiowa.edu/2013/03/foot-facts
- Exercise During Pregnancy www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/exercise-during-pregnancy
- Pregnancy And Exercise www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430821/
- Impact of exercise on maternal gestational weight gain www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6635273/
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