Pregnancy and Exercise: What’s Safe?

Safe Exercise During PregnancyWhen I became pregnant with my first son, I was working in a gym, running regularly, and teaching 4-5 group fitness classes a week. I couldn’t wait for my first doctor’s appointment to find out if this was ok, so I called the office to speak with a nurse.

I explained my current workout routine, “Is this safe?”

Her answer, “Keep doing what you’re doing, and if the next day you feel like you did too much, you probably did…so cut back next time.”

That’s it? No guidelines on minutes, heart rate, or activities?!? Although I felt hesitant, in the end I realized that my personal instinct, listening to my body, is the best guide

Here are some of the changes that can affect your workouts during pregnancy:

Fluctuations in hormones.

The hormone relaxin helps to relax the ligaments in your joints so your body can grow as pregnancy progresses and make way for delivery. However, if ligaments are overstretched they will not return to the original state. Take extra care in pregnancy to avoid:

  • Overstretching – stay within a conservative range of motion.
  • High impact movements – find modifications for jumping.
  • Jarring movements or sudden changes – choose exercise and movements you can easily control.


Growing belly

Weight gain, mainly but not exclusively in the belly, can change the way your body feels and positions that will be comfortable. The added weight can also cause strain for your back, so be careful to use supportive bands/clothing as needed.

  • Your balance may be off because your center of gravity has shifted.
  • Always wear a well-fitting bra with lots of support and use back/belly support if needed.
  • Avoid movements performed on the back after the first trimester because this restricts blood flow. You’ll also want to avoid exercising on your stomach once your belly grows.


Baby’s Safety

Your baby’s safety is your top concern. Don’t worry. Exercise does much, MUCH more good for your baby than harm. Just keep in mind the following:

  • Avoid contact or high-risk sports; anything with a high risk of falling or injury.
  • Control your body temperature. Wear lightweight clothing; avoid extreme heat, humidity, or exercising when you have a fever.
  • Stay well hydrated. Make sure you’re eating enough calories to support your workout routine, and you may need a snack before/after exercise to control your blood sugar.


Motivation and Benefits

All this talk about safety isn’t meant to scare you away from physical activity. Exercise has many benefits for both you and your baby during pregnancy. Exercise can help both of you gain weight at a healthier rate, but you should never attempt to lose weight while pregnant.

Benefits for you: better sleep, stress relief and improving your mood, controlling blood pressure, maintaining/improving muscle strength & tone, relieving pregnancy symptoms like backache, constipation, and swelling, preventing or treating gestational diabetes, and preparing for childbirth

Benefits for baby: healthier weight, a healthier heart and cardiovascular system, better exchange of nutrients through placenta, better nervous system function, and more – your baby receives the same hormonal boosts that you do during exercise

I have a friend who damaged her SI joint when she resumed running after pregnancy. Because she was nursing, she still had high levels of hormones circulating which kept her joints looser. Even though it felt ok and she was eager to return to her routine, it’s taking her a long time to recover from the damage.

The moral of that story: listen to your body, but also err on the side of caution. Pregnancy and postpartum are not times to push yourself or worry about exercise intensity or performance. Just focus on general health and taking care of your body and baby. You will have plenty of time to get back in the best shape of your life!

Want some more guidelines and official information on exercise during pregnancy? View the The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) FAQ on Exercise During Pregnancy.

What type of exercise program did you follow while pregnant?


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