The value of working out while pregnant has been repeatedly proven through research, and healthy expectant women are encouraged to be active to experience the multiple benefits that exercise provides for both mom and baby. Of course, everyone is different, as is each pregnancy, so a woman’s obstetrician should be the ultimate authority.
Working Out While Pregnant
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) recommends that pregnant women complete 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise per day on most, if not all, days of the week, unless a medical or pregnancy complication exists, such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, severe anemia, bleeding or spotting, low placenta, weak cervix, threatened or recurrent miscarriage, previous premature births or history of early labor. Women experiencing any of these conditions must work closely with their physician to evaluate the safety of working out while pregnant.
Exercise for expectant moms is a great way to maintain a healthy pregnancy. Here are some important considerations and recommendations for women regarding working out while pregnant.
Beyond the obvious weight gain and belly expansion, building another human being creates a lot of internal and external changes in the body of the mama-to-be that can impact your ability to exercise:
- Joints – Hormones made during pregnancy cause ligaments that support the joints relax, which makes them more mobile and raises your risk of injury. Avoid jerky, bouncy, or high-impact motions, and be careful when stretching not to push too far.
- Balance – The extra weight in the front of your body shifts the center of gravity, which adds stress on the joints and muscles, particularly in the pelvis and low back. This makes pregnant women less stable and more likely to lose their balance, and potentially fall.
- Breathing – While you are pregnant, your need for oxygen increases. And during exercise, oxygenand blood flow shift to the muscles. As the baby grows, the uterus places greater pressure on the diaphragm, so expecting moms can become short of breath more easily, which may limit the ability to perform vigorous exercise.
- Breasts – During pregnancy, breasts enlarge and become more tender, which may require a larger bra. For workouts, a supportive sports bra is essential to minimize bounce and discomfort.
- Bladder – As the baby grows, the uterus presses on the bladder, resulting in increased frequency of urination, which definitely can interrupt workouts.
- Fatigue – Your body is working overtime, so it’s common to feel tired, particularly during the first trimester, which may override good workout intentions. Energy typically picks up in the second trimester, but may decrease again in the third trimester, as it can be more difficult to sleep comfortably.
- Temperature – Body temperature can be higher and sweat gland activity increases during pregnancy, so women can feel warmer, especially during workouts. Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise, and avoid strenuous outdoor activity on very hot days.
- Feet – For some women, their feet grow up to an extra size during pregnancy due to greater growth hormone or additional fluid that causes swelling. You may need new gym shoes along the way.
Precautions for Exercise
- Nourishment and hydration – Be sure to eat and drink enough to support a growing baby and your regular workouts.
- Supine position – Avoid lying on your back for exercise after the first trimester, which can reduce blood flow to your heart and uterus.
- Extreme temperatures – As mentioned, it’s easy to get overheated when pregnant, so avoid outdoor exercise on hot, humid days; skip hot yoga; and don’t hang out in a whirlpool, steam room or sauna.
- Risky activities – Falling can cause injury to the expectant mother and the baby, so don’t take on skating, surfing, horseback riding, skiing, hiking, trampolining and other recreation that can cause a loss of balance.
- High altitude – Less oxygen in the air can result in reduced oxygen to the fetus.
Note that ACOG recommends that women stop exercising immediately and consult her doctor if she experiences any of these symptoms:
- Increased uterine contractions
- Vaginal bleeding or amniotic fluid leakage
- Shortness of breath
- Severe headache or visual disturbance
- Chest pain
- Calf pain or swelling
- Decreased fetal movement
Women who had a regular workout routine prior to becoming pregnant usually can continue it with some modifications along the way. Beginning exercisers should start slowly for 5-15 minutes per session, adding a few minutes over time until they can complete 30 minutes.
Low-impact activities typically are well-tolerated, but women should listen to their bodies and speak with their doctors to determine the best regimen for working out when pregnant.
- Walking – Simple and easy, indoors or outside. You can multitask and listen to music or audio books, walk the dog or catch up with a workout buddy. Dress for the weather, wear supportive shoes and keep an eye on the terrain to minimize risk of falling.
- Elliptical – With natural, total-body motion, this is a no-brainer for expectant exercisers. For variety, check out the LateralX from Octane Fitness to capitalize on unique side-to-side motion. Or use the xRide recumbent elliptical when you need a seat. Catch up on your DVR backlog at home or watch your favorite show during your routine at the gym.
- Cycling – While outdoor rides are refreshing, you can risk a fall, especially as your belly grows and your balance decreases. For indoor rides, try upright and recumbent stationary bikes, or air bikes like the Octane AirdyneX that delivers total-body efficiency plus a breeze. Or take indoor group cycling classes where some sessions let you watch your heart rate projected on a screen to monitor your intensity.
- Cross trainers – Choose from machines like Octane’s XT-One, which lets you walk, run, hike and climb; or the new Max Trainer, a total-body climber that’s easy on the joints and offers multiple resistance levels. Heath clubs usually have several cross-trainer models that offer exercise variety.
- Rowing – No impact, total-body, plus a seat! Bonus for the pregnant exerciser. This works lots of muscles and ranges from fairly light intensity to vigorous sweat sessions.
- Stairclimber – These tough workouts eventually may be too difficult as you lift your increasing body weight up endless flights of stairs. Keep the resistance level low, hold the handrails and opt for shorter sessions if you like this machine.
- Strength training – This is a great way to stay strong as your baby grows and you carry additional weight. You don’t have to strain to lift super heavy weights, but use machines, free weights, body weight or resistance bands to work the major muscles at least twice per week.
- Prenatal yoga – Yoga can help you stretch, build strength and improve balance so that you feel better during the demands of pregnancy. Plus, you can benefit from focused breathing, relaxation and linking the mind and body.
- Swimming or aqua exercise – Water feels great because buoyancy means you aren’t carrying your full body weight, and there’s less stress on your back and joints. You won’t overheat and can feel invigorated by a dip in the pool!
Working out while pregnant, no matter what exercises you do, is a smart, healthy habit. Keep it up!