Exercising During and After Pregnancy

By Myrah M.

Most pregnant women constantly worry about the wellbeing of their baby and how their actions can impact the health of their baby. You worry if you’re eating right and if you’re doing things right. You may already have an at home fetal doppler monitor to make sure your baby is safe. If you’ve been active or want to become more active, you have probably wondered if you can safely exercise without hurting your baby. Well, as long as you have an uncomplicated pregnancy and the doctor has given you the go-ahead to do so, the answer is YES!

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), physical exercise in all phases of life, including pregnancy, has many health benefits. Physical activity and exercise pose minimal risk to pregnant women, and with some modification to the routines to accommodate for the changing body and the growing baby, pregnant women should be able to safely continue exercising.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggests that pregnant women should engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week during and after their pregnancy. This can be spread out in intervals throughout the week. Under the guidance of their doctor, women who had been involved in higher intensity exercise and physical activity pre-pregnancy can continue these activities during and after their pregnancy, with some modification for comfort as their pregnancy progresses.

Benefits of exercising during pregnancy

The last thing you might want to do during pregnancy is exercise! You’re most likely feeling tired and out of it, at least in the first trimester when your hormones are all going crazy, as well as in the last trimester where you are possibly exhausted from carrying an entire human being in the womb. But exercising during pregnancy, unless directed otherwise by the doctor, has so many benefits for you.

Unlike most times when you are trying to keep in shape, exercising during pregnancy is not just for losing weight since healthy weight gain during pregnancy is important for the wellbeing of you and your baby.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, exercising during pregnancy will reduce your risk of gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension, and cesarean birth.

Exercise during pregnancy also helps to:

  • Boost your mood
  • Reduce back and pelvic pain
  • Reduce constipation
  • Promote strength and endurance
  • Maintain a healthy weight gain
  • Lose weight after the baby
  • Maintain overall fitness
  • Regulate blood pressure
  • Improve sleep
  • Reduce symptoms of postpartum depression
  • Speed up post-partum recovery

How to be safe while exercising during pregnancy

If you have been cleared by your doctor to engage in exercise, here are some tips from ACOG to help you exercise safely:

  • Drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise to prevent dehydration and overheating
  • Wear supportive clothing like a sports bra or a belly support belt
  • Wear loose-fitting clothes to prevent overheating
  • Do not exercise outside when it is very hot or humid
  • Avoid exercises that require you to lie flat on your back
  • If you feel light-headed or faint, stop
  • Talk to your doctor if you notice any bleeding or unusual discharge

The Best Pregnancy Exercises by Trimester

If you have no restrictions on your pregnancy, then you should be able to enjoy any exercise without a lot of modifications during the first trimester as long as you keep your heartrate under 140 beats per minute. As your pregnancy progresses, certain exercises might become harder due to the growing baby. By the end of the second trimester, you may find yourself struggling to find your center of balance, so exercises like outdoor biking and running could be more challenging. By your third trimester and into post-partum, you might find low-impact exercises more comfortable. Here are a few exercises you can try for each trimester.

First trimester

Pelvic Floor Holds (Kegels) – Your growing baby exerts a lot of stress on the pelvic floor during pregnancy, leading to post-pregnancy stress incontinence. Post-pregnancy stress incontinence is where a woman uncontrollably leaks urine when she sneezes or coughs. Once you are able to isolate the pelvic floor muscles, you can do this exercise anywhere and anytime by holding your pelvic floor in for up to 10 seconds at a time. If you are having difficulty figuring out how to isolate your pelvic muscle, discuss this with your healthcare provider; however, the easiest way to identify your pelvic floor muscles is by imagining that you are trying to stop the flow of urine while holding in gas at the same time.

Running– If you were a runner prior to getting pregnancy and have no restrictions from your doctor, you can safely incorporate running into your physical activity. If you are new to running, your first trimester might not be a good time to pick up the activity. Instead, opt for a brisk walk or slow jog to keep you in shape and get your heart rate up. Try running on flat surfaces like sidewalks and tracks to protect your joints.

Resistance Training – If you were already doing resistance training prior to pregnancy, and your doctor has given you the go-ahead to exercise, you can safely continue resistance training. Be careful to modify your routine for any discomfort. Do speak with your doctor if you are planning on adding weightlifting to your routine, especially if you haven’t lifted weights in the past. For your core, simple planks and crunches can still be safely done in the first trimester. You can try some curls for your triceps and biceps. During this time, avoid lifting weights while lying on your back or any exercise that requires you to bend forward at your hips while lifting a weight.

Second Trimester

Mermaid Stretch – As your baby grows, you will start to feel increased pressure on your diaphragm and ribs, making it harder to breathe. The mermaid stretch is a Pilates mat exercise that lengthens the muscles between the ribs and pelvis, causing your chest to fully expand, making breathing feel easier. The mermaid stretch also helps to prevent diastasis recti, a separation of the abdominal muscles due to excessive stretching as the baby grows, leading to a near permanent postpartum bulging belly.

Swimming and water aerobics – Water exercises are one of the safest pregnancy exercise regimens you could do. You can swim daily if you want, as swimming is a full cardio workout that can increase your endurance and strength. Water sports is perfect for soothing swollen feet and an aching back. If you enjoy swimming, try breaststrokes since they do not require you to twist from side to side, or simply tread water to get a good workout.

Third Trimester

Prenatal Yoga – Prenatal yoga is an ideal, low-impact exercise for expectant mothers. During your third semester, it is best to avoid activities that require jumping, hopping, and skipping. Yoga is not only beneficial as a form of exercise, but it is also helpful in boosting mood, reducing depression, reducing anxiety, and managing stress. Yoga also promotes good sleep.

Prenatal Pilates – Pilates is another low-impact exercise ideal for expectant moms. This exercise helps you build core stability during pregnancy which will help reduce back pain. Pilates also helps strengthen your abdominal muscle, getting them ready for pushing out your baby. Pilates eases labor, controls blood pressure, and reduces both the risk of a cesarean birth and birth complications.

Fourth Trimester (Postpartum)

Kegels is one of the best postpartum exercises. Kegels include exercises that strengthen the pelvic floor and vaginal wall muscles. It also reduces the risk of postpartum fecal and urinary incontinence. If you had a normal delivery, you can begin Kegel exercises as soon as you feel up to it. However, if you had a cesarean delivery or other complications such as severe vaginal tears, do not begin Kegel exercises without first talking to your doctor. Once your doctor gives you the green light to go back to exercising, you can pick up your old exercises at a slower pace until you feel up to going full speed.

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