Exercise and Pregnancy

02.16.2012 / Blog Posts Health and Wellness

AP Photo

By Becky Johnson, Certified Personal Trainer (ACE); IBNFC Certified Nutrition Coach

For many moms-to-be, the news of pregnancy is filled with excitement, anticipation, anxiety and a promise to do everything right for the little bundle of joy. The question of whether to continue or begin an exercise program for your health and the baby often comes up.

The first step to help answer this question is to check with your doctor. While exercise during pregnancy is usually encouraged, under some circumstances exercise should be avoided to prevent risks to the fetus and the mother. Only after a thorough clinical evaluation can a doctor determine your exercise risks, if any.


Exercise during pregnancy offers many physical and emotional benefits. For, example, a good exercise program may relieve common problems associated with pregnancy, such as excessive weight gain that we all fear, swelling of the hands and feet (that would be me!), leg cramps, varicose veins (me!), insomnia (me, again!), fatigue and constipation (that too). On the bright side you can look forward to improved posture and circulation, reduced back aches, and increased mood and energy. Plus, you’ll feel better knowing you’re doing something good for yourself and your baby and it may even be easier to lose the weight after you have given birth by staying in shape throughout your pregnancy!


The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that pregnant women who have been cleared to exercise by their physicians engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most, if not all, days of the week. Walking, swimming, cycling and moderate intensity aerobics are highly effective and generally safe during pregnancy, even for beginners. Running, racquet sports, and strength training, when done in moderation, are safe for pregnant women who had been participating in these activities before being pregnant.

When designing your exercise program, take into account the changes you’re experiencing such as new body alignment, different posture, reduced strength and endurance and extra weight (up to 25 to 40 pounds), which places stress on your joints and muscles and makes your heart work harder. The key is to let your body be your guide. For instance, when I was pregnant with my second son, I had to stop taking my favorite step class because my balance was off and I couldn’t see the step because of my belly! You know you’re at a good intensity when you can talk normally and not become exhausted too quickly.

After the first trimester, all pregnant women should avoid exercises that require them to lie on their backs in a supine position. This can cause you to feel dizzy and faint when you stand up and it decreases blood flow to you and your baby. Avoid sports and activities with increased risk of trauma or falling, such as ice skating/hockey, soccer, basketball, gymnastics, horseback riding, scuba diving and skiing to name a few. Just use your common sense as to whether it may be safe or not.

Since you are exercising with a baby on board, you should pay close attention to signs that something is not right for either you or your baby. If you experience any of the following symptoms, stop exercising and call your doctor:

*Shortness of breath before exercising
*Vaginal bleeding
*Chest pain
*Muscle weakness
*Calf pain or swelling
*Preterm labor


Pregnancy exercises are an important part of a healthy pregnancy. The benefits are many as mentioned above along with decreased labor, fewer labor complications, faster postpartum recovery and faster postpartum weight loss. Here are some great exercises that work well for many women:

Walking - It can be modified for many fitness levels including beginners. And you can do it anywhere!

Yoga - The combined exercise and relaxation that yoga brings is a welcomed addition to your exercise routine. Avoid hot yoga and more strenuous forms. Many women like yoga so much that they continue after childbirth. Your instructor should be able to give you modifications for certain poses.

Pilates - Pilates can be modified for anyone and is also great postpartum. Since the core muscles are prime in Pilates and very used in pregnancy be sure to find an instructor who is qualified to work with pregnant women.

Swimming - Many mothers enjoy swimming in pregnancy. The water provides comfort in the weightless environment because it helps reduce stress and strain on muscles that are being stretched and challenged in pregnancy.

Exercising during pregnancy has so many benefits. I know you will have days where getting out of bed is almost physically impossible and walking on a treadmill may seem daunting but you will feel so much better by being active for you and your baby.

Stay fit and healthy,

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