Published:
November 19, 2021
Last Updated:
November 22, 2021

Pregnancy Exercises: The Best Wellness Tips for Pregnancy

When you’re growing a human – and experiencing all the side effects that come with it – lacing up your running sneakers and hitting the gym might be the last thing on your mind. However, more and more research shows that exercising while pregnant is beneficial for both mom and baby.

Why Is Exercise Good During Pregnancy? Six Reasons to Exercise during Pregnancy

Exercise is good for you, whether you’re pregnant or not. The recommended amount and duration of exercise during pregnancy is the same as for everyone else: around 30 minutes of moderate-intensity movements (think brisk walks), at least five days per week. If you weren’t exercising regularly before getting pregnant, start slowly, at around 10 minutes per day (it’s even better if you can work with a professional, like a certified personal trainer, who understands the nuances of physical activity while pregnant). If you exercised before getting pregnant, great! Keep up your routine, as long as your doctor gives you the go-ahead.

1. It boosts mental health.

You’ve heard of postnatal or postpartum depression, but feelings of helplessness and hopelessness during pregnancy (called prenatal depression) are more common than you may realize. Hormone levels are high during pregnancy, so it’s no surprise that 7% of pregnant people experience depression or anxiety. Exercise releases dopamine and serotonin, both of which are considered “feel-good” hormones, into the bloodstream.

2. It alleviates aches and pains.

Pregnancy can be very uncomfortable, for several reasons. Weight gain puts extra stress on your lower back, hips, knees, and ankles. Your center of gravity shifts as your baby grows, causing your posture to slant forward. Hormones released during pregnancy soften the ligaments in your pelvis and loosen your joints to prepare for birth; these changes can affect your posture, too. Low-impact exercises, like swimming, cycling, and walking, can help alleviate some of the discomfort you feel, especially near the end of your pregnancy.

3. It lowers blood pressure.

Blood pressure can rise during pregnancy; a significant increase could be a sign of preeclampsia, a dangerous condition that can be fatal for both mom and baby. “By strengthening your heart and blood vessels through workouts, you’re prepping your body to tackle another physical challenge yet to come: labor and delivery,” explains Natasha Ross, a pre- and post-natal certified personal trainer. Staying active can keep your blood pressure in check, thus preventing common complications. Diet can be a factor in blood pressure, too. Good nutrition during pregnancy is just as important as keeping active.

4. It relieves constipation.

Constipation is a common problem during pregnancy. Your growing uterus can press against your large and small intestines, constricting the flow of waste. Progesterone hormones also relax the intestinal muscle, decreasing the motions that keep food and waste moving through and out, causing a major slowdown and resulting in constipation. A low-fiber diet also plays a role in constipation, so it’s important to keep hydrated and eat plenty of high-fiber foods.

5. It improves sleep.

While getting good sleep may be a problem for many of us, a large number of pregnant people complain about having a harder time falling and staying asleep, particularly near the end of the third trimester. Heartburn, back pain, and constant waking in order to pee all disrupt sleep. Exercise releases endorphins that help you relax, and it can increase your internal body temperature. This increase is followed – naturally – by a decrease, once you’ve finished your workout; this signals to your body that it’s time for rest.

6. It can shorten recovery time.

Labor is one of the most physically strenuous things your body can go through ‒ and having a healthy body that’s been prepared with exercise makes it easier for you to recover postpartum. Exercise can also help limit the severity of and chance of developing diastasis recti, a condition where the large abdominal muscles separate, during pregnancy.

Five Safe and Effective Pregnancy Exercises

Most exercises are safe during pregnancy, but because each person and pregnancy are different, it's important to consult your doctor before starting any exercise program. Low-impact and body-weight exercises are typically recommended during pregnancy, but it’s up to you and your physician (and your specialized personal trainer) to determine what’s best for your situation.

1. Yoga

Yoga is a popular form of exercise for before, during, and after pregnancy. Prenatal yoga can improve sleep quality, reduce stress, and increase the flexibility and muscle strength needed for childbirth.

2. Swimming and water aerobics

Pregnant bellies are heavy, particularly near the end of the pregnancy. Taking a dip in a swimming pool can help relieve pressure on your spine, hips, knees, ankles, and pelvis, if you want to exercise without the added weight. Water workouts even contribute to “fewer exercise-related injuries and muscle strains than other, dry-land aerobic activities,” according to Penn Medicine.

woman sitting outside with mug in front of plant

3. Walking

Walking works the cardiovascular system without putting too much stress on your joints. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), walking doesn’t carry much risk and doesn’t increase the possibility of pregnancy complications — like early labor, low birth weight, or miscarriage — for most people.

4. Stationary biking

Doctors recommend stationary biking as opposed to outdoor cycling, since there’s little to no risk of falling off the nonmoving bike. If you didn’t cycle often before pregnancy, start slowly and aim for lower-intensity rides.

5. Kegels

Pelvic floor exercises strengthen the muscles, tissues, and ligaments stretching from the pubic bone to the end of the spine. These muscles support the uterus, bladder, intestines, bowels, and vaginal muscles, which are needed during labor and delivery. Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles before and during pregnancy will also improve recovery after pregnancy.

Exercises to Avoid During Pregnancy

Not all exercises are safe to perform while pregnant. This is especially true if you are considered high-risk ‒ which includes being pregnant with multiples and having gestational diabetes, anemia, preeclampsia, or other pregnancy-related conditions. During pregnancy, it’s suggested to avoid:

  • Activities that involve jerky, bouncing movements, such as skiing, horseback riding, gymnastics, and skating
  • Any activity that raises the risk of being hit in the belly, like soccer, basketball, or boxing
  • Exercising at a high altitude, unless you already live in a high-altitude environment; exercising at high altitudes during pregnancy can lower the amount of oxygen the baby receives
  • Activities that increase body temperature too much, like hot yoga, and spending time in a sauna or hot tub. This can cause hyperthermia, a condition that occurs when your body temperature gets too high, which can cause birth defects. Pregnancy can also raise your likelihood of becoming dehydrated on hot days, so it’s recommended to replenish liquids before or soon after exercise.
  • Exercises that involve lying flat on your back for extended periods of time should be avoided. “Once the belly becomes more visible, the weight of your enlarging uterus could compress major blood vessels and restrict circulation to you and your baby,” warns Ross.

Exercises Routines for Different Stages of Pregnancy

Each trimester brings new challenges and changes. Cardio exercises like walking, jogging, swimming, and stationary cycling are commonly done throughout pregnancy. As your belly grows, modifying your exercises to accommodate your growing bump will likely be needed.

In the first trimester

You may find your energy levels very low during your first trimester (your body is going through major changes), so low-impact exercise might be best for you. Nausea is another common occurrence during these first months, and you may have a hard time finding the energy or motivation to exercise at all. If you didn’t have a robust exercise regimen before getting pregnant, start with easy, slow-paced exercises, like walking, to help get you more active.

Working with a trained professional is very helpful as they can provide safe modifications. “The important thing here is to really pay attention to your body and how you are feeling, which is going to change daily,” says Ross. “Are you over exerting yourself? A good way to determine that is by using the Talk Test; the harder you work, the more breathless you become and the harder it is to talk. By monitoring that, you can determine whether you're working at a lower intensity, a moderate intensity and a high intensity.” Ross advises to stop working out if you get light-headed or are unusually short of breath, feel contractions or decreased fetal movement, have any vaginal bleeding or fluid leaking, dizziness, heart palpitations, pain in your back or pelvis.

In the second trimester

A second-trimester workout routine should focus on strengthening the postural muscles so that you stay strong and pain-free throughout your pregnancy. As babies develop in the womb, they need to make more room. This rapid growth stretches your body, often past discomfort and into pain. The second trimester usually brings more energy than the first, so you may feel more up to exercising on a regular basis.

In the third trimester

The third trimester is the home stretch of pregnancy, and your new center of gravity may throw you off balance during workouts. Try water aerobics for a weightless workout. Pelvic floor exercises can help strengthen the muscles you’ll need for labor and delivery.

In the fourth trimester

Yes – the fourth trimester. This is the period after birth when you’re recovering, and it can take anywhere from several weeks to many months. Exercise during this time isn’t always recommended, especially if you’ve had a difficult delivery. As long as you’ve been cleared by your healthcare provider, do what you’re comfortable doing.

The Bottom Line

For most, exercising while pregnant is safe and healthy. Regular exercise during pregnancy is important for your physical and mental well-being ‒ and it’s good for baby, too. Exercise can prevent backaches, improve posture, relieve stress, and prepare you for labor and delivery. Be sure to work with your physician if you have concerns about exercising while pregnant. If you’re looking for some help getting started, Health Coaches provide resources and support in planning and maintaining a wellness routine during pregnancy, post-natal, and every stage of your life.

Author Biography
Katy Weniger
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IIN Content Writer

Katy holds a bachelor’s in English with a concentration in creative writing and advertising from Rider University. After jobs in the field of finance, she wanted to transition to an industry that focused on helping others be their best selves, and discovered IIN.

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