As someone who gets 75% of her sanity from regular exercise, when I found out I was pregnant last February, I suddenly started thinking twice about lacing up my running sneakers. Would my regular four-mile runs hurt the baby or me? What about the yoga classes I went to three or four times a week?
While I was lucky enough to have an easy first trimester without any nausea or energy dips, I did have a little bit of spotting. That only made my anxiety about exercise worse, which made me want to exercise more… and so the cycle continued.
What I wish I’d had back then was an expert-approved guide to how much I could actually exercise while pregnant. And while you should always consult your doctor with any specific questions, here’s a roadmap to help you get started.
Is It Safe To Exercise While You’re Pregnant?
The answer to this, according to OB/GYN and sexual health advisor Angela Jones, is a resounding yes. “Exercise during pregnancy does a body good and a pregnancy even better,” she explains. “Exercise helps expectant moms feel better and it gives them more energy. Exercise also helps stave off certain medical conditions such as gestational diabetes or hypertensive disorders that may occur during pregnancy.”
Another major perk of exercising during pregnancy? An easier labor and delivery. “Exercise helps moms get ‘fit’ for labor,” Jones says. “Labor means work. A more fit body is able to perform better during the labor and delivery aspect of the pregnancy.”
But how much exercise should you be getting, exactly? “The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity weekly,” Jones notes. “If you are active enough to raise your heart rate, break a sweat, and still speak in complete sentences, you’re probably hitting the mark.”
That said, some people do need to be more careful than others when it comes to exercising while pregnant. When my doctor investigated my particular spotting issue (which unfortunately continued until the 20-week mark), she said that while the baby was fine, the intensity of my exercise was probably causing irritation, which was what was leading to the spotting. She recommended shifting from running to walking and light yoga.
While my situation was mild, there are other more serious cases when exercise should be put on hold for a while. “In the case of certain types of heart or lung disease, cervical insufficiency (or if you have a cervical cerclage in place) or placenta previa, you should back off the exercise,” says Jones. “Other reasons could include hypertensive disorders such as preeclampsia, risks of preterm labor, or if your water has broken, or you’re anemic. These are all situations where exercise would not be recommended during pregnancy.”
Everyone’s situation is different, though, so the most important thing you can do is chat with your doctor to get exercise recommendations based on your specific pregnancy.
In most cases, working out while pregnant is totally fine. But not all workouts are created equal, especially because as your belly grows, some forms of exercise will just get uncomfortable. “Many women enjoy dancing, swimming, water aerobics, yoga, Pilates, biking, or walking,” says Jamie Hickey, a personal trainer and nutritionist. “Swimming is especially appealing, as it gives you the welcome buoyancy of floatability or the feeling of weightlessness. Try for a combination of cardio, strength, and flexibility exercises.”
And then there’s the “workout” that was recommended to me: walking. “Many experts recommend walking because it’s easy to vary the pace, add hills, and add distance,” says Hickey. “If you’re just starting, begin with a moderately brisk pace for a mile, three days a week. Add a couple of minutes every week, pick up the pace a bit, and eventually add hills to your route. Whether you’re a pro or a novice, go slowly for the first five minutes to warm up and use the last five minutes to cool down.”
There are also some moves that you should flat-out avoid while you’re pregnant, according to Hickey. These include bouncing, anything that requires you to lie flat on your back (after the first trimester), leaping, or sudden changes of direction. And if you’re a yogi like I am, avoid doing closed twists as they put a lot of pressure on the abdomen.
Long story short: For most people, exercise is a very good idea when you’re pregnant and comes with endless benefits. If you’re concerned, chat with your doctor so you can find the right pregnancy workout regimen for you.
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