Exercise during pregnancy

Some women think that pregnancy is a time to sit back and put their feet up. Not so! For most women, it’s important to be active during pregnancy. In fact, exercise during pregnancy can be really good for you.

Healthy pregnant women need at least 2½ hours of exercise each week. This is about 30 minutes each day. If this sounds like a lot, don’t worry. You don’t have to do it all at once. Instead, split up your exercise by doing something active for 10 minutes three times each day.

Why is physical activity during pregnancy good for you? 

For healthy pregnant women, exercise can:

  • Keep your heart, body and mind healthy
  • Help you feel good and find the extra energy you need
  • Help you stay fit and gain the right amount of weight during pregnancy
  • Ease some of the discomforts you might have during pregnancy, like constipation, backaches, trouble sleeping and varicose veins (swollen veins)
  • Prevent health problems like preeclampsia and gestational diabetes
  • Help your body get ready to give birth
  • Help reduce stress

Can physical activity during pregnancy hurt your baby? 

With your health care provider’s OK, exercising during pregnancy is safe for you and your baby. Talk to your health care provider before you start any exercise program. Ask about what kinds of activities are safe for you to do.

Is physical activity safe for all pregnant women?

No. Not every woman should exercise during pregnancy. Don’t exercise if you have:

  • Heart problems that affect blood flow
  • Preterm labor. Preterm labor is labor that happens too early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
  • An incompetent cervix. This is a cervix that opens too early, before the baby is full term.
  • Lung disease
  • A pregnancy with twins, triplets or more (also called multiples). Being pregnant with multiples increases your chances for having preterm labor.
  • Vaginal bleeding during the second or third trimesters (from 4 months of pregnancy on) that doesn’t go away
  • Ruptured membranes (when your water breaks)
  • Preeclampsia. This is a condition that can happen after the 20th week of pregnancy or right after pregnancy. It’s when a pregnant woman has high blood pressure and signs that some of her organs, like her kidneys and liver, may not be working properly. Some of these signs include having protein in the urine, changes in vision and severe headache.
  • Placenta previa. This is when the placenta sits low in the uterus and covers all or part of the cervix. The placenta supplies the baby with food and oxygen through the umbilical cord. The cervix is the opening to the uterus that sits at the top of the vagina.

Ask your provider if it’s safe for you to exercise if:

What types of activities are best during pregnancy? 

If your provider says it’s OK for you to exercise, pick activities you think you’ll enjoy. Some hospitals and health clubs offer aerobics and prenatal yoga classes for pregnant women. Or try things you can do with your partner or friends, like walking or dancing.

Swimming is a great activity for pregnant women. The water supports the weight of your growing body, and moving against it keeps your heart rate up.

If you exercised before you were pregnant, it’s usually safe to continue your activities during pregnancy. Check with your provider to make sure. As your pregnancy continues and your belly gets bigger, you may need to change some activities or ease up on your workout.

If you didn’t exercise before you were pregnant, start slowly. Try to build up your fitness little by little.

What kinds of activities aren't safe during pregnancy? 

Be careful and check with your provider when choosing your activities. During pregnancy, don't do:

  • Any activity that may hurt you or cause you to fall, like horseback riding, downhill skiing, gymnastics or bike riding
  • Any sport in which you can get hit in the belly, like ice hockey, kickboxing, soccer or basketball
  • After the third month of pregnancy, any exercises that make you lie flat on your back, like sit-ups. Lying on your back can limit the flow of blood to your baby.
  • Any sport that has a lot of jerky, bouncing movements
  • Scuba diving. This can lead to dangerous gas bubbles in your baby's blood vessels.
  • Exercising at high altitudes (more than 6,000 feet). This can lower the amount of oxygen that reaches your baby.
  • Activities outside on hot, humid days because your body can overheat. Also, stay out of saunas, hot tubs and steam rooms.

When you exercise, drink lots of water. Pay attention to your body and how you feel. Stop your activity and call your provider if you have any of these signs:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Dizziness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Headache
  • Chest pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Pain or swelling in your lower legs
  • Contractions
  • Leaking amniotic fluid
  • Your baby stops moving.

Does pregnancy change how your body responds to exercise? 

Yes. During pregnancy, your body changes in many ways. When you’re being active, you may notice these changes:

  • Breathing. You need more oxygen when you’re pregnant, especially in your second and third trimesters. Your growing belly puts pressure on your lungs, making them work harder in a smaller space. You may even find yourself feeling short of breath at times.
  • Heart rate. Your heart works harder and beats quicker during pregnancy to get oxygen to your baby. You may have less energy for exercise.
  • Body temperature. You start sweating sooner than you did before pregnancy. To protect yourself and your baby from overheating, your body starts sweating at a lower body temperature.
  • Balance. As your body changes during pregnancy, so does your sense of balance. You may notice that you lose your balance more easily.
  • Joints. Your hormones (chemicals made by the body) are at high levels during pregnancy. This can make the tissues in your body more relaxed. Try to avoid any movements that may strain or hurt your joints.

Can being active during pregnancy help you after pregnancy? 

Yes. Once your baby is born, being active can help you regain your energy and get back to your prepregnancy weight. It also can help prevent the baby blues. Baby blues are feelings of sadness that some women have in the first few days after having a baby.

Once your baby is born, when can you start exercising again? 

You may feel ready to exercise again a few days after your baby is born. Or you may want to wait longer. With your health provider's OK, you can start light exercise as soon as you feel up to it.

If you were active during your pregnancy, it’s easier to get back into exercise after your baby is born. Just be sure to start slowly. If you feel pain or have other problems during exercise, stop doing the activity and talk to your provider. If you had a cesarean section (also called c-section), don’t exercise until your provider says it’s OK. A c-section is surgery in which your baby is born through a cut your provider makes in your belly and uterus.

Last reviewed: March, 2012