Exercising During Pregnancy

Exercising During Pregnancy

Whether you are appropriate for an exercise routine during your pregnancy is a discussion you should have with your OBGYN during the first few weeks of your pregnancy.  There are some conditions in which special considerations should be made in regards to exercise, we will cover some of them below.

Contraindications to Exercise:

Women with certain conditions or complications during pregnancy, should not exercise during pregnancy, some of these conditions may include, but are not limited to:

  • Severe anemia, or low levels of blood or red blood cells, typically related to iron levels
  • Multiples; being pregnant with twins, or more, may have a higher risk for preterm labor
  • Preterm labor, or ruptured membranes during the pregnancy
  • Preeclampsia; pregnancy induced high blood pressure, often presenting with other physical conditions with the possibility of organ damage
  • Placenta previa after 26 weeks; a condition in which part or all of the uterine opening is covered by the placenta which is set low
  • Cervical insufficiency; the inability of the cervix to maintain/retain a pregnancy during the second trimester
  • Certain types of heart and/or lung disease

Considerations of your body’s changes, and how that can affect exercise:

Weight Changes:  With increasing weight gain, specifically located at your abdomen, this can alter your body’s sense of position during exercise.  Due to this your center of mass, and ultimately your balance will change and be challenged. It is important to avoid activities in which if you were to lose your balance, you would be in danger of hurting yourself, or your child.

Hormonal Changes:  As your body prepares for the birth of your child, it secretes a hormone which is known to cause ligamentous laxity.  Due to this hormone, it makes it much easier for you to sustain and injury of your joints while exercising. Therefore it is beneficial to avoid quick, bouncing, or high impact exercise, which could increase your risk of injury.

Precautions to take while exercising:

  • Avoid overheating.  Avoid exercising outside when it is hot or humid.
  • Hydration.  Ensure you are drinking adequate water before, during and after you exercise.
  • Overexertion.  Recommended heart rate during exercise while pregnant is 140 bpm or less.  
  • Proper support.  Wearing adequate support for your breasts and growing belly can be beneficial for your comfort during exercise.  Proper sports bras, and pregnancy belts can help with extra support.
  • Avoid standing still or laying on your back.  Standing still can cause blood to pool in your lower extremities, which can cause a decrease in your blood pressure for a short period of time.  Laying on your back, especially during second and third trimesters, causes the uterus to press on the large vein that returns the blood in your lower body to your heart.  This pressure can also cause increased swelling of the legs as well as temporary low blood pressure.


  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends pregnant women exercise for at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity, weekly.  Moderate intensity would be described as an activity in which you begin to sweat, but could still carry on a conversation.

Safe Exercises:

  • Walking, swimming, water aerobics, stationary cycling, prenatal yoga, prenatal pilates.
  • If you are an avid runner/jogger, you may be able to continue those activities into your pregnancy, but need to discuss them with your OBGYN.

Exercises to Avoid:

  • Contact sports, activities that could result in a fall (ie. skiing, surfing, off-road biking, gymnastics, horseback riding, etc.), Hot yoga/pilates, Scuba diving

When to stop exercising:

The following symptoms would be indicative of exercise cessation, and immediate medical attention:

  • Vaginal bleeding or fluid leaking
  • Premature vaginal contractions
  • Decreased fetal movement
  • Dizziness or feelings of faintness
  • Excessive shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Muscle weakness
  • Calf pain or swelling
  • Increased heart rate (over 140 bpm)

If you have had a regular exercise routine prior to your pregnancy, you should be able to continue that throughout your pregnancy.  Exercise does not increase the risk of miscarriage during a normal low risk pregnancy. Ultimately, it is important to discuss pregnancy exercise guidelines with your OBGYN and physical therapist to ensure a healthy and safe routine during pregnancy.

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