Exercise During Pregnancy - What You Need to Know
Author Bio: Karina Wiatros is a content marketing & PR strategist, a fitness instructor at Farrell's eXtreme Bodyshaping in Minneapolis, and a mother of two (Isaac, 2.5 years, and Owen, 7 months). She enjoys running, kickboxing, and strength training, and maintained a high level of physical activity (with her doctor's blessing) throughout and following both of her pregnancies.
Note: This is a first-person account of one person’s experience with exercise during pregnancy. You should always consult your doctor about your personal circumstances before beginning your own exercise routine.
Pregnancy is an exciting time, but it can also be wildly overwhelming. You’ll spend months concerning yourself with the little human growing inside you – buying the right gear, making space in your home, choosing their name, cutting out certain foods (I really missed cold turkey sandwiches!), and sacrificing your body, all to ensure your little bundle of joy is safe and healthy.
As easy as it can be to lose yourself in your pregnancy, it’s important to take care of yourself, too. For me, that meant keeping up my exercise routine as much as I could. My workouts were the closest I felt to normalcy, and it felt good to take care of my body so I would be strong and healthy in growing my sweet boys.
Benefits to Exercise During Pregnancy
There are many reasons to exercise during pregnancy. Some women want to maintain mobility and do something simple and healthy. That’s great! Even walking can do wonders. Some women want to stay in shape during pregnancy. As long as your doctor approves, there’s nothing wrong with that! Maintaining an exercise routine during pregnancy can help keep excess weight off and speed up post-delivery recovery. And though it may sound counter intuitive, I found that exercise helped me counter the draining effects of morning sickness. Sipping on Bamboobies morning sickness relief drink mix and then moving my body helped stave off some of those unpleasant queasy moments.
Other benefits to exercise during pregnancy include:
- Reduced risk of pregnancy and delivery complications
- Improved mood
- Lower blood pressure (in some cases; I personally still developed preeclampsia in both of my pregnancies)
- Minor relief from some pregnancy aches and pains
- Improved sleep and increased energy
In my case, exercise was an opportunity to remind myself how much I was capable of. Before my first pregnancy, I was an avid runner (I completed my fourth marathon about a month and a half before learning I was pregnant) and attended regular kickboxing classes. By my second pregnancy, I was instructing both kickboxing and strength training classes and was still running regularly. To go from regularly feeling physically strong and active to sitting on the couch all day would have made me feel more tired, and it would have left me feeling weaker at a time I most needed to feel strong. So, I continued with my fitness routine (with my doctor’s blessing and a few adjustments, of course). The confidence I gained in continuing to work out during my pregnancies was huge in the delivery room! I also credit exercise with my relatively quick labors, even with babies weighing in over 9 lbs.
Adjustments and Considerations for Exercise During Pregnancy
Even with my fitness background, there were many adjustments I had to make to keep my babies and myself safe and healthy while I continued to exercise during pregnancy.
Fatigue was a big hurdle to overcome. In the first trimester, fatigue interfered with my motivation. This was exacerbated by morning sickness, which left me feeling even more run-down. By the third trimester, I had to be really careful to listen to my body and not allow fatigue to lead to injury. I had to find the balance between moving my body to combat fatigue and taking a break to rest when necessary.
When you’re pregnant, your body releases a hormone called “relaxin”, which loosens up your joints to make room for your growing baby. This begins in the first trimester and can leave you feeling a little less stable, especially when jumping or twisting. I had to be especially cautious during kickboxing workouts and while running to slow down as I started to feel a little more wobbly on my feet. By the last couple of months, I cut out jumping (subbing in air squats for jump squats, for instance) and took out twisting motions, such as roundhouse kicks. Remember: pregnancy is not the time to test your fitness limits! Any movement is going to be beneficial, and it’s ok to take it down a notch or two (or more!).
If you participate in any group fitness classes, you know that core work – especially targeting the abs – can be hard to avoid. Luckily, you don’t have to cut all ab exercises out while pregnant (as long as your healthcare provider approves)! In fact, a strong core can help you during pregnancy, as you’ll be carrying additional weight and shifting your center of gravity. A strong core can also help you push more efficiently during labor. You just have to be aware of necessary adjustments to your workouts as your baby grows. Typically, you can continue to do crunches, sit-ups, and other typical ab exercises during the first trimester, according to certified trainers interviewed by The Bump. Beyond that, you’ll need to rely on some modifications. Mainly, you’ll want to avoid any crunching or twisting of your abs or obliques after the first trimester, as these moves can separate your ab muscles and lead to diastasis recti. You’ll also want to avoid lying flat on your back after about 20 weeks, as the weight of your uterus against your vena cava (major blood vessel) can cut off circulation to you and your baby and leave you light-headed. I did a lot of planks, but there are other safe core exercises to try during pregnancy.
Heat and Hydration
Finally, it’s important to pay close attention to signs that you’re getting too hot or not drinking enough water. Pregnant women already need to drink more water (see guidelines per trimester here). When you add exercise, you should be adding water, too. If you feel thirsty, light-headed, more tired than usual, or foggy, you should stop exercising and hydrate. I also made a point of exercising on the outside of the room and near a fan whenever possible. If you’re pregnant in the heat of summer (my boys were born in June and July), take extra care to avoid the peak heat of the afternoon, and don’t be too stubborn to stay in and rest if it’s too hot.
Ultimately, how much you exercise during pregnancy comes down to your unique circumstances, and those can even vary from pregnancy to pregnancy. It’s important to talk to your doctor and listen to your body. But if you can keep moving throughout your pregnancy, I highly encourage it! It’s a great way to take care of yourself while preparing for motherhood, and it’s a great reminder of what you’re capable of.
Parents: The Benefits of Walking for Pregnant and New Moms
What to Expect: 13 Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy
American Council on Exercise: Relaxin: Pre- and Postnatal Exercise Considerations
The Bump: Your Guide to Safe Pregnancy Ab Workouts
Healthline: Diastasis Recti: What Is It, and How Is It Treated?
What to Expect: Exercises to Avoid During Pregnancy
Healthline: How Much Water Should a Pregnant Woman Drink?