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Exercise and Pregnancy: A Healthy Combination

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Exercise during pregnancy is not only safe, it’s increasingly recommended. The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends that healthy women get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise a week. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), 30 minutes per day of moderate exercise on most if not all days of the week is recommended to pregnant women who have no medical or obstetric complications.

The Benefits of Exercising During Pregnancy

Some benefits of exercising regularly during pregnancy can include:

  • Weight control
  • Stronger abdominal and back muscles, which improves posture and may lessen back pain
  • Increased energy levels
  • Improved mood
  • Preparation for phsyical demands of labor
  • Enhanced quality of sleep

Recommended Exercises

The best exercises for pregnancy are those that put minimal stress on the joints, involve smooth movements, and have a low risk of falling or body contact. Great exercises include swimming, walking, stationary biking, and elliptical machines.

Activities to Limit or Avoid

Some activities pose increased risks in pregnancy and should be limited or avoided. These include:

  • Scuba diving
  • Activities that present an increased risk of falling (eg, skiing, skating)
  • Sports with a high potential for contact (eg, ice hockey, soccer)
  • Exercising at high altitudes (over 6,000 feet)
  • Activity that involves lying flat on your back
  • Resistance training with heavy weights

Exercise Duration and Frequency

Exercising for 30 minutes a day on most days of the week is all that’s needed to maintain fitness and achieve related benefits. Women who wish to exercise for longer than 45 minutes should speak to their doctors before doing so. Getting your exercise in 10-minute spurts is also fine. As long as you exercise at a moderate or vigorous pace for at least 10 minutes, these short bursts of exercise can count toward your overall goal.

Other Factors to Consider
  • Balance: As your body shape changes, so does your balance, which could put you at a greater risk of falling.
  • Temperature regulation: Exercising in a controlled, air-conditioned environment will help keep temperature levels in check. And in general it’s a good idea to wear layers of clothes and exercise during the cooler hours of the day. Also, drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.
  • Nutrition: Women who are pregnant need an extra 300 calories per day during the last six months of pregnancy. Exercising may further increase your calorie needs.

If you were sedentary before pregnancy, do not despair. You can still reap the benefits of exercise by gradually working up to 30 minutes per day. Realize that pregnancy is not the time for making significant gains in your fitness level—or for athletic competition. Competitive athletes who wish to maintain a more strenuous exercise schedule throughout pregnancy should do so only under the close supervision of their doctors.

Before You Begin

Talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise program during pregnancy and be sure to follow up with regular check-ups. Additionally, if you notice any of the following symptoms, stop exercising immediately and contact your doctor:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Chest pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Calf pain or swelling
  • Preterm labor
  • Unusual change in your baby’s movement
  • Amniotic fluid leakage

Although it may be wise to proceed with a little more care then usual, pregnant women who are medically cleared should feel free to partake in a wide array of activities. Exercising during pregnancy has many benefits, including an improved sense of well-being. It’s probably the best way to prepare for the physical demands of motherhood.

After Baby Arrives

Regular exercise can also be helpful after your baby has arrived. Exercise during the postpartum period can boost your mood and help you maintain a healthy weight.

RESOURCES:

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
http://www.acog.org/

National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases
http://win.niddk.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology
http://www.csep.ca/

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
http://www.sogc.org

References:

Exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. . Available at: http://www.acog.org/Resources_And_Publications/Committee_Opinions/Committee_on_Obstetric_Practice/Exercise_During_Pregnancy_and_the_Postpartum_Period. Published January 2002

Fit for two: Tips for pregnancy. Weight-control Information Network website. Available at: http://win.niddk.nih.gov/publications/two.htm. Updated November 2009. Accessed June 18, 2012.

Healthy Pregnant or Postpartum Women. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/pregnancy.html. Updated March 30, 2011. Accessed June 18, 2012.

Kramer MS, McDonald SW. Aerobic exercise for women during pregnancy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006 Jul 19;3:CD000180.



Last reviewed June 2012 by Brian P. Randall, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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