The Do’s and Don’ts of Exercising Throughout Pregnancy
“I'm pregnant!” The moment a woman realises this, she feels more responsible to take care of her health, as this would reflect on her unborn child’s health.
A lot of my prenatal clients have expressed that they are not sure what exercise they can do while pregnant, so they give up. But prenatal exercise is not only safe during most pregnancies, but it also eases many pregnancy discomforts and possibly shorten your labour and delivery and recovery time. I would love to see as many women as possible continuing.
So before you start working out for two, it’s good to know what is suitable for a pregnant body.
Pregnancy is not the time to try to increase your fitness or lose weight. Instead, your goal for the next nine months is to maintain your current fitness level, maintain your deep core strength and avoid gaining too much weight.
Free eBook: How to Have a Shorter, Less Painful Birth
Plus a 30 minute Prenatal Pilates video!
(And all the new ones I'll be recording soon!)
Your key focus areas will be your deep core strength and preparing your body for the future growth of your baby. Have any issues tended to by a good physiotherapist eg, pelvic pain.
The key areas to focus on include maintaining correct posture, core stability and balance as the belly and breasts grow.
It’s now time to prepare your body for the labour, focusing on keeping your spine mobile, hip flexibility and strengthening the pelvic floor.
- Seek Your Doctors Advice
No single pregnancy is the same and what applies to another woman may not apply to you. Conditions such as diabetes, high/low blood pressure, plus pregnancy related conditions such as incompetent cervix, history of premature birth, placenta previa, breech baby in the third trimester, etc can be complicated by an improper exercise routine. Consult with your doctor before beginning or continuing your exercise routine when you find out that you are pregnant.
- Listen To Your Body
Your body is your best guide to the changes that happen throughout pregnancy. If you experience any form of discomfort, pain or fatigue, stop, immediately. There are chances that you may perform an exercise that is not suitable for you, even one that is prescribed for a pregnant woman, if a pain persists go to a doctor as soon as possible. Trust your instincts.
- Wear Suitable Clothing
Wear loose, comfortable clothing. Layers are good so you can shed them as you need to, to avoid overheating. Make sure that your sports bra is supportive and well fitting so it doesn’t constrict the movement of your rib-cage. Wearing a maternity support belt can alleviate pelvic pain, as well as support your lower back.
- Walk Every Day
Walking is a low-impact exercise that can be done throughout your entire pregnancy. It’s a great way to refresh, take some time out from the busy hustle and bustle of life.
Read: 10 Amazing Benefits of Walking During Pregnancy
- Modifications are your friend
Even hardcore fitness fanatics will scale back, especially in their late second and third trimester. As your pregnancy progresses your muscles will fatigue sooner and you get winded faster. This is due to carrying extra weight, your heart pumping an increased volume of blood and your growing uterus pressing against and shifting your organs around. So taking deep breaths becomes harder and frequent pee breaks become a must. Reign in your exercise’s intensity and duration as your body needs it. If you physically can’t talk to another when exercising, then you should pull back on your intensity.
- Seek Specialised Advice
If you are unsure what you should be doing, seek a professional who specialises in prenatal exercise. You can run through your current routine with them and they can modify it for you. This reduces the chance of you doing something that is not appropriate during pregnancy, or exercising with poor form and causing injury. In fact, attending the occasional personal training session is applicable to everyone, pregnant or not, to ensure your routine is suitable for your body and not likely to cause injury.
- Meal Timing
Ensure you have had a meal one to two hours before performing any exercise to avoid feeling dizziness and reduce the risk of fainting. But not too soon before exercising to avoid the risk of cramps, indigestion and the dreaded heartburn. Plus ensure you are eating enough calories, again, not the time to lose weight.
- Exercise mindfully
Warm up gradually to take note of how your body is feeling that day and also how it feels during a certain exercise, even if you have done that exercise before. This will also prepare your joints for the workout. During cardio, build your heart-rate up slowly so you don’t push too far. Only do what your body is truly capable of and take rest breaks during your workout if you need them.
- Stay Hydrated
When exercising, drink enough fluids before, during and after your activity. Should you become dehydrated, your body temperature could rise and cause contractions. Check the colour of your urine. Dark yellow urine is a sign of dehydration. If that’s the case for you, have one glass of water every hour until your urine is pale yellow or nearly clear.
- Do Not Skip your Doctor’s Advice
I once had a woman attend my Pregnancy Pilates class after she was advised by her doctor that she should not attend. At the time I asked for doctors notes, and when she could not produce hers she revealed this to me. Giving up your favourite exercise may not be what you want to do, but your health and your babies comes first! It’s just for nine months, after all. Once your baby comes home, and your body is ready, you can go back to your old workout regimen. Till them, stay safe!
- Direct Abdominal Exercises
Before pregnancy, planks, sit ups and crunches must have found a place somewhere in your workout regimen. But it is time to take a break from them. Your abdominal wall must be allowed to stretch, especially the rectus abdominis and oblique muscles which are recruited in planks and crunches. Instead, work on maintaining the strength of your pelvic floor and transversus abdominis with deep breathing, Kegels and squats. Crunching movements can also lead to a condition called Diastasis Recti.
Read: Prepping to Push – The Pelvic Floor in Pregnancy
- Lying Flat On Your Back
While you will know when exercises laying on your front aren’t going to be comfortable, safe, or even possible for you, after your first trimester it’s generally best to avoid exercises that have you lying flat on your back. Lying on your back can lead to a condition called Supine Hypertensive Syndrome, ie. your enlarged uterus and the baby can compress your Vena Cava, the major vessel that delivers blood to your heart from the lower half of your body. The results: dizziness, fainting, or even heart palpitations. Plus, the amount of blood flow that reaches your baby could also be women are comfortable in this position well into their pregnancies, but this isn’t necessarily a good indication of whether blood flow to your uterus is affected. Any muscle you want to work on your back, you can train standing up, sitting, or on your side.
- Avoid Pelvic Loading
The body releases a hormone called relaxin during pregnancy. The primary function of this hormone is to prepare your pelvis for childbirth. But certain exercises and stretches can cause this benefit to become a pain! Avoid anything which encourages asymmetrical loading of the pelvis such as prolonged standing on one leg eg. tree pose, warrior 3 in yoga, or any static stretches which cause opposite movement of each side of the pelvis eg. splits (the most visual example I could think of), when each leg is causing pelvic movement in opposite directions.
- Don’t Overload Your Heart
High-intensity workouts are not for everyone anyway, no matter how good they are for your body. These workouts put increased load on your heart. When you are pregnant your heart is already working hard to pump 30% more blood for your changing body. Here’s a simple test to check if your heart is beating too fast – if you can carry out a conversation while exercising, your heart is doing okay! If in doubt wear a heart rate monitor.
- Don’t Get Too Hot
High temperature and pregnancy don’t work well together. Babies cannot sweat to cool themselves down like we can. Their temperature is controlled by your temperature. Plus increased blood flow and a higher metabolic rate when you’re pregnant mean you’ll be warmer than usual, especially when you exercise. It’s time to give hot yoga a break. Avoid working out in very hot environments; consider early-morning or evening walks or go to an air-conditioned gym/studio.
- Don’t Put Pressure on Yourself
Avoid pressuring yourself to maintain a rigorous exercise routine. If an hour long workout feels like too much, commit to ten to twenty minutes per day. Making sure it is an achievable goal. And most likely when you get started, you will exercise for longer.
- Avoid scuba diving (just in case)
Babies in the womb aren’t protected from the effects of pressure changes deep under water.
When To Stop:
If you experience any of the following symptoms, stop exercising and rest:
- Pubic pain
- Chest pain
- Tachycardia – rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Premature contractions
- Vaginal bleeding/spotting
- Leg or calf pain – swelling and tenderness
- Lack of fetal movement
If these symptoms persist even after you have rested for a short while, visit your doctor as soon as you can. Best to be safe.
The Benefits Of Exercising During Pregnancy
- Keeps pregnancy discomfort away such as backache.
- Exercising (in addition to eating a well-balanced diet with plenty of water and fibre) helps to keep the digestive system moving and avoid constipation.
- Exercising while pregnant (and at any other time) can improve energy and improve your sleep.
- Working out can make labour easier.
- Obesity in pregnancy has been shown to be associated with increased risk for gestational diabetes, hypertension, Cesarean and other complications. If you are already overweight, you need to keep a tab on your weight gain. Working out can help you manage your pregnancy weight.
- Working out during pregnancy will help your body recover so you can get back to your regular workouts and back in shape sooner.
I hope this post encourages you to exercise during pregnancy, and helped you understand what to avoid. Tell me about your experience of exercising during pregnancy in the comments below.
I am Emma McAtasney, founder of a boutique Pilates studio in Dundalk, Ireland. BASI trained Pilates instructor, BarreConcept instructor and prenatal and postnatal exercise specialist.
I developed the Body After Baby Core Restore Programme with the aim of helping women with diastasis recti and pelvic floor issues get back into shape after pregnancy!
I love working with successful, courageous women from all over the world – like yourself – to give you clear, applicable information, support you in truly creating core strength, fall in love with your strong and healthy body and focus on living your best life!
Together, let’s create a lifestyle that gives us health and happiness for a lifetime!