• Heather Rader

I’m Pregnant. Is it Safe to Exercise? Fitness Guidelines for Expectant Moms

Wondering about exercise during pregnancy? You aren’t alone, Mom.

  • What’s safe for my baby?

  • Am I hurting my body?

  • What’s too much exercise?

  • What if I don’t exercise?

  • What type of fitness activities should I avoid?


These are common questions many of my pregnant patients have.

Pregnancy brings daily changes to your body as your baby grows. Many expectant moms want to continue their pre-pregnancy exercise routines, while non-exercisers often don’t know where to start.

Good news! Moderate physical activity won’t increase your risk of a miscarriage, premature delivery, or having a baby with low birth weight. And there are benefits to your pregnancy, too. It can help you with weight management, lower the risk of gestational diabetes, and reduce the risk of diastasis recti and perineal tears.


How much should I exercise?

In 2015, the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, or ACOG, updated their physical activity guidelines during pregnancy and strongly encouraged regular exercise. Pregnant women should strive for 150 minutes of moderately intense aerobic activity spread out over the course of a week. Brisk walking is an example of moderate activity. That’s a little over 20 minutes per day, or 30 minutes if you exercise only 5 days a week. If 30 minutes seems like a mountain, start with 5 minutes. Seriously. You are still getting a positive benefit. Add a few minutes at a time until you feel comfortable in the 20-30 minute range.

What does “moderately intense” activity feel like?

  • You should be a little winded.

  • You should be a little sweaty.

  • You can still talk and have a “breathy” conversation, but singing would be a challenge.

  • You don’t’ feel faint.

  • Your legs don’t feel like they will give way.

Always be monitoring how you are feeling and breathing while you exercise, and most importantly, be honest with yourself.


Expect the bar of intensity that gives you these sensations to be ever-changing as your pregnancy progresses. It does not mean you aren’t getting a good workout if you couldn’t tolerate it as much today as you did yesterday. Even if you were a regular exerciser before you got pregnant, this rule still applies to you!

Physiologic changes to breathing and ventilation occur to any pregnant woman, no matter how fit you are. The baby takes what needs, and Mom gets the metabolic leftovers! During the 3rd trimester, the baby can also take up space around the rib cage, making it difficult to breathe deeply and rapidly.

What Type of Exercise is Safe for Pregnancy?

If you are new to regular exercise, start with the low or no-impact activities like brisk walking, swimming, use of a stationary bike or elliptical machine, low impact aerobic exercise classes, and pre-natal yoga with a trained instructor. Just avoid standing still/ and lying flat on your back for long periods – it can limit blood return to your heart and lower your blood pressure, causing light-headedness. While you want at least to get 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week, this is not the time to start training for your very first triathlon!

What if you are an athlete? Is it safe to train at such a high intensity? Ask yourself this – is your body used to it? Go ahead and continue, but expect your body performance to respond differently as your pregnancy progresses. Let your goal be to maintain your fitness rather than pushing your body to its limits. This is not the time for PB. You can resume high-intensity training later.

If you regularly exercised in the form of jogging, running, strength training, or racquet sports before your pregnancy, ACOG says that it is OK for you to continue during pregnancy, as long as your OB has specifically told you it is alright.


Even if your body is used to it, you still want to avoid contact sports activities, have a high risk of falling, and run the risk of raising your core body temperature.

  • Avoid any contact sports like hockey, soccer, basketball, and martial arts that could put your belly and the baby in the line of fire from a ball or foot.

  • Avoid sports where falling is likely to occur, such as snow or water skiing, horseback riding, surfing, mountain biking, gymnastics, some racquet sports, sky diving.

  • Avoid exercise that requires getting extremely hot, like hot yoga or Pilates. Maintaining a normal core temperature is important for your baby’s development. While taking in a sauna or soaking in a hot tub isn’t really exercise, these can also raise your core temperature. Stick to the pool or a warm shower to relax.

  • Consider the outside heat and humidity levels, too. High humidity makes it difficult for your body to cool itself. There is so much moisture in the air that sweat can‘t evaporate as well from your skin. When sweat evaporates, it takes body heat with it, helping you maintain your core body temperature. Work out in the morning or evening, or inside if you live in a warm climate.

When Should I NOT exercise?

If your doctor has told you that you have any of these conditions, then aerobic exercise is a No-No:

  • heart disease

  • lung disease

  • severe anemia

  • incompetent cervix

  • at risk for premature labor

  • persistent bleeding in the 2nd or 3rd trimester

  • placenta previa after 26 weeks

  • pre-eclampsia


What if Pregnancy Pain is Preventing Exercise?

Back or pelvic pain can impact up to 90% of pregnant women, and over 30% of new moms will continue to have problems even a year after giving birth. That means waiting for it just to go away may not be a great strategy. Physical therapy techniques have been shown to reduce pain during pregnancy and is a recommended treatment by ACOG.

If your pain has become a barrier to working out, let Rader Pelvic Physical Therapy help so you can have the fittest pregnancy you can. Go to www.RaderPelvicPT.com or click here to schedule your prenatal physical therapy evaluation. Most insurances will cover P.T. for pregnancy related pain issues.

In Summary

At a minimum, shoot for 20-30 minutes a day, 5-7 days a week, focusing on the aerobic activity your body is used to. Increase your intensity until you are a little sweaty and a little winded. If you can’t talk, stop! You are working out too hard. Progress slowly. Pace yourself. Be honest with yourself. Report any fainting spells, falls, excessive fatigue, lack of sweating, or bleeding to your doctor immediately.

Not sure where to start? Rader Pelvic Physical Therapy offers pre-natal fitness assessment and work-out planning. Click here, or go to www.RaderPelvicPT.com to book your prenatal wellness screen now.

Resources

1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. "Physical activity and exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Committee Opinion No. 650." Obstet Gynecol 126.6 (2015): e135-142.

2. Back, Physical Therapy Can Reduce, and Pelvic Pain During. "Pregnancy and Low Back Pain." J Orthop Sports Phys Ther44.7 (2014): 474.