Super Mom: How Pregnancy Can Make You More Fit

I remember my first prenatal appointment vividly. My doctor came in and introduced himself, shaking my hand warmly and congratulating my husband and me with enthusiasm. Then he sat down, folded his hands and looked at me sternly.

“Now that you are pregnant,” he said, “there is one thing you must remember: You are NOT sick.”

The advice seemed strange to me at the time, since I was in the very early stages of my pregnancy and hadn’t experienced any unpleasant symptoms. However, as the weeks went by, my doctor’s advice made more and more sense. I was tired and nauseous all the time. Although I was still indescribably happy to be pregnant, I did start to think of myself as sick or somehow handicapped by these unpleasant symptoms.

Fortunately, my husband encouraged me to keep up with yoga and ballet throughout my pregnancy, and we walked two miles or more together just about every day of the week. By the time I reached the second trimester, I felt better than I ever had before, and was more active than I had been before my pregnancy.

Two years later, I was pregnant again and pursuing a certification in Pre- and Post-Natal Fitness and Nutrition. I was amazed to learn about the benefits of exercise, both before and during pregnancy, for mothers and their babies. But what fascinated me even more was the hypothesis that prenatal exercise can actually improve athletic performance after delivery.

Increasing my own awareness of these benefits motivated me to stay active during my pregnancy. Although modern research has made great progress in recognizing the benefits of exercise during the prenatal period, pregnancy is often still viewed as if it were a crippling ailment. To my mind, pregnant women need the same advice I received during my first pregnancy: “You are not sick.” And I would add to that piece of advice: “In fact, pregnancy has the potential to transform your body in positive ways, even after your baby is born.”

Don’t get me wrong: pregnancy isn’t easy, and shedding baby weight is an infamous challenge. But in those moments of nausea, fatigue and trying to zip up your old non-maternity jeans, it helps to remember that an active pregnancy has the potential to strengthen your body, even after delivery.

Pregnancy’s Effects on Postnatal Performance

Dr. James F. Clapp III was one of the most prominent pioneers in prenatal exercise. In his book, Exercising Through Your Pregnancy, Clapp claims, “…the combination of exercise and pregnancy has a greater training effect than that produced by training alone.”

This may seem like a radical claim, but Clapp supports it with solid evidence. For example, a 2008 study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found women who continued to do weight-bearing exercise during their pregnancy gained less weight, deposited less fat and had a lower risk of heart conditions than those who did not. The study concluded, “Women who continue weight-bearing exercise during pregnancy maintain their long-term fitness and have a low cardiovascular risk profile in the perimenopausal period.”

Effects on Training

Researchers continue to investigate how and to what extent prenatal exercise can improve performance in the postpartum period. Although there are certainly physiological changes that contribute to these effects, some researchers believe that pregnancy’s effect on training is also related.

In a 2009 article published in The Guardian online, Dr. David James of Gloucester University suggests pregnant women may be less prone to overtraining, a common problem in many serious athletes that can impair performance. According to James, “It is probably the case that most athletes do slightly too much training, not too little. When other priorities come along and they have necessarily to reduce their training a little bit, that might not altogether be a bad thing.”

Overtraining makes athletes more prone to injury and fatigue, and pregnancy presents an ideal opportunity for rest and decreased intensity in athletes who have a tendency to train too hard.

The Bottom Line

Whether you’re a serious athlete or a more casual exerciser, regular physical activity is beneficial for any uncomplicated pregnancy. For serious athletes who are concerned about performance in the postpartum period, research suggests there’s nothing to fear. And if you need further proof, look to real-life examples of mommy world-class athletes, like Kim Clijsters, Paula Radcliffe, Kristie Moore and Catriona Matthew.

What appears to be more threatening to womens’ health is a sedentary lifestyle during pregnancy. According to Clapp’s studies, women who participated in little or no physical activity during their pregnancy were more likely to experience negative health problems during pregnancy and in the postpartum period.

Of course, mom isn’t the only one to worry about during pregnancy. Studies also suggest that developing babies benefit from regular prenatal exercise, both during and after pregnancy. Contrary to previous popular belief, exercise does not cause fetal distress or miscarriage in healthy and uncomplicated pregnancies. In fact, babies whose mothers exercise seem to also reap the benefits of mom’s workouts. Infants whose mothers exercise during pregnancy tend to adjust to life outside the womb better and also correlates to lower body fat content after birth, which decreases the chances of obesity later in life.

If your doctor gives you the green light for exercise during pregnancy, take advantage of it. Not only does prenatal exercise make you less likely to experience unpleasant side effects during pregnancy, such leg cramps, nausea, constipation and back pain, but it may also improve performance after your baby is born.

Keep in mind that during pregnancy, a little exercise goes a long way. More than ever, pregnancy is the time to listen to your body, so don’t push it. You may not be able to perform at as high a level as you could before your pregnancy, but rest assured that your baby and your body will thank you for performing at all.

Strength Training and Toning Exercises During Pregnancy

Biceps exercises during pregnancy: Before you know it, you’ll be carrying your heavy baby in one arm and your even heavier diaper bag in the other, so it’s a good idea to tone your biceps now while your belly is still doing the heavy lifting. Bicep curls during pregnancy are a great way to begin. Start by selecting light weights (three- or five-pound weights if you’re a beginner, and never lift more than 12-pound weights). Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart, making sure not to lock your knees. Keep your elbows in and your chest up. Slowly raise both weights toward your shoulders, (remember to breathe), stopping when your forearms are perpendicular to the floor. Lower slowly and repeat. Try to do eight to ten repetitions, but take breaks if needed and don’t overdo it. You’ll feel a burn in your muscles, but you should never strain or start holding your breath.

Kegel exercises: Now here’s the ultimate exercise for multitaskers. Kegels — exercises to help strengthen your pelvic floor, a muscle group that supports the uterus, bladder, small intestine and rectum — and controls the flow of urine and the contraction of the vagina and anal sphincter that can be weakened by the pressures of pregnancy and delivery. Kegels may be done any time of the day or night, no matter what else you’re in the middle of doing. And there are compelling reasons to do them. First, they may prevent or improve urinary incontinence, a pretty common complaint late in pregnancy and postpartum — as well as fecal incontinence, which while less common, can be even more uncomfortable and embarrassing. Second, they can tone your pelvic floor in preparation for labor and delivery — and possibly help you avoid tearing.

Third, flexing your pelvic muscles through Kegels can improve sexual satisfaction — for both of you — postpartum (when those muscles will need some tightening up). To flex those muscles, though, you’ll first need to familiarize yourself with which ones they are. No mirror (or strange contortions) necessary — all you have to do is stop the flow of urine the next time you’re on the toilet. The muscles you use are the ones you’ll want to tense up when doing your Kegel exercises. Try tensing and holding these muscles for as long as you can, working up to eight or ten seconds. Then slowly relax them. Keep practicing until you can do three sets of ten to 20 each day. You can also do three sets of quick Kegels daily: Count to ten (work your way up to 20), contracting and relaxing your muscles with each count. Do Kegels at your desk, on line at the supermarket, and most of all, when you’re making love — the very best way to mix business with pleasure (do it and you’ll see why).

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Leg lifts during pregnancy: Leg lifts use your body’s own weight to tone your thigh muscles (no infomercial equipment necessary). Simply lie on your left side with your shoulders, hips, and knees lined up straight. Support yourself by holding your head with your left arm and placing your right arm on the floor in front of you. Then slowly lift your right leg as high as you comfortably can (remember to breathe). Do ten reps, then switch sides and repeat.

Pelvic tilts during pregnancy: This simple routine can help improve your posture (every pregnant woman can use help with that), strengthen your abs (thus reducing back pain), and help prepare you for labor (with those stronger stomach muscles and more flexible back muscles). To do a pelvic tilt, stand with your back against a wall and relax your spine. As you inhale, press the small of your back against the wall. Exhale, then repeat several times. For a variation that also helps reduce the pain of sciatica, try rocking your pelvis back and forth — keeping your back straight — while either kneeling on all fours or standing up. Do pelvic tilts regularly (take a five-minute pelvic-tilt break several times during your workday).

Squats during pregnancy: This exercise strengthens and tones your thighs and is particularly useful for women who plan to deliver in the squatting position. To begin, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping your back straight, bend at the knees and slowly lower yourself as close to the ground as you comfortably can, keeping your heels on the ground. If you can’t, try moving your feet farther apart. Hold the squat for ten to 30 seconds, then slowly come back to a standing position. Repeat five times. (Note: While squats are fine, lunges and deep-knee bends should be avoided, as your joints will be more prone to injury.)

How to Exercise Safely

Exercising During Pregnancy

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Most moms-to-be benefit greatly from exercising. During your pregnancy, though, you’ll need to make a few changes to your normal exercise routine.

Discuss your exercise plans with your doctor or other health care provider early on. The level of exercise recommended will depend, in part, on your level of pre-pregnancy fitness.

What Are the Benefits of Exercising During Pregnancy?

No doubt about it, exercise is a big plus for both you and your baby (if complications don’t limit your ability to exercise). It can help you:

  • Feel better. At a time when you wonder how this strange body can possibly be yours, exercise can increase your sense of control and boost your energy level. Not only does it make you feel better by releasing endorphins (naturally occurring chemicals in the brain), appropriate exercise can:
    • relieve backaches and improve your posture by strengthening and toning muscles in your back, butt, and thighs
    • reduce constipation by accelerating movement in your intestines
    • prevent wear and tear on your joints (which become loosened during pregnancy due to normal hormonal changes) by activating the lubricating fluid in your joints
    • help you sleep better by relieving the stress and anxiety that might make you restless at night
  • Look better. Exercise increases the blood flow to your skin, giving you a healthy glow.
  • Prepare you and your body for birth. Strong muscles and a fit heart can greatly ease labor and delivery. Gaining control over your breathing can help you manage pain. And in the event of a lengthy labor, increased endurance can be a real help.
  • Regain your pre-pregnancy body more quickly. You’ll gain less fat weight during your pregnancy if you continue to exercise (assuming you exercised before becoming pregnant). But don’t expect or try to lose weight by exercising while you’re pregnant. For most women, the goal is to maintain their fitness level throughout pregnancy.

While the jury’s still out on the additional benefits of exercise during pregnancy, some studies have shown that exercise may even lower a woman’s risk of complications, like preeclampsia and gestational diabetes.

What’s Safe During Pregnancy?

It depends on when you start and whether your pregnancy is complicated. If you exercised regularly before becoming pregnant, continue your program, with modifications as you need them.

If you weren’t fit before you became pregnant, don’t give up! Begin slowly and build gradually as you become stronger. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes (that’s 2½ hours) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week for healthy women who are not already highly active or doing vigorous-intensity activity.

If you’re healthy, the risks of moderate-intensity activity during pregnancy are very low, and do not increase risk of low birth weight, pre-term delivery, or early pregnancy loss.

Before you continue your old exercise routine or begin a new one, you should talk to your doctor about exercising while you’re pregnant. Discuss any concerns you have and know that you might need to limit your exercise if you have:

  • pregnancy-induced high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • early contractions
  • vaginal bleeding
  • premature rupture of your membranes, also known as your water (the fluid in the amniotic sac around the fetus) breaking early

Exercises to Try

Many women enjoy dancing, swimming, water aerobics, yoga, Pilates, biking, or walking. Swimming is especially appealing, as it gives you welcome buoyancy (floatability or the feeling of weightlessness). Try for a combination of cardio (aerobic), strength, and flexibility exercises, and avoid bouncing.

Many experts recommend walking. It’s easy to vary the pace, add hills, and add distance. If you’re just starting, begin with a moderately brisk pace for a mile, 3 days a week. Add a couple of minutes every week, pick up the pace a bit, and eventually add hills to your route. Whether you’re a pro or a novice, go slowly for the first 5 minutes to warm up and use the last 5 minutes to cool down.

If you were a runner before you were pregnant, you might be able to continue running during your pregnancy, although you may have to modify your routine.

Whatever type of exercise you and your doctor decide on, the key is to listen to your body’s warnings. Many women, for example, become dizzy early in their pregnancy, and as the baby grows, their center of gravity changes. So it may be easy for you to lose your balance, especially in the last trimester.

Your energy level might vary greatly from day to day. And as your baby grows and pushes up on your lungs, you’ll notice a decreased ability to breathe in more air (and the oxygen it contains) when you exercise. If your body says, “Stop!” — stop!

Your body is signaling that it’s had enough if you feel:

  • fatigue
  • dizziness
  • heart palpitations (your heart pounding in your chest)
  • shortness of breath
  • pain in your back or pelvis

And if you can’t talk while you’re exercising, you’re doing it too strenuously.

It also isn’t good for your baby if you become overheated because temperatures higher than 102.6°F (39°C) could cause problems with the developing fetus — especially in the first trimester — which can potentially lead to birth defects. So don’t overdo exercise on hot days.

During hot weather, avoid exercising outside during the hottest part of the day (from about 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.) or exercise in an air-conditioned place. Also remember that swimming makes it more difficult for you to notice your body heating up because the water makes you feel cooler.

What Are Kegel Exercises?

Although the effects of Kegel exercises can’t be seen from the outside, some women use them to reduce incontinence (the leakage of urine) caused by the weight of the baby on their bladder. Kegels help to strengthen the “pelvic floor muscles” (the muscles that aid in controlling urination).

Kegels are easy, and you can do them any time you have a few seconds — sitting in your car, at your desk, or standing in line at the store. No one will even know you’re doing them!

To find the correct muscles, pretend you’re trying to stop urinating. Squeeze those muscles for a few seconds, then relax. You’re using the correct muscles if you feel a pull. Or place a finger inside your vagina and feel it tighten when you squeeze. Your doctor can also help you identify the correct muscles.

A few things to keep in mind when you’re doing Kegel exercises:

  • Don’t tighten other muscles (stomach or legs, for example) at the same time. You want to focus on the muscles you’re exercising.
  • Don’t hold your breath while you do them because it’s important that your body and muscles continue to receive oxygen while you do any type of exercise.
  • Don’t regularly do Kegels by stopping and starting your flow of urine while you’re actually going to the bathroom, as this can lead to incomplete emptying of your bladder, which increases the risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs).

Exercises to Avoid

Most doctors recommend that pregnant women avoid exercises after the first trimester that require them to lie flat on their backs.

Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, it’s also wise to avoid any activities that include:

  • bouncing
  • jarring (anything that would cause a lot of up and down movement)
  • leaping
  • a sudden change of direction
  • a risk of abdominal injury

Typical limitations include contact sports, downhill skiing, scuba diving, and horseback riding because of the risk of injury they pose.

Although some doctors say step aerobics workouts are acceptable if you can lower the height of your step as your pregnancy progresses, others caution that a changing center of gravity makes falls much more likely. If you do choose to do aerobics, just make sure to avoid becoming extremely winded or exercising to the point of exhaustion.

And check with your doctor if you experience any of these warning signs during any type of exercise:

  • vaginal bleeding
  • unusual pain
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • unusual shortness of breath
  • racing heartbeat or chest pain
  • fluid leaking from your vagina
  • uterine contractions

How Can I Get Started?

Always talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise program. Once you’re ready to get going:

  • Start gradually. Even 5 minutes a day is a good start if you’ve been inactive. Add 5 minutes each week until you reach 30 minutes.
  • Dress comfortably in loose-fitting clothes and wear a supportive bra to protect your breasts.
  • Drink plenty of water to avoid overheating and dehydration.
  • Skip your exercises if you’re sick.
  • Opt for a walk in an air-conditioned mall on hot, humid days.
  • Above all, listen to your body.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD Date reviewed: June 2018

Exercises to Avoid During Pregnancy

Prenatal exercise offers loads of health benefits. But before you lace up your sneakers and hit the track, make a pit stop at your practitioner’s office to get the green light on workouts. You’ll almost certainly get it — most practitioners not only permit but encourage expectant moms to stick to their usual workouts for as long as is practical.

With your doctor’s okay and by following a few extra precautions, you can reap the benefits of exercise during pregnancy no matter what your workout habits were like before conceiving. Here are the exercises to avoid when you’re expecting, along with tips to exercise safely during pregnancy.

How much exercise should I get during pregnancy?

The official advice of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) reads like a personal trainer’s pep talk: Aim for 30 minutes of some sort of physical activity at least five days of the week (or a total of 150 minutes per week), all the way through your pregnancy. If that sounds daunting, keep in mind that activities like housework count. Even five mini-workouts sprinkled throughout the day are just as beneficial as 30 minutes straight on the elliptical.

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What exercises should I avoid when I’m pregnant?

There are plenty of exercises that are great for pregnant women. In fact, most physical activity is perfectly safe during pregnancy. However there are a few exercises you’ll want to avoid:

  • Sports that carry a higher risk of falling or abdominal injury, like gymnastics, downhill skiing, snowboarding, ice-skating, vigorous racket sports (play doubles instead of singles), horseback riding, outdoor cycling, contact sports (such as ice hockey, soccer or basketball), diving, bungee jumping and rollerblading.
  • Sports that involve altitude change. Unless you’re living in high altitudes already, avoid any activity that takes you up more than 6,000 feet. On the flip side, scuba diving, which poses a risk of decompression sickness for your baby, is also off-limits, so wait until you’re no longer pregnant for your next dive.
  • Exercises that involve lying flat on your back for long periods of time are off-limits after the fourth month, since the weight of your enlarging uterus could compress major blood vessels and restrict circulation to you and your baby. That, in turn, could make you feel nauseous, dizzy and short of breath.
  • Advanced abdominal moves, like full sit-ups or double leg lifts, can pull on the abdomen, so they’re best avoided when you’re expecting. Try these pregnancy-safe ab exercises instead.
  • Hot yoga or exercise in super hot weather: Any exercise or environment that raises your body temperature more than 1.5 degrees F should be avoided, since it causes blood to be shunted away from your uterus and to your skin as your body attempts to cool off. That means staying out of saunas, steam rooms and hot tubs, too.
  • Back bends or other contortions, as well as movements that involve deep flexion or extension of joints (like deep knee bends), can increase your risk of injury.
  • Jumping, bouncing and sudden, jerky motions are best avoided (although otherwise aerobic activity is perfectly safe so as long as you’re comfortable and can easily keep your balance).
  • Excessive or bouncy stretching. Since your ligaments are already looser, pregnancy isn’t the time to force a split or progress your yoga practice. If something hurts, stop.
  • Holding your breath is never recommended during pregnancy. Both you and your baby need a constant flow of oxygen.
  • Motionless standing after the first trimester can restrict blood flow, so avoid these types of movements in yoga (like tree, or extended hand to big toe) and tai chi.

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What exercises should I be cautious about when I’m pregnant?

  • Exercises involving balance can be more difficult (and riskier) as your pregnancy progresses. Having a chair or a wall close by can be helpful.
  • Toe pointing during pregnancy can lead to cramping in the calves. If that’s the case for you, flex your feet instead, driving the top of the foot toward the calf.

How to set limits on exercising during pregnancy

If you’re new at exercising, now’s not the time to start training for a marathon — but you can start working out slowly, aiming to reach at least 30 minutes a day.

If you’re really ambitious (or just really fit) and you’ve been green-lighted by your practitioner based on your fitness level, it’s safe to work out for an hour or even more as long as you listen to your body. Expecting moms tire out sooner, and being tired increases your risk of injury. Remember that while pregnancy is a great time to maintain your fitness level, it’s not a time to increase it or to train for an athletic competition.

While breathing hard during your workouts is perfectly fine when you’re expecting, overexerting yourself can lead to problems like dehydration (a risk factor for preterm birth) or lack of oxygen to your baby if you end up short of breath for long periods. That’s why it’s more important than ever to learn to listen to your body during pregnancy.

So how exactly do you do that? Checking your pulse is actually not one of the ways to tell whether you’re overdoing it. Instead, get in sync with how you feel. If an exercise feels good, it’s probably okay, while experiencing pain or strain is not. A little sweat is good, while drenching sweat is not. And remember the “talk” test: You should be working hard enough that you feel yourself breathing more heavily, but you should never be so out of breath that you aren’t able to talk, sing or whistle while you work.

Experts at ACOG recommend using what’s known as a rate of perceived exertion. Think of a scale that goes up to 20, where at 7 you’re walking slowly and at 20 you’re working out as hard as you can. Your goal is to keep your exertion rate between 13 and 14 on that scale, or at a somewhat hard rate.

Signs it’s time to slow down

If you experience any of these symptoms, don’t try to push through it, since doing so can leave you more susceptible to injuries:

  • Excessive fatigue. While a good workout might leave you feeling a bit tired but accomplished, it shouldn’t exhaust you so much that walking to your car in the gym parking lot seems almost impossible.
  • Irritability. Those endorphins should boost your mood — so if you’re feeling more short-tempered than usual after every workout, it might be a sign that it’s time to taper back.
  • Joint or muscle pain. Next-day muscle soreness is one thing: It’s a faint achiness in the muscles you’ve been working on that can usually be lessened by stretching or massage. Look out for acute pain in the joints and muscles that pop up every time you work out, which is usually a sign it’s time to take it slower.
  • Trouble sleeping. Some sleep problems are totally normal during pregnancy, and exercise should help tire your body out just enough to doze off soundly once you hit the pillow. Excessive exercise, on the other hand, can have the opposite effect. If you drastically increase the duration of intense exercise, you might find it’s harder to fall — and stay — asleep.

When is it time to stop exercising?

Your body will signal when it’s time to stop by saying, “Hey, I’m tired.” Take the hint right away and throw in the towel.

When to call the doctor

If you experience any of these symptoms, stop exercising right away and give your practitioner a call:

  • Unusual pain anywhere (hips, back, pelvis, chest, head and so on)
  • A cramp or stitch that doesn’t go away when you stop exercising
  • Regular, painful uterine contractions
  • Chest pain
  • Calf pain or swelling
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Very rapid heartbeat
  • Severe breathlessness
  • Difficulty walking
  • Loss of muscle control
  • Sudden headache
  • Increased swelling
  • Amniotic fluid leakage
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • A noticeable decrease or absence of fetal movement after week 28 (if things seem a bit slower, a post-workout snack should perk things up — if it doesn’t, or if you have any concerns, get in touch with your doctor)

When you shouldn’t exercise at all during pregnancy

Exercising during pregnancy does the average pregnant mom and her baby good. However certain conditions can make exercise during pregnancy risky. Talk to your doctor about whether you should avoid exercise if you have:

  • Severe anemia during prenancy
  • Chronic lung or heart conditions
  • Placenta previa after 26 weeks of pregnancy
  • Cervical insufficiency or cerclage
  • Preeclampsia or pregnancy-induced high blood pressure
  • Risk factors for premature labor and are pregnant with multiples
  • Preterm rupture of placenta membranes during this pregnancy

Always get the green light from your doctor before beginning any exercise program during pregnancy.

If your practitioner has restricted exercise for you during part or all of your pregnancy, ask if there are any workouts you can work in (say, arm-only workouts or stretching) to help you stay in shape, even if you’re on modified bed rest.

Exercising during pregnancy lifts your spirits and prepares you for labor and childbirth, but it’s important to be extra cautious during your workouts. Whether you’re a reformed couch potato or a conditioned athlete, following these 13 rules can keep you – and your baby – healthy and safe.

1. Check with your healthcare provider first

Always check with your healthcare provider before starting, continuing, or changing an exercise routine. If you exercised regularly before getting pregnant and your pregnancy is uncomplicated, you can probably continue working out as before, with a few modifications (noted below). However, in some cases it’s not okay to exercise during pregnancy, so talk to your provider about your fitness routine to make sure your activities don’t put you or your baby at risk.

If you didn’t work out much before conceiving, see our pregnancy exercise guide for beginners, and talk to your healthcare provider about starting an exercise routine.

2. Get enough calories

Exercise burns calories, so be sure to eat well to nourish and strengthen your body. When you’re pregnant, you naturally gain weight as your baby grows. The amount you need to gain varies based on your pre-pregnancy weight.

If your body mass index (BMI) is in a healthy range (between 18.5 and 24.9), you’ll need to eat about 340 more calories a day in the second trimester than before you were pregnant and about 450 more calories a day in the third trimester – and possibly more than that depending on your exercise routine. If you’re underweight or overweight, you may need to gain a little more or less than someone with a healthy BMI and adjust your calorie intake accordingly.

Your doctor will monitor your weight as your pregnancy progresses and can help you keep your weight gain on track.

3. Skip dangerous sports

Avoid sports that involve lots of contact (like basketball and soccer) as well as activities that might throw you off balance and cause a fall, such as horseback riding, surfing, water skiing, gymnastics, downhill skiing, or mountain biking. Cycling early in your pregnancy should be okay if you’re already comfortable on a bike, but it’s probably best to stick to stationary bikes later in pregnancy.

Avoid racquet sports if you never played them before getting pregnant because the rapid movements and sudden changes in direction could affect your balance and make you fall.

All pregnant women should avoid scuba diving – babies in the womb aren’t protected from the effects of pressure changes and may not develop normally as a result.

See our list of the best kinds of exercise for pregnancy.

4. Wear the right clothes

Wear loose-fitting, breathable clothing. Dress in layers so it’s easy to peel off a layer or two after you’ve warmed up or if you get overheated. Make sure your maternity bra is supportive enough, and choose athletic shoes that fit properly.

If your shoe size has changed because of mild swelling, stash away your pre-pregnancy sneakers and buy a new pair. You may want to swap out the liners they came with for gel liners that provide better shock absorption.

5. Warm up

Warming up prepares your muscles and joints for exercise and increases your heart rate slowly. If you skip the warm-up and jump into strenuous activity before your body is ready, you could strain your muscles and ligaments and have more aches and pains after your workout.

A good way to warm up is to start your chosen activity at a low intensity and slowly increase it during the first five to eight minutes. This prepares the muscles you’ll be using for more vigorous movement. For example, if your workout is walking, go slowly for the first few minutes and gradually pick up the pace.

6. Drink plenty of water

Drink water before, during, and after exercising. Otherwise you can become dehydrated, which can set off a chain of events that leads to a reduced of amount of blood reaching the placenta. Dehydration can also increase your risk of overheating or even trigger contractions.

There’s no official recommendation for how much water pregnant women should drink while exercising, but many experts recommend a simple technique to gauge whether you’re drinking enough: Check the color of your urine. Dark yellow urine is a sign of dehydration. If that’s the case for you, have one or two glasses of water every hour until your urine is pale yellow or nearly clear.

Find out more about staying hydrated during pregnancy.

7. Don’t lie flat on your back

After the first trimester, avoid exercising while lying flat on your back. The weight of your uterus puts pressure on a major vein called the vena cava, which can reduce blood flow to your heart and may diminish blood flow to your brain and uterus. This can make you dizzy, short of breath, or nauseated.

Some 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. Putting pillows or a foam wedge behind your back to prop up your upper body while you exercise enables you to be almost flat on your back without compressing the vena cava.

8. Keep moving

Remaining motionless or standing in one place for prolonged periods – when you’re lifting weights or doing yoga poses, for example – can reduce blood flow to your heart and uterus and cause blood to pool in your legs, lowering your blood pressure and making you dizzy. Keep moving by switching positions or walking in place.

9. Don’t overdo it

Don’t exercise until you’re exhausted. Slow down if you can’t carry on a conversation comfortably. In general, the best guideline is to listen to your body. Always stop if something hurts.

You should feel like you’re working your body, not punishing it. If you feel completely drained instead of invigorated after a workout, you’re probably overdoing it.

After exercising, try to rest for an equivalent amount of time before getting on with your day. For example, if you’ve just jogged for 30 minutes, rest quietly for 30 minutes.

To be extra safe, read our signs of danger during pregnancy exercise.

10. Don’t exercise in high heat or humidity

Increased blood flow and a higher metabolic rate when you’re pregnant mean you’ll feel warmer than usual, especially when you exercise. As a result, you may get overheated much faster than you normally would, even before your belly is big. That’s why it’s especially important to avoid exercising in hot or humid conditions during pregnancy. When it’s hot out, your body has a harder time regulating your body temperature.

Signs of being overheated are largely individual, but pay attention if you’re sweating a lot or feel uncomfortably warm, nauseated, dizzy, or short of breath.

To cool off quickly, stop exercising, take off layers, and change your environment: Go someplace with air-conditioning or step into a cool shower. Hydrating is also key, so drink lots of water.

Note: Avoid activities such as doing Bikram yoga or “hot Pilates” and lounging in saunas or hot tubs. These activities can raise your core temperature to unsafe levels because your body can’t disperse heat effectively in a hot environment.

11. Get up from the floor slowly

Your center of gravity shifts as your belly grows, so it’s important to take extra care when you change positions. Getting up too quickly can make you dizzy and may cause you to lose your footing and fall.

12. Cool down

At the end of your workout, walk in place for five to 10 minutes and do some pregnancy-friendly stretching. This improves your flexibility while getting your heart rate back to normal. Stretching also prevents sore muscles.

13. Make it a habit

Make a commitment to exercise regularly. Keeping up a routine is easier on your body than long periods of inertia interrupted by spurts of activity. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, you can safely do at least 20 to 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most or all days of the week as long as you have the go-ahead from your healthcare provider.

One of the best ways to stick to a workout routine is to invite a buddy to meet you for walks, runs, exercise classes, or gym time. You’ll be more motivated to show up, and you’ll get quality time with your friend while doing something important for your health and pregnancy.

5 Easy and Safe Pregnancy Exercises

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Now that you’re expecting, you’re ready to put your feet up and rest for the next nine months, right? Not so fast. “Regular exercise while you’re pregnant can improve your heart health, give you energy, and pump up your self-image,” says Frances Crites, MD, an Ob-Gyn at Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. Maintaining a healthy body can also reduce common pregnancy complaints like lower back pain, and it may even shorten your labor time.

Check with your doctor before you start any workout routine to make sure the activities you choose are safe. If she gives you the okay, try to get at least 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise three to four days a week. Remember that your goal is to keep up your pre-pregnancy fitness, not to train for Dancing with the Stars. Start with one of these doctor-approved activities.

  • RELATED: Is It Safe to Exercise During Pregnancy?

Walking

Body Benefits: Even if you’ve never exercised a day in your life, a quick stroll around the neighborhood is a great way to start. You’ll get a cardiovascular workout without too much impact on your knees and ankles, and you can do it almost anywhere and at any time throughout the entire nine months.

Safety Bump: “As your belly gets bigger, you can lose your sense of balance and coordination,” says Dr. Crites. Try to walk on smooth surfaces, and watch out for potholes and other obstacles. Remember to wear supportive sneakers. Your feet may swell in your later trimesters, so if your shoes start to feel tight, buy ones that are a half-size bigger.

Yoga

Body Benefits: Prenatal yoga classes keep your joints limber and help you maintain flexibility. “Also, because yoga strengthens your muscle system, stimulates circulation, and helps you relax, you can use the techniques you practice in class to stay calm and have a little more control during labor,” says Sokhna Heathyre Mabin, a yoga teacher at Laughing Lotus, in New York City.

Safety Bump: As your pregnancy progresses, skip positions that really challenge your balance. In your second trimester, steer clear of poses that require you to lie flat on your back – as your uterus gets heavier, it can put too much pressure on major veins and decrease blood flow to your heart. Also, be careful not to overstretch, says Annette Lang, personal trainer and author of Prenatal & Postpartum Training Fan. Pregnant women produce more relaxin, a hormone that increases flexibility and joint mobility, so it’s important to know your limits and hold back slightly when stretching.

  • RELATED: The 10 Best Prenatal Yoga Poses

Swimming

Body Benefits: “This is the ideal form of exercise during pregnancy,” says Baron Atkins, MD, an Ob-Gyn at Arlington Memorial Hospital in Texas. There’s zero chance of falling on your stomach and injuring your baby. Exercising in water gives you better range of motion without putting pressure on your joints. “I feel weightless in the pool, even though I’m carrying twins,” says Sharon Snyder, of San Francisco, who is four months pregnant. Even in your ninth month, you can swim, walk, do aerobics, or dance in the water.

Safety Bump: Choose a stroke that feels comfortable and doesn’t hurt your neck, shoulders, or back muscles. The breaststroke is a good choice because you don’t have to rotate your torso or belly. Be careful entering the water. Diving or jumping in could cause too much abdominal impact. To avoid overheating, stay away from very warm pools, steam rooms, hot tubs, and saunas.

Weight Training

Body Benefits: Lifting weights is a great way to prepare your body for all the heavy lifting you’ll be doing once your baby is here. Plus, it helps counteract the risk of injury during pregnancy by strengthening the muscles surrounding your joints.

Safety Bump: Reduce the amount of weight you’re used to lifting by half and do more repetitions so you still get a good workout. “Lifting weights that are too heavy can strain your muscles and put a dangerous amount of pressure on your abdomen,” says Dr. Atkins. And when you’re weight training – just like when you’re doing yoga – don’t lie flat on your back. If you find yourself holding your breath, reduce your load ASAP. Breathing incorrectly can increase your blood pressure and decrease the flow of blood to your baby.

  • RELATED: The Ultimate Toning Arms and Legs Workout for Pregnancy

All-in-One Workout

Body Benefits: According to new research published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, light to moderate exercise 50 to 55 minutes three days a week made those pregnant women 40 percent less likely to gain too much weight. What’s more, obese and overweight women who exercised during their pregnancies were 86 percent less likely to have babies with macrosomia (also known as “Big Baby Syndrome”) than those who didn’t.

Here’s the workout:

Stretch it out. Part of the 50-55-minute sweat session included a 10-minute warm-up and 10-minute cooldown, involving stretching. “It’s important to stretch your muscles and connective tissues during pregnancy,” says Marta Montenegro, M.S., C.S.C.S., and exercise physiologist. “The extra weight women carry during pregnancy throws off the whole body’s alignment, so joints and muscles are overly taxed.” To curb joint and muscle pain, you don’t need to stretch for more than a few minutes, you just need to do it regularly, says Montenegro.

Resistance-train twice a week. The women in the study lifted weights twice a week, exercising their arms, shoulders, legs, and ankles for just under half an hour. During your pregnancy, Montenegro suggests using strength machines rather than free weights (there’s less chance of injury) and performing one to three sets of 12 to 15 light reps. Note: After your first trimester, avoid any exercises that involve laying flat on a bench or the floor, which could lead to sudden blood pressure changes.

Do a light aerobic exercise once a week. The study participants did an aerobic dance workout once a week for 30 minutes. Get the benefits by swimming, walking, or spinning for the same amount of time.

When to Stop Your Workout

Any of these symptoms could mean you’ve put too much stress on your body. Stop exercising and call your doctor if you have:

  • Vaginal bleeding or leakage of fluids

  • Difficult, labored, or uncomfortable breathing

  • Heart palpitations or pain in your chest

  • Headache, nausea, or vomiting

  • Dizziness or fainting

  • Sudden change in temperature, clammy hands, or overheating

  • Swelling or pain in your ankles and calves

  • Decreased fetal movement

  • Blurred vision

  • Pain in your abdomen

  • By K. Aleisha Fetters

Parents Magazine

Can pregnant women workout

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