A regular exercise program is not only safe during pregnancy, but it’s recommended as a healthy part of pregnancy self-care. Regular aerobic exercise and light strength training help keep your weight in check and ease some of your pregnancy symptoms by strengthening your muscles and relieving muscle tension. There are safety considerations to make sure you’re getting all the benefits and taking none of the potential risks.
As your belly grows, your posture changes and you may find you have a deeper curve to your back and a tendency to lean backward as you walk. You also gain fluid volume during pregnancy, which increases your overall weight. Your changing body, plus your changing hormone levels, can leave your joints and muscle sore and achy. You may also find you have an increased appetite or more cravings than usual for certain foods, which often leads to too many calories and weight gain. Exercise can help with both these problems and offer other health benefits.
Regular exercise strengthens muscle, which then better supports your joints and bones. Strong muscles offer the support you need to be able to perform basic activities, like walking, with more stamina and less pain. Exercise also improves your mood and energy levels, both during and after pregnancy, which helps decrease your risk for postpartum depression. As you exercise, you burn calories, so regular exercise helps you maintain a healthy weight gain. The more you exercise before and during your pregnancy, the easier it will be to regain your strength and restart an exercise program after delivery.
Cardio or aerobic exercise is what gets your heart rate up and helps your body release mood-boosting chemicals. The American Pregnancy Association find most low-impact, moderate-intensity exercises suitable for pregnant women, but recommends two over all others — walking and swimming. Walking is easy on your body, and you can slow down and speed up whenever you need to. It gets your heart rate up without putting a great deal of stress on your joints and helps you strengthen leg and back muscles. Swimming supports your whole body in the water, and many pregnant women prefer it because the natural buoyancy makes them feel temporarily weightless and increases range of motion. It’s safe to continue exercises like running or cycling as long as you had experience with these activities before you got pregnant.
Strength training targets your muscles. Aside from helping ease aches and pains, strong muscles can help you during delivery as you’re called upon to push. The stronger your body is before and during pregnancy, the easier it will be for you to recover after birth. Gentle muscle strengthening might be best for pregnancy because lifting heavy weights increases joint strain and may lead to injury. Consider activities like prenatal yoga, pregnancy Pilates or group toning classes that use stretch bands or fitness balls. If you lift weights, lift light weights and do more reps so you’re working muscle without straining.
Exercise does not increase your chances of having a miscarriage, according to the American Pregnancy Association, but there are some safety precautions you need to take. Avoid jarring activities or contact sports. Exercise indoors if the weather outside is too hot or too cold. Keep your exercise light and easy. Stop before you reach the point of breathlessness. Check your pulse rate often and make sure you heart rate isn’t more than 140 beats per minute. At that rate, your core temperature spikes and temperatures over 103 F may cause birth defects. Your heart also pumps less efficiently, limiting the amount of oxygen circulating through your body. A good way to tell if you’re exercising at a safe rate is to see if you can speak at a normal pace without stopping to get air. Most importantly, listen to and trust your body. If you feel tired or experience pain, stop what you’re doing or decrease your intensity.