If you are uncertain about how to stay fit during pregnancy, you are definitely not alone!
Despite what you may have heard from well-meaning friends, family or society members, prenatal fitness has numerous benefits to both you AND your baby!
In this post, I share everything you need to know about planning your prenatal fitness routine to help you stay fit, stay motivated and reduce the frustration in not knowing what to do or what is recommended.
The good news is you don’t need to give up your favorite workouts during pregnancy!
Each trimester brings several modifications to help protect your body and your baby during your workouts but for the most part, you can keep doing the workouts you love!
Disclaimer: As always, while the benefits of prenatal exercise generally outweigh the risks, make sure you speak with your healthcare provider before starting any new exercises or workout routines during pregnancy.
Amazing Benefit Of Prenatal Fitness
The benefits of exercise during pregnancy are not only important for you but also your growing baby!
Exercise during pregnancy has numerous benefits including build stronger, smarter babies, reduce health complications such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia as well as help you recover faster postpartum.
It also helps:
- Support The Additional Weight Your Body Will Carry– One of the most important reasons to exercise during pregnancy is to accommodate the additional weight your body will carry during pregnancy.
- Reduce Aches and Pains– Staying active actually helps your body feel more comfortable during pregnancy. Strength training during pregnancy will help keep your body strong and relieve some of annoying discomforts.
- Prepare Your Body For Labor– During pregnancy, you are training for one of the most physically exhausting and demanding events of your life. Exercise can help the baby get into position for an easier labor and delivery experience.
- Faster Recovery Postpartum– Your body will have an easier time with recovery if you have maintained strength and endurance throughout your pregnancy.
How Will Pregnancy Affect My Workouts?
Exercising during pregnancy can feel strange because of the changes that your body goes through to accommodate your growing baby.
Even if you feel like you were a conditioned athlete prior to pregnancy, you will notice some significant changes to how your body responds to exercise during pregnancy.
These changes are completely normal and nothing to fear!
- Increased Heart Rate: The rapid increase in blood volume can cause in an increase in heart rate until the heart becomes better adapted to handle the extra volume. These symptoms usually decrease significantly by the fourth month after you heart becomes better adapted for the extra blood volume and flow.
FUN FACT: Research has shown that the placentas of women who exercise regularly during pregnancy grow faster and function better than those of women who are healthy but do not exercise regularly. (Clapp, 2002)
This means that the increase blood volume and circulation induced by exercise can help your baby grow better by providing more oxygen and nutrients to the baby!
- You may feel off balanced. The body releases a hormone called “Relaxin” during pregnancy. This hormone softens the connective tissue which allows the pelvis to open during childbirth. It can also make your hips and other joints more loose while exercising or performing everyday tasks.
- You may feel more sweaty! During pregnancy, your body lowers it’s natural set point for sweating. This means you may feel hotter at a lower temperature than normal. Sweating more easily during pregnancy is the body’s natural cooling system and helps to reduce the risk of your temperature rising enough to bother you or your baby.
Is Strength Training During Pregnancy Safe?
Not only is it safe but it is highly recommended.
However, always speak to your healthcare provider first or if you have any concerns.
Based on the most current research, (1) in uncomplicated pregnancies and with a clearance from your healthcare provider, pregnant women should active daily and it is recommended she get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week.
This should be accumulated over a minimum of three days to gain the most important health benefits of prenatal exercise and reduce their risk of pregnancy complications.
Please note that while exercise is considered safe and even recommended during pregnancy, I am not a health care provider.
Each pregnancy is different and for this reason, please make sure you have discussed your workout goals during pregnancy with your health care provider.
When is Prenatal Exercise NOT Safe?
Despite the general recommendation that pregnant women should remain active during their pregnancy, I would NOT advise you to exercise if your doctor has told you any of the following things:
Exercise is inadvisable for the following conditions:
- Unexplained persistant bleeding
- Ruptured membranes
- Placenta previa after 28 weeks
- Uncontrolled Type I diabetes, hypertension or thyroid disease
- Incompetent cervix
- Intrauterine growth restriction
- Premature labor
- Any other serious cardiovascular or respiratory disorder
Exercise may not be recommended for the following conditions and should be approved by your healthcare provider
- History of spontaneous preterm birth
- Mild or moderate cardiovascular or respiratory disease
- Recurrent pregnancy loss
- Eating Disorder
- Twin pregnancy after the 28th week
- Other significant health conditions that you have spoke with your doctor about.
Safety Tips For Exercising During Pregnancy
While most of your favorite exercises can be continued throughout each trimester of your pregnancy, you will likely need to scale back as your belly grows to support and protect your core and pelvic floor.
With that in mind, there a few important tips to exercise safely during pregnancy. These recommendations are from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG):
- Make sure you get clearance from your healthcare provider if you are new to exercise, have any health conditions or have any concerns about continuing your current exercise routine.
- Stay hydrated by making sure you drink plenty of water before, during and after your workouts. Dehydration is very dangerous during pregnancy. Drinking enough water can be tough so I used this water bottle to keep me on track during all my pregnancies.
- Consider wear a pregnancy support band to prevent excess pressure on your low back and pelvic floor.
- Avoid getting overheated
- Do not lie on your back for extended periods of time especially late in the second trimester and third trimester.
- Avoid contact sports or anything that can cause to fall or getting it in the belly.
Can I Continue My Favorite Workouts During Pregnancy?
One of the most confusing statements when navigating prenatal fitness is, “just continue doing what you were doing prior to pregnancy.”
While continuing your exercise routine prior to pregnancy is considered medically “safe” in uncomplicated pregnancy’s, it may not be functionally beneficial to your changing body during pregnancy.
This means that as your baby grows, you will want to modify your workouts to protect the integrity of your core and pelvic floor and help prevent postpartum issues such as incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.
Is It Safe To Start Exercising During Pregnancy if I’ve Never Worked Out?
Contrary to what you may have heard, pregnancy is actually a great time time to start exercising!
However, this is not the green light to start vigorously breaking a sweat.
You need to start slow and work your way up to longer workouts as tolerated.
If you were not an avid exerciser prior to pregnancy, you will want to start slow with exercises such as light weight lifting, walking, riding a stationary bike or swimming.
If you have been sedentary prior to pregnancy or have a BMI of 30 or more and have received clearance from your healthcare provider, these are my recommendations:
Use the ratings of perceived exertion scale listed below to monitor your intensity level, listen to your body and stay consistent so that your body has an opportunity to adapt to the workouts!
Remember, prenatal exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous to reap the benefits.
How Do I Know How Hard To Exercise?
Your pre-pregnancy fitness level will determine your body’s ability to safely respond to exercise. (source)
If you were an avid runner prior to pregnancy, continuing your routine during pregnancy is considered safe in a normal and healthy pregnancy.
However, if you have never ran prior to pregnancy, then I would not recommend someone start running once they become pregnant.
Years ago, pregnant women were advised to keep their heart rate below 140 beats per minute.
However, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologist Committee (ACOG), exercise based on ratings of perceived exertion may be a better way to monitor exercise intensity in pregnant women.
The reason heart rate is no longer an accurate measure of intensity level is because of the numerous variables that affect a persons heart rate.
This includes, genetics, age, previous activity level, heart rate response to exercise, hydration, nutrition, sleep, anxiety, etc.
Therefore, using the Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale or “Talk Test” is a better measure for appropriate intensity level.
Exercising During The First Trimester
Exercising during the first trimester can feel a little scary and confusing because of all the immediate changes that are going on inside of your body.
The amount of blood your body produces during pregnancy increases by about 40%-50%. (source)
This increased blood volume is needed to provide extra blood flow and nutrients to the baby but it can also make you feel like your heart is beating much faster early in pregnancy.
You may feel more short of breath, dizzy and tired however by the fourth month, your heart becomes better adapted for the extra blood flow and you will probably not notice these symptoms as much.
Exercise Modifications During The First Trimester
Most women do not need to make any significant changes to their workouts during the first trimester.
The intensity of your workouts will depend on how active you were prior to pregnancy.
If you were a runner prior to pregnancy, keep running!
If you enjoyed weight lifting, keep lifting.
You can pretty much do what you were doing prior to pregnancy however you may notice the intensity of your workouts will naturally slow down as your body adjusts to the pregnancy.
You can also continue doing most ab exercises until you start noticing a bump or any coning in your coremuscles.
Is Exercise During The First Trimester Safe If I Have Never Exercised Before?
Yes, now is actually a great time to start!
You will want to start with about 15 minutes a day of moderate intensity exercise and work your way up to 30-45 minutes several days a week as your body gets stronger and more adapted to your workouts.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, women with uncomplicated pregnancies should engage in aerobic and strength-conditioning exercises for least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week (ACOG)
However, if this sounds overwhelming, remember you can break up your workouts to smaller, more manageable time blocks such as 15-20 minutes spread throughout the day.
Staying active and moving your body during the exhausting first trimester will help boost your energy levels, confidence and mood!
Common Symptoms That May Affect Exercise During The First Trimester
The first trimester is the time when your body is making huge changes which can leave you with some not-so-fun side effects.
Having a few or all of these symptoms can make exercising during the first trimester feel very challenging but remember, your goal for the first trimester is to simply take care of yourself while your body adjusts to the changes and demands of pregnancy.
- Increased blood volume & heart rate
- Morning Sickness (nausea/vomiting)
- Breast tenderness and heaviness
- Increased urination
You may notice many of these symptoms disappearing or decreasing by the second trimester so just hang tight, the first trimester can be the hardest!
Does Exercise During The First Trimester Cause Miscarriage?
The most common concern I hear from moms about exercising in the first trimester is that it will cause miscarriage.
While I am not a doctor, the research I have studied and the information I have been given by MULTIPLE Obstetricians is that exercise does not cause miscarriage.
However, because pregnancy is unique for everyone, it is important to always discuss your concerns with your own doctor.
The first trimester is the best time to start focusing on core and pelvic floor exercises to support your body as it changes through pregnancy.
Exercising During The Second Trimester
For many moms, myself included, the second trimester is like the honeymoon phase.
You’re first trimester symptoms have likely decreased, your energy levels may increase and the baby isn’t big enough to making your feel stretched to the brim.
Once you start noticing your cute little baby bump, you’ll need to make some minor modifications to your workouts.
Exercise Modifications During The Second Trimester
- Avoid exercising or lying on your back for extended periods of time.
- As your belly grows, the weight of the fetus can decrease blood flow back to your heart causing you to feel dizzy or lightheaded. This is nothing to be scared of, just don’t spend prolonged periods of time on your back. From personal experience, your body will tell you when it is time to get up!
- Avoid exercises that cause your belly to “cone”
- During the second trimester, the the connective tissue that supports the two hemispheres of abdominal muscles begins to stretch to make room for the growing baby. At this time, you want to modify movements that cause any coning in your core such as planks and push-ups.
- Adjust stance during squats
- During the second trimester as the baby grows, you may need to slightly widen your squat stance to accommodate your belly and pelvis.
- Avoid any exercise that causes a feeling of pressure, pain or bulging in your pelvic floor.
Exercise During The Third Trimester
You are finally in the home stretch!
At this point, you may start noticing changes in your posture and hips as your baby grows.
Maintaining core strength during the third trimester is a must to help relieve back pain, support your baby bump and help prep to push during labor.
Tip Exercise Modifications During The Third Trimester
- Be cautions of over stretching
- During pregnancy, your body releases a joint softening hormone called relaxin. This hormone is responsible for allowing your pelvis and ribcage to expand to accomodate your growing baby and allow the pelvis to expand during delivery.
- This hormone makes your joints a little loser and achy if they are overstretched such as deep squats or yoga. This is nothing to fear just be aware of!
- Avoid bouncing exercises
- Exercises such as hopping, skipping, jumping or bouncing place a lot of pressure on the pelvic floor in the third trimester. These movements should be avoided to protect your pelvic floor.
- Avoid over twisting in exercises
- You may have been told to stop twisting during the third trimester. However, twisting is a very functional and natural movement. We don’t go throughout our days without twisting, right?
- Functionally, twisting should be okay as it mimics our daily activities but if you have diastasis recti or poor balance, twisting should be kept to a minimum and with caution.
- Eliminate or reduce overhead movements
- Reaching above your head such as during shoulder presses, lat pulldowns or even tricep extensions can place extra pressure on your core and cause coning. If you are unable to maintain proper core strength and notice coning during any overhead movements, then avoid these exercises.
- Listen to your body
- You may not need to modify the intensity of your workouts if you have stayed active during your entire pregnancy. However, from personal experience, your workout intensity will naturally start declining as you get closer to delivery. Make sure you listen to your body and only do what feels comfortable and natural.
- Be aware of the position of the baby
- The position of the baby can impact your workouts greatly, especially during the third trimester. Because babies change positions often, you may find some days your workouts feel more challenging than others. For example, you may find certain lower body exercises more challenging if the baby is sitting low in your pelvis.
Final Thoughts on Your Prenatal Exercise Routine
Exercise during pregnancy is one the best things you can do for you and your baby!
Even if you are new to exercise, now is a great time to start building those healthy habits that will benefit you and your baby for the rest of your lives!