It was once thought that exercising while pregnant could be dangerous to the mother and/or baby, however over recent years studies have shown that exercise for pregnant women can be very beneficial. Exercise during pregnancy helps prepare the mother’s body for labor as well as maintains a healthy weight for the mom. Unless there is a medical condition that would put either mother or baby at risk most pregnant women are safe to exercise during pregnancy.
Benefits of Exercising While Pregnant
- Faster return to prepregnancy weight, strength, and flexibility
- Greater energy reserves to handle the increased needs of a pregnant body
- Prepares the body for the physical event of labor
- Better circulation
- Strength to support additional size (breasts and baby) and postural changes
- Decreases back discomfort, muscle tension, and leg cramps
- Decrease in nausea, fatigue, round ligament pain
- Enhances psychological well-being, mood, and energy levels
- Improves appetite
- Improves sleep
- Shorter labor, fewer c-sections
Please consult with your physician before performing any of these prenatal exercises.
These simple exercises anyone can do at home to help maintain a healthy pregnancy.
Tips for proper technique
- Instruction in the proper execution of exercises by a group fitness instructor, personal trainer, or physical therapist
- Postural awareness: Good posture involves: a slight bend at the knees, pelvis tucked under, belly drawn in (to the best of your ability!), chest lifted, shoulder blades pulled down and back, and chin tucked in.
The first step for anyone pregnant or not. Cardio helps build stamina for labor. Try taking a brisk walk, going for a swim, or riding a stationary bike.
Squats help strengthen the legs which have to carry around the added weight of the baby as well as strengthen the core muscles.
Directions: Stand with feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees and push your butt back as if you are going to sit back into a chair.
Lunges also help strengthen the legs and core muscles.
Directions: Stand with feet hip-width apart. Take a step forward and bend both knees, until the back knee is just above the floor. Stand back up and repeat the movement alternating between legs.
Push-Ups are beneficial for strengthening the arms, chest, back and core muscles.
Bird Dog poses help to strengthen the core muscles.
Directions: On your hand and knees, raise your right arm and left leg at the same time. Keep your shoulders and hips parallel to the floor. Hold for a few seconds, then lower back down. Repeat, alternating sides.
Hip Stretch 1
Many women complain of hip pain during pregnancy from the added weight. Hip stretches will help relieve a bit of that stress.
Directions: Lying on your back cross your ankle over the opposite knee, grab your legs behind the knee and pull your foot off the ground.
Hip Stretch 2
Directions: Lying on your back cross one leg over the other then twist at the waist allowing your hip muscle to stretch.
Additional Exercises or Areas of Focus
- Calf stretching (to decrease cramping)
- Pelvic floor exercises (prevents incontinence and assists in recovery)
- Relaxation/breathing exercises (helps with labor and getting needed rest)
- Balance training (helps prevent risk of falling due to changes in center of gravity)
- Stretching to chest (to combat poor posture from added weight in chest and belly)
- Listen to your body! If it doesn’t feel right, stop, or slow down. (Even if it felt right yesterday.)
- Stay hydrated (at least a Dixie cup of water for every 15 minutes of exercising)
- Don’t exercise in extreme heat.
- Exercise regularly (i.e. 3x/week), not once a month
- No contact sports
- Wear a supportive bra and shoes
- A high carb snack prior to exercise will help prevent blood sugar from dropping too low
- Always take time to warm up and cool down.
- Instructor led activity helps ensure you are exercising with proper form
- Avoid extreme positions or jerky/jarring/twisting movements at any joint–joints are extra loose and more prone to injury
- Postpartum–return gradually
When NOT to Exercise
- Pregnancy Induced Hypertension
- Premature rupture of membranes
- Preterm labor
- Incompetent cervix
- Vaginal Bleeding
- Intrauterine growth retardation
- Placenta Previa
- SUDDEN swelling of ankles, hands, or face
- Persistent headache or distorted vision
- Unexplained dizziness/fainting
- Swelling/pain/redness in calf
- Excessive fatigue
- Unexplained abdominal pain
- Persistent pain
- Lack of baby movement
- Extreme shortness of breath
Again, Please consult with your physician before performing any of these prenatal exercises.
Kara Olexa is a certified group exercise instructor at O2 Fitness Clubs in Raleigh, NC. She is a Licensed Physical Therapist and has her M.S in Physical Therapy and B.S. in Exercise Physiology. She is AFAA-certified as a Primary Group Exercise Instructor and began focusing on pregnancy and women’s health issues early on in her career. She is also a mom of four!