Everything You Need to Know About Exercise During Pregnancy

Whether you’re trying to conceive or just found out you’re pregnant (congrats!), if you’re an avid exerciser you’re most likely wondering how pregnancy will impact your workout routine. While you might have to switch things up a bit and try out some new classes, the good news is that you can absolutely still exercise while carrying a baby—with your doc’s permission, of course! In fact, it’s one of the healthiest things you can do for you and your little bundle.

“Although pregnancy is associated with several physiologic changes, and a woman’s response to exercise is different during pregnancy than before pregnancy, exercise can be beneficial for healthy moms-to-be (who are free of obstetric or medical complications),” Maria Brooks BSN, RNC-OB, FACCE, a Lamaze-certified childbirth educator says. “Exercising can improve your overall state of wellbeing, help relieve common pregnancy discomforts, physically prepare your body for the hard work of labor and birth and help your body recover faster after pregnancy and birth. Who can’t benefit from that?”

Once your doc gives you the green light, here’s how you can navigate the gym halls and class rooms with your new gym buddy.

It’s important to tell your instructor you’re pregnant

Regardless of what type of exercise you may be doing, make sure your instructor is aware that you’re expecting so he or she can suggest modifications that will make your workout both safe and enjoyable. “An experienced instructor can help guide you through a practical and realistic workout regimen while keeping in mind some of the common physiologic changes that happen during pregnancy,”  Sherry Ross, MD, OB/GYN, at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif says. “Most individuals trained in fitness coaching and training are aware of which exercises pregnant women should avoid, such as lying on their back after 20 weeks of pregnancy.” As the pregnancy moves along, they can help you adjust workouts based on increased body weight, fatigue, back pain, joint instability.

When in doubt, opt for pregnancy-safe exercises

The best exercises to do while pregnant include brisk walking, light jogging, swimming, recumbent cycling, yoga, elliptical and other stationary work out machines. If you’re new to exercise or stuck to lower-impact workouts before pregnancy, don’t suddenly switch up your routine and take more intense classes. “If you enjoyed CrossFit training before you got pregnant, your body is already adjusted to the routine and you know it offers a mixed strength and conditioning program with a high-intensity workout,” Dr. Ross says. “While it can be a safe exercise while expecting, pregnancy is not be the time to start these more intense types of exercise.”

Any exercise involving the potential for abdominal trauma, such as contact sports, downhill snow skiing, and scuba diving, should be avoided during pregnancy. “Scientific research suggests light to moderate exercise during pregnancy is safe, but the jury is still out on the potential detrimental effects to baby with heavy lifting,” Dr. Brooks says.

If you’re already a long-distance or marathon runner, your doctor might give you the go-ahead to continue training, but if you’re new to the sport, it’s best to wait until after pregnancy. “Along with the normal physiologic and anatomical changes, extreme workouts during pregnancy increase your core body temperature, make your heart work harder and burn valuable calories that can negatively affect a growing baby,” Dr. Ross explains. “In general, I’d recommend deferring marathon, triathlons and other extreme-sport training and focus on less physically demanding exercises that will support the growth and development of the baby.”

Your balance and stamina may decrease during pregnancy

Each trimester brings a new set of physical and emotional circumstances that may or may not change your workout routine. “In the first trimester, many women experience more fatigue, nausea, breast tenderness and weakness so regular exercise may be put on hold until you get to 10-12 weeks,” Dr. Ross advises. “The second trimester, beginning at 13 weeks, is typically the period of time where you feel more like yourself and have maximum energy, so, as a result, regular exercise is welcomed and easily incorporated back into your daily routine.”

As the third trimester gets under way, you tend to slow down carrying excessive weight and holding onto to extra fluids causing swelling and discomfort. Lower back pain, sleeping poorly, constipation, fatigue and feeling more emotional are also common symptoms. For many, becoming a couch potato sounds ideal but now is the best time to continue your regular exercise routine. “Swimming is the perfect third trimester exercise since it helps you feel less bloated, weightless and alleviates back pain as you float in the water,” Dr. Ross says.

The emotional benefits of exercise also help you through the challenges of the third trimester. During the “fourth trimester,” or while you’re prepping for labor and postpartum, all the exercising you’ve done over the course of pregnancy will help with the delivery itself, regardless if vaginal or via C-section. Your postpartum experience will also benefit greatly from keeping your muscles toned, mind sharp and physical stamina intact.

Know the signs of an unhealthy pregnancy and call your doc immediately

If you experience vaginal bleeding, increased shortness of breath, muscle weakness, headache, calf pain or swelling, uterine contractions, decreased fetal movement, fluid leaking from the vagina or feel faint at any point, seek help, stat. To stay on top of your condition (yes, pregnancy is considered a health condition!), monitor your heart rate while you exercise. “Heart rate monitoring is an outdated and old recommendation for assessing how hard your pregnant body is working during your workout,” Dr. Ross explains. “While there’s currently no specific recommendation for your heart rate during exercise for pregnant women, knowing where you stand will make sure you don’t overdo it and will be a tangible bit of information you can report back to your doctor.”

Jenn Sinrich is an editor in New York City, a self-proclaimed foodie always looking for the healthier version of all recipes, a passionate lover of all things cheese, a friendly New Yorker, Bostonian at heart and proud Red Sox fan. Love cats? Cheese? Mac n' Cheese? Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.