If you are like me I had really great intentions to eat well and exercise throughout both of my pregnancies. I had just started running regularly about 2-3 weeks prior to getting pregnant and wanted to stick to some healthy workouts for my pregnancy. As that nausea kicked in my workouts lagged and the next thing I knew I hadn’t run in a few weeks. Since I hadn’t been active for very long prior to my pregnancy I was really unsure what was safe. I knew I should probably workout but the fear and lack of fitness really stopped me on so many occasions from developing a healthy workout routine. I knew there were health benefits for the both of us, but I never really got things on track.
Like me many women struggle to maintain a regular workout regimen. Only 15-38% of women report following physical activity guidelines, and about 60% of women are inactive during their pregnancies. I’ve spoken with several other women and many say what that holds them back is concerns about what is safe to do during pregnancy.
Benefits of Healthy Workouts During Pregnancy?
Regular exercise during pregnancy has shown ~40% reduction in developing major pregnancy related complications such as:
- gestational diabetes
- gestational hypertension
- reduction in maternal depressive symptoms
It has also shown a lower risk of delivering low birth weight babies, and a decrease in preterm birth or miscarriage.
Other benefits that I believe many women can get behind:
- maintaining physical activity throughout pregnancy leads to less weight gained during pregnancy and less postpartum weight retention.
- Increased self body image throughout pregnancy
- Better psychological well being – decrease in incidence of depression
- Less lower back pain
- Improved fetal development in the womb and after birth
- Easier labor – less incidence of premature labor, shorter duration of active labor, less cesarean births, and reduced incidence of acute fetal distress
Contraindications to a Regular Moderate Workout Routine?
There have been a lot of changes in recommendations of what is considered safe and healthy workouts for pregnancy. Now most doctors recommend some form of regular physical activity, but in some cases they recommend modified activity or bedrest. In two studies they found in both single and multiple pregnancies there was no evidence to support bedrest in decreasing risk of preterm birth (before 34 weeks), infant deaths (before or 1 week after birth), or low birth weight compared to women who stayed home and maintained their daily activities. In developed regions bedrest was associated with shorter gestations and higher risk for premature birth. If bedrest is recommended please have a long discussion with your provider about the pros and cons. Make sure you are making an informed decision.
However, Women with the following conditions are recommended to refrain from moderate to vigorous physical activity:
- severe respiratory disease (COPD, cystic fibrosis, or restrictive lung disease)
- severe acquired or congenital heart defects with exercise intolerance
- uncontrolled or severe arrythmia
- placental abruption
- vasa previa
- uncontrolled type I diabetes
- intrauterine growth restriction
- active preterm labor
- severe preeclampsia
- cervical insufficiency
If you have the following conditions you should discuss with your provider what modifications should be made in your exercise routine:
- mild respiratory disorders
- mild congenital or acquired heart disease
- well controlled type I diabetes
- mild preeclampsia
- preterm premature rupture of membranes
- placental previa after 28 weeks
- untreated thyroid disease
- symptomatic severe eating disorder
- multiple nutrient deficiencies or chronic undernutrition
- moderate heavy smoking in presence of comorbidities
7 Healthy Workouts for Pregnancy
Pilates and yoga can be a great option for most pregnant women as it is low impact and comes with some great pregnancy benefits. It can help eliminate or manage a lot of pain, strengthen your pelvic floor (aids in delivery & recovery postpartum), strengthen abdominal muscles, improved balance, control your breathing, strengthen your legs, and help you relax. Regular yoga practice has a significant association with optimism, power, and well being and a reduction in anxiety. It is best to consult with an instructor who is familiar with pre and postnatal modifications.
The goal here should be to maintain a level of fitness rather than optimizing it. It’s probably not best to try to start training competitively right now. Resistance training is very beneficial but should be done following some guidelines. It is best to look into specific movements that are not recommended in each phase of pregnancy. Three days a week (nonconsecutive) routine with strength training allows for recuperation. More than this can be really unnecessary and could lead to injury. Focusing on total body workouts is preferred to particular body sets (arms, legs, abs) as it can be more static and cause blood to pool in one specific part of the body. Choosing to increase repetitions versus intensity is safer when joints are more relaxed to reduce risk of injury. Stay active in between sets by walking around or light stretching as motionless standing can again cause blood to pool.
Biking on the road has some significant risks related to trauma (fall or motor vehicle accident) that make more high risk and is typically not recommended during pregnancy. If you love to bike, a stationary bike can be a great option for you. With so many women having access at home to group workouts with Peloton (and other programs), this can become a positive asset to your maternal health and wellbeing during pregnancy and beyond.
For anyone that is looking for healthy workouts during pregnancy that are low impact walking outside and hiking have many great benefits. It is easy on your body but can help in increasing energy, immune function, attention, and social connection (if you can get a group of friends to go with you). The fresh air and sunlight can also do wonders for your mental health.
The water takes a lot of stress off your body (low impact) and can be great for pain relief during pregnancy. It can lead to better sleep and can be done safely in all three trimesters. It is recommended of course to not over do it, just like any other type of exercise. Sticking to about 3 times per week for about 30 minutes is best. Remember watersports and scuba diving are not approved for pregnancy.
Low Impact Aerobics
Some safe low impact aerobics that we haven’t yet talked about could include: elliptical, step stool aerobics, zumba, dance, or other low impact aerobic classes. The ACOG (American College of OBstetricians and Gynecologists) recommends about 30 minutes of walking or low impact aerobics most days of the week. Always listen to your body and consult with your physician if you have any concerns about a particular workout.
There are many benefits to running during pregnancy including reduced back pain, constipation, improved mental health and healthy pregnancy weight. It can become more difficult as you advance through your pregnancy. Just like with other workouts training for something new or outside your current fitness level is not recommended but running can be a great way to maintain your health and create some normalcy in your life. Listen to your body and be open to adjusting as necessary.
To maintain healthy workouts for pregnancy always consult with your physician. They know you and your whole health history. They can advise you throughout your pregnancy as things evolve to make the safest choices for your situation. The benefits are numerous for both you and your baby now and into the postpartum period. Wherever you are in your pregnancy take a step now to add in one of these exercises into your daily routine. Set aside at least 15-30 minutes. Your journey to a healthier pregnancy starts today!!
Jess is a registered nurse with over 6+ years of critical care experience for patients young and old and is the mother of two small children. After having her own children she felt inspired to provide mothers with real actionable guidance and education to make informed decisions throughout their pregnancy and postpartum experience.