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Exercising While Pregnant: What’s safe and what you should avoid

By Jed L. Turk, MD, FACOG | Obstetrics & Gynecology

Two common questions first-time expectant mothers often ask are: “Is exercising safe during pregnancy?” and “Should I be exercising while pregnant?” The short answer is yes. Women who exercise in pregnancy tend to have less weight gain, easier labors, and better recovery. They also decrease their risk for high blood pressure and diabetes during pregnancy.

There are some things to keep in mind, however, when deciding which exercises are safe during pregnancy.

Stamina: Any woman who has been pregnant knows how tired you can feel. You will quickly notice that you will not be able to sustain the same intensity level or duration of exercise compared to when you are not pregnant. Breaking up your exercise routine into shorter episodes can help. Instead of 30 minutes on the treadmill, for example, use it for 10 minutes at a time, three times per day. Women with diabetes in pregnancy have actually been shown to improve their blood sugar levels with as little as 10 minutes of exercise following meals.

Balance: While the uterus grows, your center of gravity changes and it can become very easy to lose your balance. This can occur even before you start showing. Consider avoiding exercise and activities that require good balance such as cycling and skiing. This will help to protect both you and your baby from sustaining any injuries. Swimming is a great form of exercise for expectant mothers as it does not require balance and the buoyancy of water takes strain off of the joints.

Strains and Sprains: While pregnant, your hormones can make your ligaments softer, making it easier to injure a joint or your lower back. Nearly all pregnant women report some degree of back pain during their pregnancies. If you use a treadmill, it should not be placed on an incline in order to prevent excess strain on your lower back, ankles, and knees. It’s also recommended to avoid exercising with free weights as there is potential to over extend a joint if the weight is too heavy. If you wish to continue strengthening exercises, try using resistance machines which are a safer alternative because they avoid extending the joints, when used properly.