Pregnancy Information Center

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How to Exercise Safely When You're Pregnant


The right way to start and stay active during pregnancy

Updated December 30, 2015

By Natalie Gingerich Mackenzie

Whether you’re a bona fide gym rat or you’ve been meaning to get in shape for years, there’s nothing like having a baby on the way to send your get-healthy motivation soaring. But is exercise safe for that little life growing inside of you?

Healthcare providers used to be more cautious in endorsing exercise during pregnancy, but growing evidence has shown clear benefits for mother and baby. Babies born to active mothers have healthier hearts and are less likely to become obese, while mothers who exercise may have an easier birth and a faster recovery, research has found. 

In addition, exercising during pregnancy will help control weight gain, improve circulation and posture, increase muscle strength and energy, relieve muscle aches and cramps and reduce digestive problems like constipation, as well as boost your mood and help you sleep. Exercise during pregnancy may also decrease your risk of developing gestational diabetes and help control high blood pressure. 

The American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), the nonprofit association of women’s health doctors, recommends most women exercise for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week — and that includes pregnant women, even those who are new to exercise. Ready to get started? Read on to find out how to safely exercise during pregnancy.

Health and safety first. All pregnant women should run their exercise regimen by their provider, but it’s especially important for women with certain risk factors. If you have one of the below, consult with your provider before starting an exercise program, or stop exercising and speak with your provider if you develop any of the following during pregnancy:

  • Persistent uterine contractions (more than 6 to 8 per hour)
  • A history of spontaneous miscarriage or premature labor
  • Heart disease or high blood pressure
  • Respiratory disorders including asthma
  • Pre-eclampsia, a serious blood pressure disorder of pregnancy
  • Spotting or bleeding
  • Anemia
  • Twins, triplets or multiples
  • Placenta previa

Don’t overdo it. Keep the intensity to a moderate level, especially in the first trimester, even if you were a hard-core exerciser before getting pregnant. Your heart is already beating 15 to 20 beats per minute (bpm) faster than before you got pregnant. 

Back off. After the first trimester, skip any exercises that are done on your back as this decreases blood flow to the uterus. 

Keep your cool. Be extra cautious in hot, humid weather. Wear lightweight clothing that breathes.

Drink up. Staying hydrated is extra-important for avoiding overheating and dehydration. You should already be drinking more fluid during pregnancy — don’t skimp on water during and after your workouts!

Warm up and cool down. Ease into each workout with a few minutes of slow, easy exercise to warm up your muscles and joints, and slow down for the last few minutes to prevent blood from pooling in your working muscles.

Wear a good bra. If your bra size has changed since becoming pregnant, now is the time to shop for a well-made, supportive, breathable sports bra. 

Gently stretch afterwards. Just don’t convince yourself you’re the next Olympic gymnast thanks to those extra-lax ligaments, which have been loosened by pregnancy hormones, leaving your joints more prone to injury. 

Use common sense. If something hurts or you feel dizzy, slow down. ACOG recommends you stop exercising and call your provider right away if you experience any of the following symptoms during your workout:

  • Vaginal bleeding 
  • Dizziness or feeling faint 
  • Increased shortness of breath 
  • Chest pain 
  • Headache 
  • Muscle weakness 
  • Calf pain or swelling 
  • Uterine contractions 
  • Decreased fetal movement 
  • Fluid leaking from the vagina 

Regular exercisers can find specific pregnancy workout advice here. If you're new to exercise, find tips for starting to workout while pregnant here

Published October 17, 2011. 

Natalie Gingerich Mackenzie is a health and fitness writer, as well as a certified personal trainer through the American Council on Exercise. She regularly contributes to national magazines including Fitness, Shape and SELF, and is the author of Tone Every Inch.

Reviewed by Elisabeth Aron, MD, MPH, FACOG on October 5, 2015.
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