The Ultimate Guide to Safe Exercise when Pregnant

8 Months pregnant & Exercising

This post is in reference to pregnant women who have been cleared by their physician to participate in an exercise program while pregnant. If you have any questions or concerns about your current pregnancy please speak with your physician prior to initiating an exercising program. Again, this post is in reference to pregnant women in the absence of any medical or obstetric complications who have been cleared by their physician to participate in exercise. Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links to all products that I love and use daily. 

 The big news of being pregnant comes with many changes. Things you cannot eat, things you cannot drink and things you are no long allowed to do for the next 9 months. Fortunately, research shows that exercise is not one of those things you have to abandon! In fact, exercising while pregnant (as long as your pregnancy does not have any complications and you have been cleared by your physician) has been shown to be beneficial to both the mother and unborn child. In this post, we will review the benefits of exercise while pregnant, the do’s and don’ts and how to monitor yourself to ensure the safety of you and your child.

The 5 rules I stuck too (please read the entire article to see why I stuck to these rules):

  1. If you are short of breath the baby is short of breath
    • Stick to target range of 12 – 14 on the RPE scale.
  2. If you are hot, the baby is hot.
    • Choose the right environment to work out in. If its hot outside move your exercise indoors. If that is not possible then take a day off. It is not worth the risk of overheating.
  3. If you are thirsty the baby is thirsty.
    • Drinking enough water is important to stay hydrated and to help cool your body. What helped me stay hydrated when pregnant was my hydroflask. The water stays cold for up to 12 hours! I literally take it everywhere with me still to this day.
  4. If you are feeling sore/uncomfortable or fatigued, pregnancy is not the time to push your exercise limits.
    • On those really tired days when all you want to do is lay down, I would attempt a small walk for 10 – 15 minutes and then assess how I felt. If I was still tired, I gave myself the day off.
    • If I was feeling sore (I began experiencing mild low back and hip discomfort with jogging) I used my belly bandit upsie belly. This gave me support and stability allowing me to continue my workouts (I was able to run 3 – 4 miles until my 3rd trimester).
  5. My goal each week was 30 minutes 6 – 7 days a week or a total of 210 minutes.
    • If I passed this goal, that was just a bonus.
    • When I was pregnant, ANY exercise counted towards that goal. That 10 minute walk at lunch went towards my goal, as well as the 30 minutes of strength training. I tracked my exercise using my tom tom watch. This helped me keep track of time, distance, steps etc. I had never used fitness tracker until I was pregnant. Now I take it on every run with me.


When to avoid &/ stop exercise2 (consider contacting MD if experiencing these symptoms):

  1. Vaginal bleeding
  2. Shortness of breath before exercise
  3. Dizziness
  4. Headache
  5. Chest pain
  6. Muscle weakness
  7. Calf pain or swelling
  8. Preterm labor
  9. Decreased fetal movement (count your baby kicks)
  10. Leaking amniotic fluid

Benefits of Exercising While Pregnant:

To most, it is common knowledge that exercising is considered beneficial to the human body. Until recent years however, pregnant women were cautioned against exercising while pregnant. According to the Guidelines of the American College of Obstetrics & Gynecologists for exercise during pregnancy, “pregnancy is recognized as a unique time for behavior modification and is no longer considered a condition for confinement2”. In fact, it has been reported that women who exercised regularly prior to and during pregnancy, weighed less prior to the pregnancy and gained less weight during their pregnancy. Another benefit assessed through research is that women who exercise regularly tolerate labor pain better than sedentary women. It has also been determined that regular exercise is a safe and beneficial way to aid in the treatment and prevention of gestational diabetes.5

Monitoring your exercise:

The majority of women have heard people say “as long as you were exercising before you were pregnant, you can continue to exercise while you are pregnant”. While this is true for the most part, there are still a few guidelines to keep in mind and a few tricks to monitoring your safety and your child’s safety. Remember, exercise is supposed to be beneficial to you and your little ones health. It is not supposed to put either of you at risk. By simply following a few guidelines listed below you can safely exercise throughout your entire pregnancy (as long as you are cleared by your MD).

How hard should I be working?

General guidelines for healthy adults according to the CDC-ACSM (Center for Disease Control & Prevention-American College of Sports Medicine) is 30 minutes or more of moderate intensity exercise on most, if not all days of the week. The American of Obstetricians & Gynecologists report that this is also an acceptable guideline for pregnant women to follow.2 So, how do you know what “moderate intensity exercise” feels like? Generally, heart rate would be a strong way to monitor ones response to exercise. However, pregnant women’s heart rates vary so greatly that it is NOT recommended to use your heart rate to determine if you are exercising at the correct intensity.4 Instead, it is suggested that pregnant women use a scale known as the “Rate of Perceived Exertion” or the RPE to determine their response to exercise. When exercising, the target range is between 12 – 14.3 As you can see below, that means you are working hard enough to feel challenged, however you should be able to hold a conversation. So, for those of you that can run and carry on a conversation, it is acceptable to do so!! For those of you who feel out of breath when walking up a hill, take small breaks. This is a very simple and effective way to determine your individual response to exercise. Remember ,every person responds differently and every pregnancy is different so please do not compare yourself to others and work at a pace you feel comfortable with.

Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) Scale

How long and how often should I exercise?

As stated above, it is acceptable to exercise 30 minutes at a moderate pace (12 – 14 on the RPE scale) most days of the week.2 This does not mean that you cannot exercise more than 30 minutes at a time. However, there are a few things to consider when exercising for greater than 30 minutes. The main thing to consider is your core body temperature while exercising. When someone exercises for a prolonged period of time their body produces more heat. This can place an unborn child at risk. Make sure you exercise in cool temperatures or indoors in an air conditioned environment.2 The second thing to consider is proper hydration. Make sure to continuously take in water throughout your workouts to maintain your hydration levels and to keep your body temperature at a safe level.

What type of exercise is safe?

Research has shown that most forms of exercise are safe while pregnant. Of course, there are a few exceptions and things to consider before determining which form of exercise you wish to participate in. First off, activities with a high risk of falling (examples include gymnastics, horse back riding, skiing etc) should be avoided.2 Secondly, exercise with high risk of contact or abdominal trauma such as soccer should be avoided. Another risk factor is exercising at high altitudes if you are not acclimated to the environment. Also, after the first trimester, exercise while laying on your back (supine) should be avoided. Lastly, scuba diving should be avoided while pregnant because an unborn child is at increased risk of decompression sickness.2

As long as you select a form of exercise within these guidelines you can ensure your safety and your child’s safety. Best of luck and remember to ALWAYS check with your physician to ensure exercise is a safe choice for you and your babe.

 

Keep your eye out for our next blog post regarding postpartum exercise.  Follow us on instagram, facebook or sign up for our email list to stay up to date with our blog posts.  Thanks for reading and best of luck in a happy and healthy pregnancy!

Our first walk as mother and son

References:

  1. Artal, Raul MD. Exercise in Pregnancy: Guidelines. Clinical Obstetrics & Gynecology: Sept 2016 – Vol 59 – Issue 3 – pp 639 -644.
  2. Artal R & O’Toole M. (2003) Guidelines of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Br J Sports Med; 37: 6 – 12
  3. Artal R (1992) Exercise and Pregnancy. Clinics in Sports Medicine; 11(2): 363 – 377.
  4. Brin, Lindsay. How to exercise when you’re expecting: For the 9 months of pregnancy and the 5 months it takes to get your best body back. New York: Plume, 2011. Print.
  5. Zavorsky, Gerald S. PhD; Longo, Lawrence D MD. (2011) Adding Strength Training, Exercise Intensity, and Caloric Expenditure to Exercise Guidelines in Pregnancy. Obstetrics & Gynecology: June 2011- Vol 117 – Issue 6 – pp 1399 – 1402.