Exercise Don’ts When You're Pregnant

You've probably heard about the benefits of exercising during pregnancy: better sleep, more strength and endurance, and a lighter mood. It’s great for you to take walks or swim, for instance. But some exercises are not a good idea when you're pregnant. Knowing the difference can help keep you and your growing baby safe.

Exercises to Avoid

If you were exercising before you became pregnant, ask your doctor or midwife if it’s safe to keep the same routine. Here are some activities to stay away from:

Exercise to lose weight. Depending on your pre-pregnancy weight, you can expect to gain about 25-35 pounds. This can be hard to take, emotionally and physically, but save the calorie burning for after you give birth. As long as you eat a healthy diet, weight gain during pregnancy is a sign of your baby’s healthy development.

Contact sports. Rough-and-tumble sports like soccer, basketball, and ice hockey come with a high risk of getting knocked in the stomach. Avoid these sports after your first trimester, when your belly starts to get bigger.

Fall-prone activities. The risks outweigh the benefits when it comes to activities that require a lot of balance, such as skiing and horseback riding. Even riding a bike outdoors is sketchy when you're not used to balancing a pregnant belly. After week 12 or 14, do your pedaling on a stationary bike. If you ride a bike for transportation, talk with your doctor about how to keep yourself and your baby safe.

Overdoing it. Pushing to the point of exhaustion may boost athletic performance, but when you're pregnant, it can reduce blood flow to your uterus. During exercise, you should be able to sing one round of “Happy Birthday” without running out of breath. If you can’t, you're pushing too hard.

Bouncing or jarring activities. Joints get looser during pregnancy, which can raise your risk of injury. Take a temporary vacation from high-impact aerobics and kickboxing.

Too much heat. On hot summer days, plan ahead so you can exercise in the cool of the morning or evening, or find a gym that has air conditioning. Steer clear of Bikram and other forms of hot yoga while you're pregnant. Make sure you drink plenty of water.

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Lying on your back. It’s fine to lie on your back for a few minutes. But as your uterus gets heavier, it can cut off circulation to your legs and feet, as well as to your baby. Avoid yoga poses, crunches, and any other activities that call for lying on your back longer than just a couple of minutes.

High-altitude exercise. If you visit the mountains while you’re pregnant, stay below 6,000 feet when you exercise. Talk with your doctor or midwife if you have questions so you don’t unnecessarily avoid healthy exercise. Here are signs of altitude sickness you should watch out for:

If you have any of these symptoms, call it quits for the day and call your doctor or midwife.

Deep-sea exploration. Put any plans to go scuba diving on hold. The change in pressure could put your baby at risk of decompression illness.

Making Exercise Modifications

If your favorite sport appears on the list of don’ts, you may be able to continue, within reason. Talk with your doctor or midwife about ways to modify your exercise so it's safe for your baby. Here are a few suggestions:

Reduce intensity. Instead of sprinting around the track, go for a light jog or a brisk walk. Instead of hot yoga, look for a prenatal yoga class.

Shorten your workout. As your pregnancy progresses, you may tire out more quickly. Save energy by breaking up your exercise into smaller sessions. If you can’t take a 30-minute walk, take several 10-minute walks throughout the day.

Shift your weight. Roll up a towel and put it under one side of your back so you can keep the blood flowing to your legs and uterus while you stretch.

Use lighter weights. More repetitions with lighter weights can keep your muscles strong without hurting your joints.

With these modifications, you have many ways to exercise during pregnancy that are good for you and for your baby’s health. Before you head out to the gym or field, talk with your doctor or midwife. Then go ahead and get moving!

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD, FACOG on July 05, 2014

Sources

SOURCES:

Boston Women’s Health Book Collective. Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth, Simon and Schuster, 2008.

Brookside Associates Medical Education Division: “Activity Modifications During Pregnancy. In: Obstetric and Newborn Care - I.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Physical Activity: Healthy Pregnant or Postpartum Women."

Heather J. Alker, MD, Board Certified Obstetrician & Gynecologist, Childbirth Educator, Amherst, MA.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Weight-Control Information Network: "Fit for Two."

Office on Women’s Health: "Staying Healthy and Safe."

Riley, L. Pregnancy: The Ultimate Week-By-Week Pregnancy Guide, Meredith Books, 2006.

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans: Exercise During Pregnancy: You’ll Both Benefit."

Walker, A. The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating During Pregnancy, McGraw-Hill, 2005.

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