The Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy & Tips for How to Get Started
Exercise during pregnancy. Everyone seems to have an opinion, but who and what information can you trust? A sampling of advice may include "walking only", "no impact", "no twisting", "stick with yoga", "don't get your heart rate above 140 bmp", "and the always popular, "just do what you've been doing for exercise." Well, what if you've been training for Ironman Triathlons or perhaps you haven't been exercising at all? Where does that leave you other than a bit lost and if you're motivated, searching for more answers?
With all these conflicting and confusing guidelines, it's no wonder that pregnant women may feel overwhelmed and frustrated when it comes to knowing how to exercise safely and effectively throughout pregnancy. When you couple these confusing recommendations with misinformation from the internet, family, friends and myths passed down from previous generations, it's easy to throw in the towel and cease exercising completely. Trust me, I understand. It is for these reasons, that I became a Pre and Postnatal Exercise Specialist. I am here to help dispel the myths, encourage appropriate, mindful movement throughout pregnancy and to empower women to trust themselves and their bodies.
The benefits of exercise during pregnancy are far reaching and enduring for both mom and baby. Here is a sampling of what the research demonstrates:
Enhanced growth and function of placenta ((1))
Improved stress tolerance, advanced neurobehavioral maturation ((2))
Babies are in better condition at the start of labor and tolerate the stresses of labor better…((3))
Reduced likelihood of preeclampsia ((4))
For prevention or management of gestational diabetes ((5))
Less fat gain and fat accumulation than non-exercising pregnant women ((6))
Fewer pregnancy discomforts ((7))
Decreased need for pain relief by 35% ((8))
Decreased need for surgical and non-surgical interventions ((9))
Clinical trials find positive effects of physical exercise on depressive symptoms during pregnancy and postpartum ((10))
Long Term Benefits:
At one year, babies born of exercising women do better on standardized intelligence tests...their physical performance is better as well ((11))
At five years, offspring of women who exercised scored much higher on tests of general intelligence and oral language skills ((12))
Possible reduced risk of cardiovascular and metabolic disease later in life if babies who were born lean continued to stay lean ((13))
Kind of makes you want to lace up your sneakers and get out the door, doesn’t it?! But where should you start?
Of course, it is vital that you receive clearance from your healthcare provider prior to beginning any exercise program. Once you have the green light, seek out a prenatal exercise specialist that can guide you in appropriate, individualized exercise. Our bodies are in a constant state of evolution throughout pregnancy. That might mean making modifications for reflux or sciatic nerve pain one day and for fatigue or nausea on another. Or, it may even mean working at a slightly higher intensity because that’s what feels right for that day with the energy in that moment. Let an expert lead the way. Under their guidance you are sure to gain confidence and knowledge.
So, what if meeting with a specialist is not an option for you? Not to fear, I have a few tips that will help set you on the right path for a healthy and fit pregnancy.
Setting the Stage for Self-Awareness:
-First and foremost, listen to your body. Only YOU can know how your body feels. If something does not feel right, do not do it!
-Work with the body you have EACH DAY remembering to stay present. Be patient with the changes, they are temporary.
-Refrain from being competitive with yourself— in mind and body.
The Practical Steps:
-Invest in a prenatal exercise book(s) or dvd(s). Do some research to find one or a few
that resonate with you. The resources you choose should consist of routines that not only fit into
your schedule, but ones that you will genuinely enjoy (ie: pilates, yoga, intervals, resistance
-Be sure to read your prenatal exercise text from front to back prior to beginning—paying close
attention to the do’s and don’ts, safety guidelines and modifications.
-Invest in any equipment you might need (ie: mat, exercise ball) and create the necessary space
in your home.
-Make exercise a priority and set aside time to complete your routine of choice, while being
realistic with your goals.
General Exercise Guidelines:
-When exercising appropriately, your workout should leave you feeling energized and never
-In addition to your prenatal exercise routine of choice, remain active throughout most days of
the week—think less about “fitting in exercise” and more about making regular movement the
norm. Walk, walk, walk!
-Always begin your exercise session with a warm-up and end session with a cool-down
(approximately 5 minutes in length).
-Always exercise in a cool, well ventilated area.
-Exercise at 4-5 on a scale of 1-10—at this level you should be able to carry on a light
-Enjoy a light snack of protein and carbohydrates approximately one hour prior to beginning
-Hydrate! Drink approximately 8 ounces of water for every 15 minutes of exercise.
-Exhale on the effort—this is important to bring fresh oxygen to your muscles and
-Be aware of when to stop exercising. According to ACOG Guidelines, cease exercising
immediately and call your health care provider should any of the following occur: vaginal
bleeding, dizziness or faint feeling, increased shortness of breath, chest pain, headache, muscle
weakness, calf pain or swelling, uterine contractions, decreased fetal movement, fluid leaking
from vagina. ((14))
Finally, do your best to enjoy exercising while pregnant. You are giving yourself and your baby
the wonderful gift of health!
Disclaimer: In utilizing this information in your home exercise program, always exercise with
caution and consult your health care provider with any concerns. None of the information posted
by this author is intended to be diagnostic or prescriptive in nature.
1. Clapp III, J. F., & Cram, C. (2012). Exercising Through Your Pregnancy: A compelling case for exercise before, during, and after pregnancy (2nd ed.). Omaha, NE: Addicus Books.
2. Clapp III JF. Lopez B. Harcar-Sevcik R. (1999). Neonatal behavioral profile of the offspring of women who continued to exercise regularly throughout pregnancy. Am J Obstetrics Gynecology, 180: 91-43.
3. Clapp III, J. F., & Cram, C. (2012). Exercising Through Your Pregnancy: A compelling case for exercise before, during, and after pregnancy (2nd ed.), p. 64. Omaha, NE: Addicus Books.
4. Yeo, Davidge, J Womens Health Gend Based Med. 2001 Dec;10(10):983-9.
5. Harris, White. Diabetes Management and Exercise in Pregnant Patients with Diabetes, doi: 10.2337/diaclin.23.4.165, Clinical Diabetes October 2005 vol. 23 no. 4 165-168.
5. Magnon, Seshiah, Indian J Endocrinol Metab. 2011 Oct-Dec; 15(4): 284–293. doi: 10.4103/2230-8210.85580
6. Clapp III, J. F., & Cram, C. (2012). Exercising Through Your Pregnancy: A compelling case for exercise before, during, and after pregnancy (2nd ed.), p. 84. Omaha, NE: Addicus Books.
7. Clapp III, J. F., & Cram, C. (2012). Exercising Through Your Pregnancy: A compelling case for exercise before, during, and after pregnancy (2nd ed.). Omaha, NE: Addicus Books.
8. Clapp III, J. F., & Cram, C. (2012). Exercising Through Your Pregnancy: A compelling case for exercise before, during, and after pregnancy (2nd ed.), p. 97. Omaha, NE: Addicus Books.
9. Clapp III, J. F., & Cram, C. (2012). Exercising Through Your Pregnancy: A compelling case for exercise before, during, and after pregnancy (2nd ed.). Omaha, NE: Addicus Books.
10. Nascimento, S. L., Surita, F. G., Cecatti, J. G. (2012). Physical exercise during pregnancy: a systematic review. Current Opinion in Obstetrics and Gynecology, 24(6), 387-3943.
11, 12, 13. Clapp III, J. F., & Cram, C. (2012). Exercising Through Your Pregnancy: A compelling case for exercise before, during, and after pregnancy (2nd ed.). Omaha, NE: Addicus Books.
14. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “Frequently Asked Questions FAQ0119 Pregnancy.” The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 2011. Web. 8 Sept 2014.