A Physical Therapy Guide to Exercising During Pregnancy
I know, I know… when you’re pregnant and exhausted, sometimes exercise can be the last thing on your mind. There are some days when the cellular work of creating a human feels like plenty!
But make sure not to skip out on exercise just because you’re pregnant. Exercise is not only safe to perform during pregnancy (with a few exceptions), it also has a host of benefits for both you and your baby.
Here’s everything you need to know about exercising during pregnancy, from its many benefits, its precautions, and how to perform it safely.
Why Exercise During Pregnancy?
Exercise during pregnancy has been shown to be associated with the following:
- Lower incidences of…
- Excessive gestational weight gain
- Gestational diabetes
- Gestational hypertensive disorders
- Preterm birth
- Cesarean birth (C-section)
- Lower birth weight
- Higher incidence of vaginal delivery
Exercise can also lead to faster and more complete recovery from labor and delivery.
What Are The Risks of Exercising While Pregnant?
In an uncomplicated pregnancy, there are minimal risks to exercising in non-extreme situations—aka avoiding contact sports, skydiving, scuba diving, high-altitude exercising if you live at sea level.
Historically, there was a concern that exercise could cause shunting of blood away from the uterus or cause fetal stress, but there’s no current evidence to support this.
For pregnant people with normal uterine arterial blood flow, both you and your growing baby will adapt to exercise in a way that maintains normal oxygen levels to the uterus and fetus.
Guidelines for Exercise During Pregnancy
ACOG guidelines state that walking, swimming, stationary cycling, and yoga are appropriate during pregnancy.1 For pregnant folks that were active in running, weight lifting, or other higher intensity sports prior to pregnancy, there’s no evidence to suggest that these become unsafe during pregnancy.
Here’s a couple of metrics that may be helpful in guiding your exercise program:
- Rating of perceived exertion (RPE) tends to be a better metric than heart rate during pregnancy. Due to the cardiovascular changes to supply blood to two circulatory systems, heart rate will appear high in the first trimester and low in the third trimester as the heart adapts. Keep your RPE between 13-14 (somewhat hard) for moderate intensity exercise, meaning you can still carry on a conversation while exercising.2
- Laying on your back (supine) for a long period of time after 20 weeks may place pressure on the abdominal aorta from the growing uterus, which can cause dizziness and shortness of breath. If you experience these symptoms, change positions.
- Aquatic exercise, such as swimming or walking in the water, can be a great option if you’re experiencing back or hip pain.
- If you’re having pubic symphysis or hip pain, a sacroiliac (SI) joint belt can help to provide stability to the pelvis, making upright activities more comfortable.
A physical therapist who specializes in women’s health can be a great resource for advising how the above recommendations relate to your specific body, health history, and goals with an individualized treatment plan.