Safe Exercises for Pregnant Women

Exercises for pregnant women have proven to have many benefits. Women who exercise during pregnancy report having:

  • greater endurance during pregnancy and labor,
  • greater ease in carrying the extra weight of their growing babies and
  • good posture as a result of strong, flexible muscles.

Exercising also helps prevent or minimize common problems, such as back and hip pain, strained ligaments, constipation, prolapsed organs and incontinence resulting from stress on the musculoskeletal system.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends the following guidelines for exercise during and after pregnancy:

  • Exercise regularly (three times per week).
  • Avoid exercises that require lying on your back after the first trimester.
  • Modify the intensity of your regular, pre-pregnancy workout.
  • Eat adequately and do not exercise to lose weight during pregnancy.
  • Don't get overheated. Drink plenty of liquids.
  • Avoid beginning a vigorous exercise routine during the first four to six weeks postpartum.

Consult your obstetrician or midwife about your exercise program both prior to and during your pregnancy.

Strengthen Your Muscles
The two major sets of muscles to work on when you're pregnant are:

  • Abdominal muscles - These allow you to maintain correct posture and alignment and reduce strain on the ligaments and pelvic-floor muscles.

    To strengthen abdominal muscles, do "curl-ups," a modified sit-up done to a maximum of 45 degrees off the floor, with knees bent and the back of the waist flat on the floor. (Avoid this exercise after the first trimester.)

  • Pelvic-floor muscles - These help prevent stress incontinence (urine leakage) and prolapsed uterus, rectum and bladder (a condition where these organs collapse into the vaginal walls). Strong pelvic-floor muscles also promote quicker healing from episiotomies and stretched perineum from childbirth.

    To strengthen pelvic-floor muscles, use Kegel exercises in all positions: lying down, standing, squatting or sitting. Start by tightening and holding the muscles around the vagina for five seconds as if you were trying to stop urinating, then releasing them. Work up to 10 squeezes, 10 times per day for a total of 100. (Avoid doing this exercise while lying down after the first trimester.)

Stretch Your Muscles
During pregnancy, some muscles are typically tight and should be stretched:

  • Hamstrings - Stand with one leg elevated and held straight in front of you on a chair or table; bend slightly forward from the hips.
  • Back - Sit on the floor with your knees bent and ankles crossed. Allow the legs to fall apart. Bend slightly forward.

Safe Sports
The following sports are generally considered safe for women who have a normal, low-risk pregnancy: walking, swimming, low-impact aerobics, stationary bicycling, jogging (if you jogged before pregnancy) and tennis (played moderately). How and how much you exercise depends on your fitness level and general health during pregnancy.

Be Careful If …
Avoid strenuous exercise during your pregnancy if any of the following risk factors exist:

  • persistent second- or third-trimester bleeding
  • preterm rupture of membranes
  • pregnancy-induced hypertension
  • preterm labor during the prior or current pregnancy or both
  • incompetent cervix
  • growth retardation within the uterus

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