Exercise during pregnancy

Serena Williams was about eight weeks pregnant when she won her 23rd Grand Slam tennis tournament. At least 18 women have participated in the Olympics while pregnant, including Kerri Walsh Jennings, who won her third gold medal in volleyball while five weeks along. Amy Keil of Minneapolis completed the Boston Marathon while 34 weeks pregnant. 

These women are amazing — and so are you! 

Not all women are superstar athletes, but that doesn’t mean we can’t all safely exercise during pregnancy. 

Clearly exercise is possible in pregnancy, but is it recommended?

Yes! Physical activity is important for women in all stages of life, including pregnancy. Exercise can soothe common discomforts of pregnancy, help prevent excess weight gain, aid in postpartum recovery, reduce the risk of problems with blood sugar and blood pressure, improve cardiovascular health and decrease the risk of C-section delivery. 

What kind of exercise should I perform? 

Pregnant women should aim to exercise for 20 to 30 minutes each day five to seven days a week. If you were fairly sedentary prior to pregnancy, start slow with walking in short increments of time. If you were very active, you can likely continue to exercise at a similar intensity and pace. 

Exercises that most people are able to perform in pregnancy include walking, light jogging, modified yoga, swimming and stationary bicycling. 

What exercises should I avoid? 

To keep both you and your baby safe, avoid contact sports, scuba diving, workouts in a heated room, exercises that require you to lie flat on your back for more than a brief period or exercises that may cause you to lose your balance and fall. 

Any exercise that causes you to experience chest pain, inability to catch your breath, abnormal heart beats, weakness, dizziness, vaginal bleeding, abdominal pain, contractions or fluid leakage should be stopped immediately, and you should call your OB provider right away. 

What safety measures should I follow?

Make sure to wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing. This includes a sports bra that fits properly and provides good support as well as shoes with good traction. Exercise in a well-ventilated, temperature-controlled area. Stay hydrated with lots of water. Don’t try to exercise after a long period without food. Make sure you have a buddy or a cell phone with you in case you experience an injury or any of the symptoms listed above. Skip any post-workout time in a sauna or hot tub. 

Are there any reasons I shouldn’t exercise?

Although exercise is great for most pregnant women, you should talk to your OB provider about your specific circumstances. Women with medical conditions that significantly affect the function of their heart and lungs  — or with pregnancy complications placing them at a high risk for preterm labor or bleeding complications — should not exercise. 

Dr. Erin Stevens sees patients at the Edina location of Clinic Sofia, a leading OBGYN clinic known for its personalized approach to women’s health care. She is a member of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.