Pregnancy and exercise: Baby, let's move!

During pregnancy, exercise can help you stay in shape and prepare for labor and delivery. Here's the lowdown on pregnancy and exercise, from getting started to staying motivated. By Mayo Clinic Staff

Pregnancy might seem like the perfect time to sit back and relax. You might feel more tired than usual, your back might ache, and your ankles might be swollen.

But guess what? There's more to pregnancy and exercise than skipping it entirely. Unless you're experiencing serious complications, sitting around won't help. In fact, pregnancy can be a great time to get active — even if you haven't exercised in a while.

Why exercise during pregnancy?

During pregnancy, exercise can:

  • Ease or prevent back pain and other discomforts
  • Boost your mood and energy levels
  • Help you sleep better
  • Prevent excess weight gain
  • Increase stamina and muscle strength

Exercise during pregnancy might also reduce the risk of gestational diabetes and pregnancy-related high blood pressure, as well as lessen the symptoms of postpartum depression. In addition, it might reduce the risk that your baby is born significantly larger than average (fetal macrosomia).

Pregnancy and exercise: Getting the OK

Before you begin an exercise program, make sure you have your health care provider's OK. Although exercise during pregnancy is generally good for both mother and baby, your doctor might advise you not to exercise if you have:

  • Some forms of heart and lung disease
  • Pregnancy-related high blood pressure
  • Cervical problems
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Preterm labor during your pregnancy or risk factors for preterm labor, such as preterm labor during the pregnancy prior to your current pregnancy
  • A multiple pregnancy at risk of preterm labor

Pacing it for pregnancy

For most pregnant women, at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise is recommended on most, if not all, days of the week.

Walking is a great exercise for beginners. It provides moderate aerobic conditioning with minimal stress on your joints. Other good choices include swimming, low-impact aerobics and cycling on a stationary bike. Strength training is OK, too, as long as you avoid lifting very heavy weights.

Remember to warm up and cool down. Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, and be careful to avoid overheating. In general, you should be able to carry on a conversation while you're exercising. If you can't speak normally while you're working out, you're probably pushing yourself too hard.

Depending on your fitness level, consider these guidelines:

  • You haven't exercised for a while. Begin with as little as five minutes of physical activity a day. Build up to 10 minutes, 15 minutes, and so on, until you reach at least 30 minutes a day.
  • You exercised before pregnancy. You can probably continue to work out at the same level while you're pregnant — as long as you're feeling comfortable and your health care provider says it's OK.
Jul. 10, 2013 See more In-depth