Benefits of exercising during pregnancy

Staying fit during your pregnancy is good for both you and your baby. Regular aerobic and strength training exercise can improve the outcome of your pregnancy in a number of ways. It can:

  • increase your energy level
  • prevent you from gaining too much weight during pregnancy
  • help you sleep better
  • relieve pregnancy symptoms like back pain and constipation
  • reduce your risk for preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy)
  • lower your odds of needing a cesarean delivery
  • help you lose your pregnancy weight faster after you deliver

Exercise might also lower your chances of developing gestational diabetes. Having gestational diabetes can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. Having gestational diabetes can also increase your baby’s risk of being born overweight.

According to a 2017 study, 22 percent of overweight or obese women who participated in a 30-minute cycling program three times a week developed gestational diabetes, compared to nearly 41 percent of women who didn’t take part in the program. The exercise group also gained less weight during their pregnancy.

Obese or overweight women who exercise for 30 to 60 minutes a day, three or more times a week can lower the risk of delivering their babies prematurely, found a 2017 study of 1,500 pregnant women.

Here are four moves that can help strengthen the muscles in your hips, butt, and thighs.

Side leg raise

These leg raises strengthen the muscles at the sides of your hips and thighs. Strong legs help to support the weight of your growing belly and will give you more leverage during delivery when it’s time to push.

If you want to use ankle weights, ask your doctor first and keep them light.

Stand up straight, directly behind a table or chair, feet slightly apart. Hold onto the chair to help keep your balance.

  • Take 3 seconds to lift your left leg 6 to 12 inches out to the side. Keep your back and both legs straight. Don’t point your toes outward; keep them facing forward. Hold the position for 1 second.
  • Take 3 seconds to lower your leg back to the starting position.
  • Repeat with your left leg.
  • Alternate legs, until you have repeated the exercise 8 to 15 times with each leg.
  • Rest, then do another set of 8 to 15 alternating repetitions.

Hip flexion (flexing)

Hip flexions strengthen the thigh and hip muscles, helping to prepare your body for labor. You can use ankle weights if your doctor says it’s safe.

  • Stand to the side or behind a sturdy chair or table, holding it with one hand for balance.
  • Take 3 seconds to bend your left knee and bring it as far toward your chest as possible. Stand straight without bending at the waist or hips.
  • Hold the position for 1 second, then take 3 seconds to lower your left leg all the way down.
  • Repeat with your right leg.
  • Alternate legs until you have done 8 to 15 repetitions on each side.
  • Rest, then do another set of 8 to 15 alternating repetitions.

Hip extension

This exercise strengthens your hips to help prepare you for labor. Use ankle weights if your doctor says it’s safe.

  • Stand 12 to 18 inches away from a table or chair, feet slightly apart.
  • Bend forward from the hips at about a 45-degree angle, holding onto the table or chair for balance.
  • In this position, take 3 seconds to lift your left leg straight behind you without bending your knee, pointing your toes, or bending your upper body any farther forward. Hold the position for 1 second.
  • Take 3 seconds to lower your left leg back to the starting position.
  • Repeat with the right leg. Alternate legs, until you have repeated the exercise 8 to 15 times with each leg.
  • Rest, then do another set of 8 to 15 alternating repetitions with each leg.

Knee flexion (flexing)

This exercise strengthens the muscles in the back of the thigh that help keep you upright and balanced with your larger front load. To add a challenge, use ankle weights.

  • Stand straight, very close to a table or chair, holding onto it for balance.
  • Take 3 seconds to bend your left knee, raising your foot toward your buttocks, so that your calf comes as far up toward the back of your thigh as possible. Don’t move your upper leg at all. Bend your knee and move only your lower leg.
  • Take 3 seconds to lower your left leg all the way back down.
  • Repeat with your right leg.
  • Alternate legs until you have done 8 to 15 repetitions with each leg.
  • Rest, then do another set of 8 to 15 alternating repetitions.

Exercise safety during pregnancy | Safety

Before you start any exercise program, check with your doctor to make sure it’s safe. Your doctor might caution you against exercise if you have any complications to your pregnancy. For example, if you:

  • are pregnant with twins or other multiples
  • are at risk for preterm labor
  • have high blood pressure
  • have a pre-existing heart of lung disease
  • have placenta previa or are at high risk for it
  • are severely anemic

The best aerobic exercises during pregnancy are low impact, such as:

If your pregnancy is healthy, you should be able to do the same activities you did before you conceived, with just a few modifications. Avoid these exercises, which could be risky to you and your baby:

  • high-impact sports like boxing, football, or ice hockey
  • crunches or other exercises where you lie flat on your back, which puts pressure on a vein that returns blood to your heart
  • risky activities like skydiving or scuba diving
  • hot yoga or other exercise programs that cause your body temperature to rise
  • activities that could cause a fall, like mountain biking, downhill skiing, or horseback riding

Take these precautions whenever you exercise:

  • Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workout.
  • In the summer, exercise inside where it’s air conditioned.
  • Wear a pregnancy support belt to hold your belly in place, as well as a sports bra to support your breasts.

Stop exercising right away and call your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms during your workout:

  • bleeding or fluid leaking from your vagina
  • chest pain
  • fast or irregular heartbeat
  • dizziness or fainting
  • trouble breathing
  • weakness, pain, or swelling in your lower legs
  • regular contractions