The world was aghast when 35-year-old Amy Keil, finished the Boston Marathon while seven and a half months pregnant. But in recent years, it has become more common for women, including elite runners, to exercise throughout their pregnancy.
Of course, not all women should start running marathons when they get pregnant. But in a departure from the historic view that women should put their feet up and rest throughout their pregnancy, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists now recommends that pregnant women without major medical or obstetric complications get 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of the week.
New research has suggested that expectant mothers who are overweight run a higher risk of complications, and regular exercise can help women avoid weight gain. Exercise has also been shown to reduce back pain in pregnant women, as well as help with constipation. It may also decrease the risk of diabetes, preeclampsia, and the need for C-sections, and it has been shown to help women return to their pre-baby weight more quickly.
“Overall exercise is really good during pregnancy,” says Dr. Kelly Culwell, an OBGYN at University of California, San Diego. “Pregnancy is a cardiovascular workout and childbirth even more so. If you want to stay healthy during pregnancy, exercise has a lot of benefits.” Generally speaking, women want to avoid exercises where they could fall, get hit, or have to lie on their backs. But according to Culwell, the following exercises can be great to engage in during your pregnancy.
Swimming is widely recommended for pregnant women. It is appealing because it’s easy on the body, reduces swelling, and provides a whole-body workout. “Swimming and any kind of water workouts are really good because they are low-impact,” Culwell says. “That is a big thing during pregnancy, joints can get kind of flexible because they are preparing for you to give birth, so if you are starting a brand-new exercise routine, you could risk injury.”
Walking or running
Walking is considered safe through all nine months of pregnancy, while running, according to Dr. Culwell, comes with caveats. “If someone is a marathon runner before pregnancy they could continue to training and running,” Culwell says. “But absolutely as they get larger they are going to have to be cautious. Running would not be the first choice for women who are starting an exercise routine when they are pregnant. I would recommend walking.”
Stationary biking is also recommended because it is both a good workout and easy on the body. “Stationary biking or indoor cycling is really good, especially for women who were previously cyclists,” Culwell says. “I don’t recommend outdoor cycling past the first trimester because of the whole balance issue, but stationary cycling, indoors, could be quite good.”
Dancing and aerobics
“[Dancing and aerobics] are fine, you just want to make sure that your instructor knows about your pregnancy so you can modify anything that needs to be modified,” Culwell says. For example, you may risk losing your balance if you step more than four inches off the ground, and you want to avoid lying on your back, stomach, and doing any inverted poses. “ So as your pregnancy [progresses] you may not be able to do the same sort of high impact things, but as long as you can have modifications there is no reason you can’t do those kinds of activities.”
Yoga or pilates
Yoga and pilates are aboth good options because they build flexibility and strength in preparation for giving birth. But Culwell says to make sure to work with the instructor to modify your exercises. “There are certain things you can’t do, like lay on your back for extended periods of time, because it decreases blood flow to your uterus.” You also want to skip hot yoga to avoid the risk of overheating.
If executed carefully, weight training is typically fine for healthy women. “The biggest risks are going to be risks of being hit in the abdomen, or falling,” Culwell says. “I wouldn’t recommend things that require a lot of balance. But weights that are manageable to you are totally fine.”