Getting In Shape While Pregnant [How To Do It Safely]

Today you’re going to learn about getting in shape while pregnant.

Specifically, you’ll learn

  • What you can and cannot do while pregnant,
  • What to expect in terms of weight gain, and
  • Strategies for improving your fitness

Let’s get started.

get-in-shape-during-pregnancy

Disclaimer

***READ FIRST***

Although I am a doctor, I am not your doctor. This information is for informational purposes only and should not substitute the advice from your healthcare professional. Please read my full Disclaimer for more information. Also, this post may contain affiliate links: meaning I may receive a commission if you use them.

Ok, moving on.

Can you get in better shape while pregnant?

For most women, yes, you can get in better shape while pregnant.

How good of a shape you can achieve however, will depend on several factors. The most important one is your pre-pregnancy exercise activity.

If you were already exercising before you got pregnant, then do NOT stop exercising! (*This is assuming you have no contraindication to exercising in pregnancy. You should always check with your doctor first*).

If you were already fit, chances are, you won’t get in better shape.

But you will be able to maintain some level of fitness if you keep up with an exercise routine.

If you didn’t exercise much before pregnancy, then you definitely should consider improving your fitness now.

Benefits of Getting In Shape During Pregnancy

So, why would you want to get in shape during pregnancy?

Well, we know that exercise in pregnancy is associated with numerous benefits to you and your fetus.

First and foremost, it reduces your risk of some common pregnancy complications which I will discuss in a future post.

benefits-of-exercise-in-pregnancy

Reduced risk of gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) is a very common metabolic abnormality that affects millions of pregnancies worldwide.

It is a condition where your body cannot process the carbohydrates that you eat appropriately, so your blood sugar levels remain high.

If not treated, GDM can cause your unborn baby to gain a lot of weight while growing inside your uterus which is known as macrosomia, develop metabolic problems at birth, and increase your risk of needing a cesarean delivery. [1] It also can increase your lifetime risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease in the future.

Your OBGYN will perform screen you during your second trimester for gestational diabetes mellitus. I have written an entire post describing how to prepare for the gestational diabetes test.

Exercise may decrease the likelihood of developing this condition [2], and it can certainly help to manage it. [3]

Improved posture and reduced risk of back pain

If you haven’t experienced it yet – you may soon realize that pregnancy often causes back discomfort.

This is because the weight of your uterus displaces your center of gravity forward. As a result, your pelvis tilts anteriorly, and the muscles of your low back get tightened and strained. This also weakens your glute muscles and causes “mom butt.”

postpartum-postural-misalignment

There is some data to show that exercise is effective in treating back pain related to pregnancy. [4]

That’s because exercise can help offset this muscular imbalance by strengthening the muscles that keep your pelvis in neutral alignment.

Improved energy and reduced fatigue

It’s no secret that exercise can significantly improve your energy levels. Women often think that they should spend the majority of their pregnancy resting.

This isn’t true!

Bedrest is actually proven to be detrimental in so many ways.

Although it’s counterintuitive, exercise during pregnancy can actually improve your energy and reduce fatigue. [5]

Improved post-pregnancy recovery

Last but not least, women who exercise regularly during pregnancy tend to have a speedier postpartum recovery.

Wouldn’t you want to get back to your normal activities sooner rather than later?

So How Do I Get In Shape While Pregnant?

I’m glad you asked. There are two main ways to improve your fitness in pregnancy.

  1. Maintain a healthy body weight throughout your pregnancy
  2. Maintain a consistent exercise routine

Let’s break each one down.

How To Stay Lean During Pregnancy

The only proven way to stay lean during pregnancy is to follow a healthy diet.

You can exercise all you want. But exercise alone will not help you stay lean if you don’t watch what you eat.

It is a common misconception to think that you need to eat for two when you’re pregnant.

eating-in-pregnancy

Why would a tiny fetus need so many calories?

This is especially true in the early first trimester when your fetus is the size of a blueberry.

Here are the guidelines you should follow

First Trimester:

Keep your daily caloric intake the same as usual. On average most women will need about 1800-2000 calories per day.

Second Trimester:

Now that your baby is growing, this is when you will need to increase your caloric intake. But not by as much as you would think.

You only need an extra 300-350 calories per day. So in general, aim for about 2200 calories per day.

Third Trimester:

The third trimester is when your baby will grow the fastest. That doesn’t mean that your plate should grow fast too.

Increase your caloric intake by another 100 calories. So in total, you should be eating about 2300 calories per day.

This is the most effective way of staying lean in pregnancy.

Can you lose weight during pregnancy?

In general, it is not recommended that you lose weight in pregnancy. Losing weight can be associated with pregnancy complications such as fetal growth restriction and preterm birth.

With that said, you may experience weight loss in the first trimester if you suffer from nausea and vomiting in pregnancy.

In general, your pre-pregnancy weight will determine how much weight you should gain throughout the pregnancy.

weight-gain-in-pregnancy

stay healthy postpartum as well.

Minimize the other stuff.

Last but not least, you must focus on…

Hydration

One of the most common things I see in our triage and OBGYN clinic is dehydrated women. We can tell based on the urine sample you give each time you come in.

Dehydration can cause

  • fatigue,
  • muscle aches and pains,
  • thirst and hunger,
  • headache,
  • constipation,
  • uterine cramps

and more. Do your best to drink 8 glasses of water per day.

That equals 64 ounces, or half a gallon of water.

Okay, so those are the dietary recommendations for minimizing fat in pregnancy.

Now, let’s cover exercising in pregnancy.

Is It Safe To Exercise While Pregnant?

Yes- it is very safe to exercise in pregnancy.

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) has made it very clear that most pregnant women should maintain an exercise routine.

It is up to your doctor to make sure that you do not have any medical contraindications to exercising in pregnancy.

arm-exercises-pregnancy-postpartum

What Are The Best Exercises You Can Do In Pregnancy?

So what are the best exercises you can do in pregnancy to get in shape? We will start slow and work our way up.

Walking

The easiest and most fundamental form of exercise in pregnancy is walking.

This is non-negotiable.

You should be walking every single day of pregnancy.

4 times a week, you should go on a moderately paced walk lasting 20-30 minutes.

Walking will help improve your total body circulation, activate and strengthen the muscles in your legs, and help you burn calories.

For much information on walking while pregnant, check out my post on When To Start Walking During Pregnancy.

If you do nothing else, you should walk throughout your pregnancy, on a regular basis.

walking-in-labor

Pelvic Floor Exercises

The second type of exercise you should do are pelvic floor exercises. These exercises are meant to strengthen the muscles in your pelvis that support your bladder, uterus, and rectum.

Pregnancy and childbirth tend to stretch and weaken these muscles, increasing the risk of developing pelvic floor dysfunction later in life.

While most women focus on pelvic floor exercises postpartum, it is totally safe and recommended to practice them in pregnancy as well.

You don’t need any equipment or a lot of time to do them.

Which pelvic floor exercise should you focus on?

The Kegel exercise.

I cover all of the details of the kegel exercise in my post on pelvic floor exercises. (*Note: This post is written for postpartum women. In pregnancy, I do not want you doing any of the exercises where you are lying flat on your back).

Do 10 repetitions of kegels, at least 3 times per day, every single day.

Resistance training

Lastly, you should engage in some form of resistance training during pregnancy. This means exercising with dumbbells, or with your own bodyweight.

You could also use resistance bands – which provide you with an easy, effective, and portable way to exercise, anywhere.

These are the ones I recommend you get from Amazon.

Resistance training is important because its the only way to strengthen your bones and joints while promoting lean muscle development.

postpartum-resistance-training

In general, you want to target 4 broad muscle groups:

  1. Your shoulders and arms
  2. Your back
  3. Your legs (quadriceps and adductors)
  4. Your glutes and hamstrings

You can check out my post on how to tone your legs during pregnancy.

I also have a post targeting both 1 and 2 which you can check out here: The best arm exercises for pregnant women.

I want you to do resistance training exercise at least twice a week for 20-30 minutes.

If you want other forms of exercise that you can do in pregnancy – yoga and swimming are also safe. Just be sure to find programs that are pregnancy-friendly.

What exercises should be avoided during pregnancy?

Okay, so we covered the type of exercises that are safe in pregnancy. But what exercises should you avoid?

Here’s a list of things you should not do.

Heavy lifting

While resistance training is important and recommended, you should not be lifting heavy weights. That’s because heavy weight training requires you to hold your breath and perform the Valsalva maneuver.

These activities increase your intrabdominal pressure significantly which can lead to an elevation in blood pressure and decreased blood flow to your uterus.

Contact sports

You also want to avoid any kind of contact sports for obvious reasons.

These include basketball, volleyball, football, etc. Impact on your abdomen can lead to placental abruption and preterm labor.

Plyometrics and High-Intensity Interval Training

Similarly, you want to avoid exercises where there is a risk of falling. These include plyometric exercises like box jumps, broad jumps and other forms of high-intensity interval exercises.

You should not let your heart rate exceed 140 beats per minute while exercising.

Supine Exercices

Lastly, you do not want to perform any exercises where you are flat on your back. That’s because the pregnant uterus can compress one of the major blood vessels that returns blood back to your heart.

This is also the reason why we do not want you sleeping flat on your back either.

Can I do squats while pregnant?

Yes, you can do squats while pregnant. In fact I have written an entire article on Squatting During Pregnancy. You may not be able to squat as deep as you would like to, but it can be done.

If you need to, you can perform a modified squat by holding onto the back of a chair for support. This way, you can use your arms to help you stand back up.

squat-in-pregnancy

Can exercise cause a miscarriage?

In general, exercise does not cause miscarriages. Most first trimester miscarriages are due to chromosomal abnormalities in the fetus, and not because of something you physically did.

However, if you have any kind of pregnancy complication or medical condition- please ask your doctor if it is okay to exercise. This is especially true once you’re in the second trimester.

Use good judgment, and stick to safe pregnancy exercises like the ones mentioned above if you are cleared by your provider.

Final Thoughts On Getting Fit In Pregnancy

Most women will benefit from improving or at least maintaining their fitness in pregnancy.

Regular and consistent exercise is generally safe and will provide you with several benefits pre- and postpartum.

Be sure to check out our posts on:

And regardless of your fitness level, improving your nutrition in pregnancy is always a good idea.

So what are you going to start doing to get in better shape?

Comment below and let me know.

Talk soon.


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brittany-robles

Brittany N Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

Brittany N Robles is a full-time OBGYN, a NASM certified personal trainer, and health & fitness expert. She holds a Masters of Public Health degree in maternal health with a special interest in exercise and nutrition. She is also the co-author of The White Coat Trainer. Learn more about her here.

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Sources:

  1. Kampmann, Ulla, et al. “Gestational diabetes: a clinical update.” World journal of diabetes 6.8 (2015): 1065.
  2. Nasiri-Amiri, Fatemeh, et al. “The effect of exercise on the prevention of gestational diabetes in obese and overweight pregnant women: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Diabetology & metabolic syndrome 11.1 (2019): 72.
  3. Padayachee, Cliantha, and Jeff S. Coombes. “Exercise guidelines for gestational diabetes mellitus.” World journal of diabetes 6.8 (2015): 1033.
  4. Shiri, R., David Coggon, and K. Falah‐Hassani. “Exercise for the prevention of low back and pelvic girdle pain in pregnancy: A meta‐analysis of randomized controlled trials.” European Journal of Pain 22.1 (2018): 19-27.
  5. Ward-Ritacco, Christie, Melanie S. Poudevigne, and Patrick J. O’Connor. “Muscle strengthening exercises during pregnancy are associated with increased energy and reduced fatigue.” Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology 37.2 (2016): 68-72.
  6. Downs, Danielle Symons, et al. “Physical activity and pregnancy: past and present evidence and future recommendations.” Research quarterly for exercise and sport 83.4 (2012): 485-502.

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