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 or maintaining your fitness.
And if you are already in shape and you want to learn how to stay fit during pregnancy, there’s something here for you as well!
Let’s get started.
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. All kinds of exercise and dietary changes are potentially dangerous, and those who do not seek counsel from the appropriate health care authority assume the liability of any injury which may occur. 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 fit you can get will depend on several factors. The most important one is your pre-pregnancy exercise activity.
If you didn’t exercise much before pregnancy, then you should definitely consider improving your fitness now.
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*).
So, if you were already fit before pregnancy, chances are, you won’t get in better shape.
With that said, you will be able to maintain some level of fitness if you keep up with a “pregnancy-friendly” moderate exercise routine.
So How Do I Get In Shape While Pregnant? (Or Stay Fit)
There are two main ways to improve or maintain your fitness in pregnancy.
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 composed of all the key nutrients your body needs.
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.
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 Caloric Intake:
Keep your daily caloric intake the same as usual. On average most women will need about 1800-2000 calories per day.
Second Trimester Caloric Intake:
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 Intake:
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, I do not recommend 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 morning sickness or nausea and vomiting of pregnancy.
In general, your pre-pregnancy weight will determine how much weight you should gain throughout the pregnancy.
That equates to 0.5 lbs per week in the second and third trimesters.
Some experts even advocate that if you are extremely overweight, you could gain no weight in pregnancy and still be okay. Just check with your doctor for personal recommendations.
Okay, so if you can’t lose weight, how would you get rid of belly fat during pregnancy?
So How do I get rid of belly fat during pregnancy?
What if you are already overweight and have a lot of belly fat during pregnancy?
The best way to manage this is to (1) control your caloric intake and (2) exercise regularly.
As you just learned above, you don’t need to eat for two.
Your baby is tiny relative to you.
In general, you only need to eat 300 calories more per day in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters.
Here are some examples of meals containing 300 calories and less
- 1/2 cup of brown rice with 3 ounces of chicken breast
- 1 cup of oatmeal with berries and 1 banana
- 1 medium potato and 3 ounces of salmon
Actually, you can track what you’re eating to get an idea of how many calories you are consuming on a daily basis.
Other Tips For Healthy Eating During Pregnancy
I also want to talk a little bit about a few other dietary recommendations you should follow in pregnancy.
In general, you should aim to eat as many high-quality, nutrient-dense foods as possible.
- Fruits: Apples, oranges, blueberries, bananas, avocados
- Vegetables: Leafy greens, broccoli, carrots, peppers, squash
- Protein: Lean chicken breast, salmon, cooked egg whites, quinoa
- Legumes: Black beans, chickpeas, lentils, split peas
- Whole grains: Oatmeal, rice, farro
- Tubers: Sweet potatoes, potatoes
These foods will give your body all of the macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals it needs to support itself, as well as your growing baby.
If you find yourself having a hard time consuming protein, learn about the best protein powder that is safe in pregnancy.
Similarly, these are foods you want to eat to stay healthy postpartum as well.
Minimize the other stuff.
For more information, check out my Fit Pregnancy Diet post.
Last but not least, you must focus on…
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
- muscle aches and pains,
- thirst and hunger,
- 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 exercise regularly to maintain a healthy pregnancy.
It is up to your doctor to make sure that you do not have any medical contraindications to exercising in pregnancy.
What Kind of Exercises Can A Pregnant Woman Do To Keep Fit?
So what are the best exercises you can do in pregnancy to get or stay in shape? We will start slow and work our way up.
The easiest and most fundamental form of exercise in pregnancy is walking.
If its safe, 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.
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 muscles & 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 strength 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.
Resistance training is important because its the only way to strengthen your bones and joints while promoting lean muscle development.
In general, you want to target 4 broad muscle groups:
- Your shoulders and arms
- Your back
- Your legs (quadriceps and adductors)
- Your glutes and hamstrings
You can check out my workout 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 (+arm workout) for pregnant women.
I want you to do resistance training exercise at least twice a week for 20-30 minutes.
Other Tips For Staying Fit During Pregnancy For Athletes
If you already followed a regular exercise routine before getting pregnant, it is usually okay to continue your workout routine with modifications.
- Resistance training
Your doctor will assess how your pregnancy is progressing and let you know if there is something you should stop doing.
Obviously, you will need to make adjustments based on how far along you are and if you have any conditions that would preclude you from exercising.
The key is to avoid strenuous exercise.
A good rule of thumb is to scale back to 80% of what you are used to doing and adjust accordingly.
Now, there are certain things you should definitely avoid.
Let’s go over those now.
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 (especially if you didn’t do this before)
While resistance training is important and recommended, you should not be lifting really heavy weights.
That’s because heavy weight training increases your intrabdominal pressure significantly which can lead to an elevation in blood pressure, decreased blood flow to your uterus, and decreased oxygen circulation.
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.
In general, you should not let your heart rate significantly exceed 140 beats per minute while exercising.
Lastly, you do not want to perform any exercises where you are flat on your back in the second and third trimesters. 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.
Don’t do scuba diving, skiing, rock-climbing, horseback riding, hot yoga or other potentially dangerous activities while pregnant.
Other Related Questions
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.
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.
What Are The 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.
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.  It also can increase your lifetime risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease in the future.
Your OBGYN will 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.
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.”
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.
*If you have been placed on bedrest for a medical condition there is hope. I have created a safe upper and lower body you could perform while in bed.
Although it’s counterintuitive, exercise during pregnancy can actually improve your energy and reduce fatigue. 
May minimize diastasis recti
Diastasis recti is a separation of the abdominal wall muscles that occurs in the majority of pregnancies. Exercise may potentially help prevent it.
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?
Final Thoughts On Getting & Staying Fit In Pregnancy
Most women will benefit from prenatal exercise to improve 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.
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.
Be sure to check out my other posts on:
- 1st Trimester Pregnancy Workouts You Can Do To Build Strength
- Pregnancy Cardio: What You Need to Know
- Fat Loss During Pregnancy [Can It Be Done?]
Get Started With A Free Postpartum Workout Plan To Rebuild Your Pelvic Floor, Heal Your Mommy Tummy, & Tone Your Arms & Legs!
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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- Kampmann, Ulla, et al. “Gestational diabetes: a clinical update.” World journal of diabetes 6.8 (2015): 1065.
- 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.
- Padayachee, Cliantha, and Jeff S. Coombes. “Exercise guidelines for gestational diabetes mellitus.” World journal of diabetes 6.8 (2015): 1033.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.