Getting started (and keeping going)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that pregnant women get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week, which breaks down to 30 minutes, five days a week. When they specify “aerobic” activity, they’re talking about full-body, continuous movement that gets your heart rate up. If you’re not in the habit of exercising, 150 minutes a week can sound daunting—start small and work your way up!
Erica Ziel, founder of Knocked-Up Fitness and The Core Rehab Program, says, “As you start your day, get up and do your favorite exercise for a few minutes; then you’re likely to do more throughout the day.” Yoga, stretching and moderate weight lifting are helpful during pregnancy, each offering individual benefits such as flexibility, improved circulation and increased strength. Yet the best feel-good exercises are those aerobic exercises that push you a little more and lead to greater endorphin release. Endorphins work like natural morphine in the body, says Ratey, dulling pain and producing “euphoria in the mind.” Instant mood enhancement!
During pregnancy, aerobic exercise may include brisk walking, swimming, cardio or dance classes, elliptical training, stationary biking and possibly running if your body tolerates it well. “Don’t be afraid to change things up as your mood and trimesters change,” says Krysta Crane, a health and fitness coach and mom in Bountiful, Utah. “Pay attention to your mood, and ask yourself, ‘What do I need today?’”
When to back down
Unfortunately, there are some high-risk conditions that will put a halt to your exercising ambitions. According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), women should not exercise during pregnancy if they have certain types of heart and lung diseases, cervical insufficiency or cerclage, placenta previa after 26 weeks of pregnancy, preterm labor or ruptured membranes, preeclampsia, gestational hypertension, or severe anemia, or if they’re carrying multiples with risk factors for preterm labor.
Ziel offers an additional warning to moms expecting baby No. 3 or beyond. Because the uterus expands faster in later pregnancies, offering less protection to the baby, don’t engage in plyometrics or running—especially during the first trimester—as this could increase your chance of miscarriage. She suggests replacing running with elliptical training or walking on the treadmill with the incline cranked up. The goal is to work hard enough to get those endorphins flowing, without incurring undue risk.
Even if you’re experiencing none of the above and you have the green light to exercise, there are some activities that should be avoided during pregnancy. Jarring activities such as mountain biking and contact sports are out (even from the very beginning, as the hormone relaxin loosens your joints and puts you at risk of injury), as are any sports that pose a risk of falling (especially when your belly is throwing off your sense of balance)—so no downhill skiing or horseback riding.
In addition, ACOG advises to stop exercising and contact your care provider if you experience the following: bleeding from the vagina, feeling dizzy or faint, shortness of breath before starting exercise, chest pain, headache, muscle weakness, calf pain or swelling, fluid leaking from the vagina, or regular, painful contractions of the uterus.