8 general rules for exercising safely during pregnancy, from an obstetrician

We asked KIC's women's health expert for advice.
Written by
Dr Bronwyn Hamilton
Last updated on
February 21, 2024
min read
8 Rules for Exercising Safely During Pregnancy | Kin Fertility
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Staying active during pregnancy is important for your physical and mental health but it can be daunting to approach movement when you’re not sure what is considered safe and what you should avoid. 

To separate fact from fiction, we’ve teamed up with our friends from Keep it Cleaner and picked the brain of obstetrician, gynaecologist and KIC’s women’s health expert, Dr Bronwyn Hamilton, to explore all things exercise and pregnancy. 

First things first: there are a tonne of benefits for both the mother and baby when it comes to moving your body while pregnant. From helping to reduce the risk of developing gestational diabetes and weight gain-related pre-eclampsia, keeping active can also positively impact your mental health, help reduce back pain, may lead to an easier labour and increase your energy levels. 

According to Dr Hamilton, pregnant people are recommended to exercise most days of the week for roughly 30 minutes a day.

This may differ from person to person depending on your personal circumstances and it’s always best to consult your doctor before throwing yourself into a super active exercise schedule while pregnant. 

Below, you’ll find Dr Hamilton’s dos and don’ts when approaching prenatal exercise. 

Listen to your body

If anything hurts while exercising, stop immediately. Abdominal pain or pain anywhere around the pelvis is a sign that you need to stop and take a break.

Growing a human is hard work and be sure to take it easy if you’re feeling low on energy or experiencing nausea

Try exercise modifications

The good news is that you should still be able to safely complete high-intensity workouts while pregnant by including modifications to make these exercises safe for you and bub.

High-intensity exercises need to be modified because of the strain they can put on your lax joints and pelvic floor when pregnant. To do this, try swapping box jumps out for step-ups, ditch the jump squats in favour of regular squats and drop the jump when doing burpees. 

For those who prefer running, you should still be able to safely engage in this exercise under the guidance of your doctor or healthcare professional, given that you’ve built up your running stamina pre-pregnancy.

Now is not the time to be trying something new! 

Avoid ab exercises after 20 weeks

While ab exercises are generally safe before you reach 20 weeks of pregnancy, after this point, you’ll need to say goodbye to any sort of exercises that put a strain on your abdominal muscles.

Once you’ve developed a small baby bump, it’s best to avoid sit-ups and the like as this can cause your ab muscles to stretch and in some cases, separate (this is known as abdominal separation), which can be pretty uncomfortable and lead to reduced strength in your core.

Anything that requires bearing down or holding your breath or causes grunting should be avoided as should anything that could cause abdominal trauma like horse riding or contact sports. 

Instead, you can try doing ab squeezes, where you hug the baby towards your back, or ab activation exercises. Alternatively, you might want to visit a women’s health physiotherapist, who will be able to share what is safe and what isn’t. 

Stay hydrated

While drinking plenty of water every day is healthy for everyone, it’s particularly important for pregnant people. Staying hydrated helps maintain your body temperature and helps prevent overheating, which isn’t good for the development of the baby in the first trimester. 

Plus, keeping up your water intake is also helpful for supplying the baby with the fluids and nutrients it needs. 

When it comes to your nutritional needs, it's important to take include a high-quality prenatal vitamin into your daily routine. This will help fill any nutritional gaps you may have and make sure that your baby's nutrient needs are being taken care of as well.

Kin's Prenatal Vitamins contains 12 bioavailable ingredients like omega-3 for brain and retinal growth, choline for brain and liver function and low-constipation iron for blood health.

Be mindful of your pelvic floor

The pelvic floor muscles play a very important role in supporting your bladder, bowel and uterus. These muscles act like a trampoline of sorts and with each movement up and down, the trampoline of muscles moves up and down and supports the stretching of your pelvis.

To keep these muscles strong, you need to exercise them daily and be sure to activate your pelvic floor when doing exercises like weight lifting.

When pregnant, it’s best to avoid running every day or doing any sort of jumping after 20 weeks as these can put pressure on the pelvic floor muscles, which are already working hard to support the heavy uterus. 

If you experience any sort of pressure, heaviness or a vaginal bulge, stop the exercise and be sure to see a pelvic floor physiotherapist. They can also provide advice on the best pelvic floor-friendly exercises for pregnancy. 

Your heart rate can go above 140 bpm

There are a number of older studies that say that pregnant people shouldn’t let their heart rate go above 140 bpm but this research is out of date and isn’t a hard and fast rule.

For example, if you regularly got your heart rate up to 160 bpm before pregnancy while running or doing HIIT-style exercises, it should be fine for you to do this while pregnant (provided that you don’t have any complications).

But, it will also take a lot less to raise your heart rate while you’re pregnant as it’s naturally higher during this time. Be sure to check with your doctor or healthcare professional for personalised advice. 

Change up your exercise

As your pregnancy progresses, you’ll have to adapt your exercise practices to your changing body. High-intensity workouts will need to be modified and movements that are non-weight bearing, like swimming, are great for the later stages of pregnancy. 

Pregnancy-specific yoga is also a great option to explore as regular yoga may start to become uncomfortable. If walking is all you can do as you approach the third trimester, this is completely fine and know that you’re still moving your body. 

Reach out to health professionals

Before starting a new exercise regime, be sure to check with your doctor or a healthcare professional like a women’s health physiotherapist. It’s also helpful to check that you can still continue doing exercises that you engaged in pre-pregnancy.

For workouts, exercise tips and healthy recipes, head over to our friends at KIC.

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