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Is it Safe to Exercise During Pregnancy?

Earlier this year, tennis superstar Serena Williams made headlines when she won her 23rd Grand Slam tournament at the Australian Open. Williams revealed this week that she is expecting her 1st child with fiancée and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian this Fall – and was 8 weeks pregnant at the time of her record-shattering win in January. 

If you’re an athletic mom-to-be who is questioning if fitness should continue to be a part of your lifestyle while pregnant, rest assured.

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Hai-yen Nguyen, MD
Obstetrics and Gynecology

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“It’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle, especially as you go through one of life’s milestones such as the birth of a child,” says Lehigh Valley Health Network obstetrician/gynecologist Hai-yen Nguyen, MD, of LVPG Obstetrics and Gynecology–Fogelsville. “Exercise can be beneficial and safe under the guidance of a doctor to ensure that what you’re doing is healthy for both you and your baby.”

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists agrees that it’s safe for most women with uncomplicated pregnancies to continue to exercise throughout pregnancy with modifications to their routine as medically indicated.

Regular exercise during and after an uncomplicated pregnancy may help to:

  • Minimize physical discomforts or pains;
  • Prevent or manage gestational diabetes; and
  • Expedite recovery after delivery, especially weight management.

Women who have been inactive or have experienced medical or pregnancy complications should be evaluated by a doctor before exercising while pregnant. Exercise may not be safe for pregnant women who have health issues such as: 

  • Heart or lung disease
  • Cervical problems or vaginal bleeding
  • Multiple gestation at risk of premature labor
  • Preterm labor in current or past pregnancies
  • Placenta previa (the placenta is too close to the cervix)
  • Ruptured membranes
  • High blood pressure (preeclampsia, pregnancy-induced hypertension or uncontrolled hypertension)
  • Poorly controlled diabetes, seizure disorder or hyperthyroidism
  • Orthopedic limitations
  • Extremely obese or underweight
  • Poor fetal growth

During exercise, pregnant women should stop exercising and contact a doctor if they experience: 

  • Contractions, vaginal bleeding or leaking of amniotic fluid
  • Shortness of breath, dizziness and/or fainting
  • Headache
  • Decreased fetal activity
  • Chest pain or persistent increased heart rate (although heart rate is typically higher in pregnant women) 
  • Muscle weakness
  • Calf pain or swelling

“If you have any doubts at all, just play it safe and talk with your obstetrician,” Nguyen suggests. “There are some forms of exercise that are best avoided even if you’re in the best of shape." Any activities that can cause a serious fall or abdominal trauma are on the list to avoid during pregnancy. Other examples include: 

  • Horseback riding
  • Water skiing or scuba diving
  • High-altitude skiing
  • Exercising on your back after the first trimester (because of reduced blood flow to the uterus)
  • Vigorous exercise in hot, humid weather, as pregnant women are less efficient at exchanging heat
  • Exercises involving the Valsalva maneuver (holding one's breath during exertion), which can cause an increased intra-abdominal pressure

“Be safe as you try to maintain a healthy lifestyle for you and your child. Remember to keep yourself hydrated, avoid overheating, and consume the extra calories you need,” Nguyen says. “As always, we are here to help you and your baby stay healthy.”