Exercise & Pregnancy: The Dos & Don’ts!

Exercise & Pregnancy: The Dos & Don’ts!

By: Heather Hirsch, MD • Posted on January 18, 2016 • Updated April 22, 2020

Pre-Pregnancy Planning

Pre-pregnancy planning is an optimal time to take note of your overall health and sense of well-being. This includes an evaluation of the following:

  • diet
  • exercise
  • sleeping patterns
  • relationship status
  • consideration of any chronic medical conditions

You should consult with a physician before getting pregnant if you have any serious underlying medical conditions and if you are on prescription medications as some medications can cause birth defects. Also, some conditions may classify your pregnancy as “high risk,” for which you may need medical advice from a Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist.

Exercising During Pregnancy

Exercise in pregnancy has many benefits, including:

  • It is often associated with an overall easier gestation.
  • Helps with weight management throughout pregnancy.
  • It is great for psychological health and well-being during a time when the body is making many physical changes.

Unfortunately, while there is not an associated link with exercise and an easier labor, exercise in pregnancy is linked with lower rates of gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, which could lower the risk of a Cesarean-section. Importantly, exercise in pregnancy is not found to be a risk factor for pre-term delivery, with the exception of any major trauma that might occur with unusual exercise.

Many women ask the question, what exercise is safe to do when both trying to become pregnant and/or after becoming pregnant? While there is a lot of information out there, one safe basic principle is that what constitutes safe for each woman applies largely to her baseline level of physical activity.

General Guidelines for Exercising Safely During Pregnancy

  1. Avoid any type of activity with sheering forces, which could cause internal sheering of the placenta and divert vital nutrients and blood supply to the fetus. Examples of these activities include:
    1. box-jumping for cross-fitters
    2. skydiving
    3. horseback riding
    4. bobsledding
    5. bungee jumping
  2. Avoid activities where falling or abdominal trauma is a major risk. This includes contact sports and therefore it is often recommended to avoid skiing, soccer, hockey, basketball, or other team sports, or to do so with extreme caution.
  3. Avoid exercising at high altitude if you do not routinely live in these areas.
  4. Avoid scuba diving as it can cause decompression sickness of both the baby and mother.
  5. Maintain normal body temperature by dressing in layers and drinking double to triple the amount of water you normally drink.
  6. Listen to your body. With major fluctuations in hormones, it is normal to feel fatigued, nauseated or any other types of physical or emotional discomfort. Don’t over exert yourself during this time, and don’t feel pressured to exercise daily. Also realize that with advancing pregnancy there is an increase in the laxity of the joints as the pelvis becomes primed for labor and delivery.

With these principles in mind it is generally safe to continue the type of exercise one did prior to pregnancy or when attempting to become pregnant.

Lifting Weights

For weight lifting enthusiasts, it is safe to continue lifting, however, it is advised not to increase the amount of weight or reps while pregnant. This is recommended so that highly oxygenated blood and essential nutrients are not diverted away from the fetus to the recovering maternal muscle tissue.


Yoga can be comforting, however hot yoga can be dehydrating and can be dangerous with movements such as deep twisting or backbends in later trimesters when the fetus is growing, especially as the ligaments are relaxed significantly during pregnancy which could lead to injury. Remember to hydrate actively.

Cardiovascular Activities

Solo cardiovascular activity, such as walking, jogging/running are generally considered safe. Caution is advised with biking to avoid major accidents or falls. Other types of aerobics are generally safe as well so long as the expectant mother is following the basic principles above.

Always talk with your trainer to discuss how you can modify both the intensity and duration of a workout as you progress in pregnancy while still staying active. Having a healthy baby is just as important as having a healthy new mama!

Be Strong. Be Healthy. Be in Charge!

-Heather Hirsch MD, MS, NCMP
Physician, Menopause & Midlife Clinic
Brigham and Women's Hospital
Harvard Medical School

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