Although motivation and/or grace may be running low these days, exercising throughout pregnancy is safe and has many proven health benefits for both you and baby.

The benefits

Being physically active has positive health benefits for all adults - from lowering blood pressure and relieving stress to alleviating fatigue and improving posture. For expectant mothers, those benefits go even further.

Regular exercise can reduce pregnancy-related aches and pains, build strength and stamina for labor and delivery, help moms-to-be manage weight gain, and aid recovery after delivery. Exercise during early pregnancy may also prevent or reduce side effects from gestational diabetes, according to a recent study in the International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

How much

You doctor or midwife should evaluate you before you start or continue an exercise program during pregnancy. If you exercised regularly prior to becoming pregnant, you can safely continue exercising throughout your pregnancy, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. If you were inactive prior to your pregnancy or have medical or pregnancy complications, evaluation by your medical provider is important before starting an exercise regimen.

Exercise may not be safe for pregnant women with any of these conditions:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Cervical problems
  • Leaking amniotic fluid
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness and/or fainting
  • Decreased fetal activity
  • Increased heart rate (tachycardia)
  • Preterm labor in current or past pregnancies
  • Certain health problems, such as high blood pressure or heart disease

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults aim for 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week. Dr. Richard Thompson of Novant Health OB/GYN in Bolivia, North Carolina, recommends that women continue to follow those guidelines during pregnancy.

"If you were not exercising prior to your pregnancy, start slow with low-impact exercises like walking or swimming and work your way up," he said.

What to expect

You may notice your exercise routine is affected by changes your body undergoes during pregnancy. Your body will be using more oxygen and energy than before, so you may need to take more frequent breaks while exercising. As your pregnancy progresses, the extra, uneven distribution of weight will also shift your center of gravity making it more likely to lose your balance.

What to avoid

To keep you and your baby safe, avoid these types of exercise during pregnancy:

  • Contact sports
  • Lifting more than 30 pounds
  • Horseback riding
  • Waterskiing or snow skiing
  • Scuba diving
  • Any exercise or activity that can cause serious falls
  • Exercising on your back after the first trimester
  • Vigorous exercise in hot, humid weather or exercise involving holding one's breath

Thompson said, "If at any point during your exercise routine you experience pelvic pain, cramping similar to that of menstrual cramps or vaginal bleeding, stop and call your doctor immediately."

You're also more susceptible to dehydration while pregnant, so be sure to drink eight to 10 glasses of water every day and pay close attention to your thirst while exercising. If you're thirsty, you're overdue for some water.

"Exercising while pregnant is safe and encouraged, but if you have any concerns about starting or continuing an exercise program, be sure to consult your physician or midwife," Thompson said.

Childbirth is unpredictable — but thinking through your preferences ahead of time can make you feel more confident on the day of. Download our birth preparation guide.