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The Benefits of Prenatal Exercise

Stay active for a healthier pregnancy, birth, and postpartum

by Quilted Health Team
A pregnant person on a red yoga mat stretches to the side.
Regular exercise while pregnant is linked to several beneficial outcomes, including shorter labor and lower risk of complications. In this article, we cover some of the ways physical activity can help you feel better physically and mentally.

Key Takeaways

  • Exercise can help you feel better during pregnancy by improving sleep and decreasing pain.
  • Staying active through your pregnancy also reduces the risk of complications.
  • Regular exercise is linked to improved outcomes during and after birth.

One of the most common questions pregnant people have during pregnancy is whether it’s safe to exercise. With all the changes your body goes through during and after pregnancy, it’s a fair question. The good news is, exercise is quite safe during pregnancy! It’s often recommended by many healthcare experts. Whether you’re newly pregnant or well into your third trimester, prenatal exercise has lots of benefits for your body and mind.

Top benefits of prenatal exercise

Exercise and staying active come with a variety of benefits. For pregnant people in particular, exercise can bring a few unique advantages. Some of the benefits of prenatal exercise include better sleep, less pain, and a lower risk of pregnancy complications. Most of these findings are based on pregnant people who exercised for thirty minutes at a time, two to three times per week.

Stress less, sleep better

Exercise releases “feel good” chemicals, which are called endorphins. Endorphins help relax our bodies and de-stress our minds. Endorphins can help improve your mood, decrease anxiety, and help you feel more upbeat and positive.

Exercise has also been shown to increase the amount of deep sleep (sometimes called “slow-wave sleep”) a person can have each night. Deep sleep is important for the body and brain function properly. Because of increased endorphins and deep sleep, exercising while pregnant and postpartum can help lower stress. It can also prevent or decrease depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.

Ease discomfort and pain

Pregnancy can come with a lot of aches and pains, especially as your body and baby grow larger. As your body changes, it’s common to experience discomfort due to constipation, back pain, and swelling, among other things. Regular exercise can actually help reduce pain and discomfort by increasing blood flow, strengthening muscles, and reducing stress on the body. The increase in endorphins and more deep sleep can also help decrease pain and discomfort. If you’re experiencing a lot of aches and pains while pregnant, moving your body can be a great pain reliever. 

Reduce your risk of complications

Gentle prenatal exercise can help reduce your risk of complications during pregnancy, including high blood pressure and blood sugar issues. It can also reduce the risk of needing a cesarean.

Exercise helps lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels. High blood pressure and high blood sugar during pregnancy can cause complications during pregnancy and postpartum. Although you can’t completely avoid complications through exercise, regular movement can help to lower your risk levels.

Along with decreasing the risk of complications in pregnancy, prenatal exercise can also help shorten the labor and pushing stage of birth. Some studies even show a decrease in the risk of an unplanned cesarean birth. While exercise does not guarantee a shorter labor or vaginal delivery, it can help.

Along with decreasing the risk of complications in pregnancy, prenatal exercise can also help shorten the labor and pushing stage of birth.

A pregnant person with walking sticks and a mountain in the background.

Prepare your body for labor

Over time, regular physical activity builds stamina and endurance. Stamina is very important when it comes time to give birth. Labor and pushing can take many hours for some people. Stamina and endurance can help prevent exhaustion as you labor.

Certain types of exercise like yoga can also help you learn better breathing and stress-relief techniques. While you’re in labor, having these skills in your back pocket can help you cope with the intensity of labor.  

Recover more quickly after birth

There is some evidence to suggest that regular prenatal exercise can help your body recover quicker after giving birth. While the idea that our bodies should “bounce back” quickly is a harmful myth, more exercise before birth can help your body feel better after. Regular physical activity can also reduce the risk of postpartum depression and improve your mental health. As a benefit of the increased blood flow, exercise after having a baby can also help decrease your risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT is a blood clot that develops in your legs. After having a baby, the risk of DVT increases.

When to start prenatal exercise

If you’re wondering when to start exercising while pregnant, it’s always a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider first. However, in general it is safe to start exercising anytime during pregnancy. If you were consistently active before becoming pregnant, it is usually safe to continue your exercises during the course of your pregnancy. If you were not very active before getting pregnant, healthcare professionals recommend starting slowly, with fifteen-minute sessions two to three times a week. Once you start to build up more stamina, you can try working out for up to thirty minutes at a time. If fifteen-minute sessions are too much at the beginning of your exercise journey, you can start with shorter sessions. Any start is a good start!

This article was reviewed by Quilted Health midwife Nadia Crane.

Quilted Health Team

Quilted Health leads the way in midwife-centered, whole-person pregnancy care.

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