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7 Great Options for Prenatal Exercise

Walking isn’t your only choice

by Quilted Health Team

A pregnant person with curly hair stretches in a lunge outside.
Exercise is a great way to relieve stress and sleep better, especially during pregnancy. But exercise also has some special benefits when you’re going through pregnancy. Here are the advantages of prenatal exercise and seven of our favorite types of movement.

Key Takeaways

  • There are lots of exercises, like swimming or stationary biking, that are gentle on your joints during pregnancy.
  • Yoga, Pilates, and Tai Chi or Qigong are all good ways to move and stretch without straining.
  • Exercise classes for pregnant people can also be a great way to build community!

Staying active during pregnancy has a lot of benefits. It has been shown to reduce the risk of complications and lead to better outcomes for both you and your baby. While walking is the exercise we hear about most commonly, you actually have many options for healthy movement. Whether you’re looking for a change in your routine or hope to get started moving more, here are several of our favorite types of exercise during pregnancy. 

Walking

One of the gentlest exercises available, walking is a great activity to incorporate into your daily or weekly routine. Walking can help stretch your body and increase your heart rate. As a bonus, it can be done almost anywhere – and it’s free! Plus, taking walks outside on sunny days can help your body absorb Vitamin D.  Vitamin D levels can improve your mood and immune system and help your body absorb other vitamins and minerals.  If you are new to exercise, try going on twenty minute walks a few times a week, and work up to a brisk pace. A “brisk” pace is fast enough that you can talk but cannot sing.

Swimming

If you struggle with back or joint pain, swimming is a great form of prenatal exercise. Swimming and water aerobics are excellent ways to relieve the weight of carrying your baby. They’re also  very gentle on your joints. Depending on where you live, pregnancy swimming classes or groups may be available. These classes can help you meet other pregnant people and build community.

Pilates

During pregnancy, you may experience new issues with balance, flexibility, and posture. As your uterus grows, it can impact your center of gravity and increase your risk of falling. One of the goals of Pilates is to help with these challenges. Pilates exercises can also help you build the strength to carry your baby easier and can help prepare your body for labor. Pilates with and without a reformer are safe during pregnancy. There are lots of Pilates exercises that aren’t done on your back. For those that are, ask if the studio has a wedge you can put under your head, neck, and shoulders.

For your information

Lots of prenatal yoga and prenatal Pilates videos are free online! You can use a bath towel if you don't have an exercise mat.

Yoga

One of the most popular types of gentle prenatal exercise is yoga. If you aren’t near a yoga studio, there are plenty of options available online. With its focus on mindfulness and slow movement, yoga can be a great way to relieve stress for both your body and mind. Breathing and mindfulness exercises may also help with pain management during labor and birth.

Heated, or hot, yoga classes are not recommended during pregnancy due to an increased risk of complications. If you are considering hot yoga during pregnancy, ask your provider for a discussion of the risks and benefits so you can have shared decision-making.

Tai Chi and Qigong 

Tai chi and qigong are generally considered low-impact activities that are safe for pregnancy. Tai chi and qigong can help improve overall physical and mental health and help alleviate common aches and pains of pregnancy. They can also help strengthen and stretch your core and pelvic muscles to aid in the birthing process. When practicing tai chi and qigong, continue to listen to your body. Do not do any moves that do not feel right or may cause discomfort or trauma to your abdomen. You may find it beneficial to add acupuncture to your qigong regimen. 

An illustration of a pregnant person lifting weights.

Stationary biking and ellipticals

Stationary cycling or using an elliptical machine can be great, low-impact ways to get your heart rate up. The biggest benefit is that working out on stationary bikes and ellipticals eliminates jarring on your muscles, tendons, and ligaments. It may also be more comfortable as your body grows.

Start slowly if you’re not used to exercising with workout equipment. The more your baby grows, the harder it may be to keep your balance on these machines. As a bonus, stationary bikes and ellipticals are often in air-conditioned spaces and help you regulate your body temperature.

Strength training

Strength training with low weights can help improve your muscle tone. Exercises with lightweight dumbbells are a great way to work your muscles. If you already participate in an exercise program where you lift heavy weights, talk to your provider about the risks and benefits of continuing that activity.

Exercise is not one-size-fits-all

Staying active with gentle exercises for pregnancy can help you stay physically and emotionally well both during and after giving birth. And don’t forget that exercise is meant to be enjoyable and an activity that you, eventually, look forward to! Don’t be afraid to get creative and try new things. And always remember to listen to your body.

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Quilted Health Team

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

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