Pregnancy and Exercise: How Much Is Too Much?

Could you overdo your pregnancy workouts? Learn how to stay fit without harming your baby.

pregnant woman exercising istock/Jupiter

There are lots of reasons why pregnancy workouts are a good thing. Exercise can enrich your pregnancy experience by giving you a boost of energy and reducing the stress associated with everything pregnancy, says Rebecca Stritchfield, a Washington, D.C.-based registered dietitian and ACSM certified health fitness specialist.

Kenneth Johnson, D.O., chair of obstetrics and gynecology in the College of Osteopathic Medicine at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, agrees. "There's a whole host of benefits for pregnant women who get in 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise -- even a very short walk can be great." Here's how to stay safe while staying fit:

Adjust activities and expectations. There's no single guideline for the right amount of exercise for pregnant women. What a woman can tolerate when she's pregnant is tied to her level of fitness and activity before she conceived, Stritchfield says. "You can probably do most of the things you did before you were pregnant -- within reason." (Talk to your doctor about your workout ideas, to be sure they're safe for you and your baby.)

But even if you can continue your usual fitness activities, you'll probably have to change the way you do them, and prepare yourself to dial it back a bit on days when you're feeling tired, nauseated or stressed.

Monitor your body. The key to keeping your moderate exercise moderate is to respond to how you're feeling today. Be mindful of how you feel during every moment of your workout.

As Stritchfield notes, what feels like too much "will change from one trimester another, and even from day to day. That's okay," she says. "When you're out of breath, ease up. Slow from a jog to a walk. The point is to be out there, not to stress yourself out." Other signs that you should ease up on your pregnancy workouts? Getting too hot or sweaty, or short of breath.

Fuel properly. Staying hydrated (and as a result, for pregnant women, near a restroom!) is key to any pregnancy workout. And preparing healthy snacks also important -- you need to make sure you're getting enough calories to fuel your workout and feed your baby.

Never ignore red flags. According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, you should stop an activity immediately and call a health-care provider if you experience:

    1. Vaginal bleeding
    2. Dizziness or feeling faint
    3. Increased shortness of breath
    4. Chest pain
    5. Muscle weakness
    6. Calf pain or swelling
    7. Uterine contractions
    8. Decreased fetal movement
    9. Fluid leaking from the vagina

      The best way to avoid over-exercising is to work with your doctor to come up with the right pregnancy exercise plan for you. "Approach your doctor early in your pregnancy so that you and he can develop an individualized program based on sound medical advice and your needs and desires," Dr. Johnson says.

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