You already know that exercise is good for you, but it's especially beneficial when you're pregnant.
It's such an important part of a healthy pregnancy that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends at least 20 to 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most or all days of the week (as long as your provider hasn't ruled out exercise or limited your physical activities because of a medical condition or complication).
Here are eight ways exercising during pregnancy benefits you and your baby. Working out when you're pregnant can:
1. Boost your energy
Pregnancy saps your energy, but regular exercise can help you get through your daily tasks or cope with a demanding schedule more easily. That's because exercise strengthens your cardiovascular system, so you don't tire as easily and you have the energy to ride out stressful times. And with strong, toned muscles, you don't need to put in as much effort to engage in any activity, whether it's grocery shopping or sitting through meetings at the office.
Before you hop on the treadmill or into the pool, make sure you read through these safety guidelines and see our tips on starting an exercise program.
2. Help you sleep better
As your pregnancy progresses, finding a comfortable sleeping position can be a real challenge. But exercise can tire you out enough to lull you into a more restful sleep. (Get more tips for sleeping well during pregnancy.)
3. Lower your risk of certain pregnancy-related complications
Studies suggest that exercising during pregnancy can lower the risk of developing gestational diabetes and preeclampsia.
(If you've been diagnosed with preeclampsia or gestational hypertension, be sure to talk with your healthcare provider about exercising. Depending on your condition and how far along you are in your pregnancy, she may ask you to limit or avoid physical activity.)
In women who develop gestational diabetes, regular exercise can make an important difference: One major study found that when women with gestational diabetes exercised moderately three times a week, their risk of having a macrosomic (very large) newborn was reduced by 58 percent, which led to a 34 percent lower risk of a cesarean delivery.
4. Reduce pregnancy discomfort
Regular exercise strengthens your muscles, which helps your body cope better with the aches and pains of pregnancy. Doing stretches and yoga eases back pain, walking improves your circulation, and swimming can strengthen your abdominal muscles.
Learn more about these and other exercises recommended throughout pregnancy.
5. Prepare for childbirth
It makes perfect sense: The better shape you're in, the stronger you'll be come time for labor and delivery. Giving birth can be likened to running a marathon because both require stamina, determination, and focus.
Though it hasn't been well researched, preparing for childbirth with exercise may ease labor and even shorten the time it takes to deliver your baby. A recent small study found that women who participated in a conditioning program three times a week throughout pregnancy progressed through the first stage of labor more quickly than women who weren't in the program.
6. Reduce stress and lift your spirits
Being pregnant can be stressful and leave you vulnerable to mood swings. One study found that exercise boosts levels of serotonin, a brain chemical linked to mood, putting you in better spirits.
It works even better if you invite a friend to join you. Not only are you more likely to stick with your workouts, studies have shown that having the company of supportive friends might be one of the best stress-busters available.
If you're still feeling down, talk to your provider about whether you may have prenatal depression and need a referral to see a counselor.
Stay in shape, and practice important breathing techniques for labor and birth, with prenatal yoga. In these videos, we show you how to do the cat stretch and 9 more yoga poses during pregnancy.
7. Improve your self-image
Watching the scale inch its way up to numbers you've never seen before can be disconcerting. Staying active helps you feel better about yourself and improves your odds of gaining a healthy amount of weight.
8. Get your body back faster after childbirth
When you've maintained your strength and muscle tone through your pregnancy, your body will have an easier time bouncing back after you give birth. You're also less likely to put on excess weight if you exercise during your pregnancy.
Read more about postpartum fitness.