Health / Pregnancy

Can Exercise Cause a Miscarriage?

Two experts explain the risk of a miscarriage related to exercise, and how you can work out safely from early pregnancy to labor and delivery.

Pregnancy workouts come with a lot of benefits. They lower stress, ease tense muscles, and build up endurance for labor, to name a few. But some expecting mothers still worry whether or not physical activity might put their baby at risk for miscarriage—especially during those first vital weeks. We spoke to two experts about exercise during pregnancy, the reality of miscarriage risk, and how much and what kind of exercise is safest for you.

For pregnant women who exercise, particularly in the first trimester, is there an increased risk of miscarriage?

Historically, pregnant women were advised to hold off on exercise until the second trimester in an attempt to avoid the risk of miscarriage. However, no studies have shown a direct link between exercise and miscarriage early in pregnancy. One 2007 study did associate an increased risk of miscarriage with high-impact exercise, though, especially before 18 weeks of gestation. This is why most health care providers continue to encourage expecting moms to err on the side of caution.

Now, that doesn’t mean you should sit on the couch for the first three months of pregnancy, nor does such research suggest your favorite workout will “cause” a miscarriage. Miscarriage happens for a variety of reasons completely unrelated to exercise, such as:

“Any exercise you choose should give you a boost of energy rather than leave you feeling spent.”

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The American Pregnancy Association and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology also view regular exercise as a must for overall health. But pregnant women should avoid “contact sports or activities that have a risk of injury” such as gymnastics, skiing, hockey, basketball, and horseback riding. Basically, skip anything with significant jumping or jolting movements.

“Exercise is a good thing, and may actually lower risk [of miscarriage],” agrees Dr. Alison Mitzner, a pediatrician based in New York City. “It makes you stronger, reduces stress, helps your mood, and even builds up stamina for the birth process. It can also make the baby healthier.”

So, there really isn’t much risk?

Well, it depends. Certain women do have a higher risk of miscarriage based on personal history. Hence the somewhat gray relationship between miscarriages and exercise. Pregnant moms who have had a previous miscarriage, for example, may feel extra nervous about working out during the first trimester, and that’s completely understandable. Dr. Mitzner says some increased risks include age, prior miscarriages or other medical histories such as chronic diseases or uterine/cervical issues.

What types of exercise are ideal for pregnant women in their first trimester?

“Most exercises are OK as long as you don’t overdo it,” says Dr. Mitzner. “Listen to your body. Low-impact workouts, such as the elliptical and biking, are ideal. Many soon-to-be moms love prenatal yoga or pilates, which can also help with stretching, flexibility, and breathing. If you are advanced in your workouts, you can most often continue your regular routine, but be sure to discuss with your doctor first.”

Dr. Aditi Gupta, head physician at JustDoc, also reminds pregnant women to skip any form of exercise that wasn’t previously a part of their routine. If you’re a total beginner, start at a lower intensity and length. Work up to about 30 minutes of exercise a day.

It’s also normal for pregnant women to simply be exhausted more often during the first trimester. Most workouts can be modified to meet your body’s needs in pregnancy. However, any exercise you choose should give you a boost of energy rather than leave you feeling spent. Work to maintain a general sense of strength and pick activities that nourish your stamina. Always incorporate rest days whenever you need them, too.

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What are some warning signs to keep in mind if you’re exercising while pregnant?

Stop exercising and call your doctor or OBGYN if you experience any of these symptoms:

“Exertion or breathlessness is a no-no,” says Dr. Gupta. “If there are changes in how you are feeling (cramps, bleeding) or anything that concerns you as you know your body best, call your OBGYN,” advises Dr. Mitzner.

What advice would you give women who are worried about a miscarriage risk but also interested in staying fit throughout pregnancy?

Again, exercise is not directly linked to miscarriage for pregnant women, but some individuals may still be concerned. If you are currently pregnant or trying to conceive, be sure to talk to your doctor about your exercise routine.

“Always discuss any risk or concerns with your OBGYN,” says Dr. Mitzner. “They can work along with you. Pregnancy isn’t a time to necessarily increase your workouts, but it is a time to continue to exercise since there are many benefits. If you are just starting, you should start slowly. Listen to your body.  Discuss your routine with your doctor. And if there are any changes in how you feel, call your doctor.”

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