Exercise isn’t just safe to do for most pregnant women—it’s excellent for your and your baby’s health. “Because cardiovascular exercise provides—by far—the most physical and psychological benefits, this should form the foundation of a woman’s prenatal fitness program,” says Helene Byrne, perinatal fitness specialist at BeFit-Mom. Still, you’ll have to check with your doctor to make sure exercise is safe for you. Certain conditions and complications may impact your individual ability to work out. Chances are, you’re good to get your workout in, but there are a few exercises pregnant women should avoid.
Anything Where You’re Overexerting or Uncomfortable
Truth is, there aren’t hard-and-fast rules that say what every pregnant woman should avoid. It’s important that exercise be aerobic and at a moderate level to reap the benefits, which include keeping weight gain low and having a healthy baby with a healthy placenta, says Catherine Cram, M.S., exercise physiologist, owner of Prenatal and Postpartum Fitness Consulting and co-author of Exercising Through Your Pregnancy.
Cram explains that it’s important to listen to your body—the decision to partake in or to avoid a certain activity is yours to make. “Don’t do an exercise that hurts or is uncomfortable and you can’t modify,” she says. “You really have to go by how you feel.”
“The standard prohibited list includes activities where you could take a blow to the belly, such as competitive sports,” Byrne says. And your maternal instincts will probably tell you that boxing—even a kickboxing class—is probably not a good idea.
Cram says, “You want to avoid anything … that makes you think, ‘It doesn’t feel like it’s good for me to do.'”
Activities with a High Risk of Falling
There are some sports that are no-brainers to skip, such as downhill skiing and skydiving. Keep in mind that your center of gravity changes as your belly grows, so you might not be as steady on your feet as you used to be. Along the way, you might encounter some less obvious exercises that make you feel as if you might fall. “Avoid things that put you in positions that you feel like you’re not balanced or that you’re a little off,” Cram says. It’s not worth it to risk injuring yourself or your baby.
Find ways to modify. For example, if you usually love cycling, take a spin on a stationary bike instead. You’re much less likely to take a tumble.
You may want to put off that hiking trip in the mountains. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that pregnant women avoid exercising above 6,000 feet if they’re not acclimated to that altitude. The thinner air could cause respiratory and heart rate problems. Both of these could put pregnancy in danger of complications.
Exercises That Can Separate Abdominal Muscles
“Pregnant women in their second and third trimesters should stop moves that place tensile (stretching) and/or shear forces on the midline. Moves, such as wood chop, twisted rollbacks, and bicycles, can cause diastasis recti,” Byrne recommends. “Moves like boat pose, leg lifts, yogic belly breathing (the intentional overinflation of the belly during inhalation), and all other moves that cause the bump to bulge away from the spine are also off the menu. Not only do these moves strain the midline, but they also stretch the uterine and bladder ligaments, increasing the risk of prolapse problems after delivery.”
Exercises Performed Lying on Your Stomach
“You don’t want to get into any position that exerts pressure on your belly, so all prone exercises are out,” Byrne says. But there’s also some controversy around lying on your back. Doctors may advise some pregnant women not to lie on their backs at all. Doing so could compress a major vein that brings blood flow to the baby. However, Cram says supine exercises are fine to do, as long as you’re not lying on your back for a long period of time. “Take a break every once in awhile,” she recommends. “You would feel light-headed before your fetus is affected.” If you are nervous, simply try the moves on your side.
Though this list may seem restrictive, remember there are still many exercises that are completely fine to do during pregnancy. “Safe activities include fitness walking, elliptical, treadmill, stationary/recumbent bike, swimming, aqua aerobics, low-impact group fitness classes, and yoga,” Byrne says. Find one, or hopefully a few, that you really enjoy, and keep it up throughout your pregnancy.