During pregnancy it is hard to feel motivated to get moving. In the first trimester you may be dealing with bouts of morning sickness that make exercise feel impossible. As you reach your third trimester you’re dealing with a growing belly, back pain, hip pain, and fatigue that seems debilitating for some. However, the more we learn about pregnancy the more research is supporting activity to help with our changing body. The pendulum is swinging and the perception of exercise while pregnant is CHANGING!! We see mom’s running, lifting, and playing sports well into their 3rd trimester. Most OBGYNs and PTs can agree that guidelines support 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week that varies between aerobic and strength training. Here are some red flags while exercising during pregnancy that mean you should discontinue activity:

  • Persistent and significant shortness of breath
    • Remember that as your baby grows your lung capacity is reduced (there just isn’t a lot of space in there!!). So some shortness of breath will be normal with activity, but significant and persistent changes can be harmful. 
  • Regular and painful contractions 
  • Severe chest pain
  • Vaginal bleeding or significant amount of fluid loss from the vagina 
  • Feeling of faintness or dizziness

For some athletes 150 minutes or moderate exercise a week is not ‘their’ normal. Maybe they are crossfitters, powerlifters, or long distance runners that are conditioned for higher intensity activity. Is it okay for those athletes to continue with their normal workouts even during pregnancy? YES!!!! Let’s debunk some common misconceptions about exercises:

  • Exercises early in pregnancy is NOT correlated with increased risk of miscarriage when no red flag is present
  • Many providers report that mom’s heart rate while pregnant should remain below 140 beats per minute but this is UNFOUNDED in research 
    • Meaning this is an arbitrary number given without reason. A better indicator for exercise is your perceived exertion rating. Keeping your intensity between a moderate to somewhat hard rating is a better indicator than heart rate. 
  • Diastasis rectus abdominis (DRA) during pregnancy is NORMAL and 100% of pregnant women will have at least some degree of DRA by the third trimester. There is no evidence to support avoiding abdominal activation during pregnancy even when mild coning is present. 
  • You can start exercising during pregnancy even if you NEVER worked out prior to pregnancy! 

The benefits of exercises during pregnancy make it such a great tool to manage symptoms like:

  • Hypertension/high blood pressure
  • Gestational diabetes 
  • Postpartum depression
  • Pelvic, low back, and SI pain

As healthcare providers it is time to stop scaring expecting moms away from physical activity. Instead let’s start empowering moms and educating them on how amazingly strong and resilient the woman’s body is! If you are pregnant or postpartum and find yourself needing the support of a healthcare professional to return to exercises safely and pain-free, we can help you at College Station Physical Therapy and Performance. 

Megan Comire, PT, DPT

Exercising while pregnant