Reasons You May Not Want to Exercise in Pregnancy

Pregnant Woman Running

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It is generally known that exercise is good for you, even in pregnancy. However, there are a few circumstances where exercise can do more harm than good for your pregnancy, particularly in a high-risk pregnancy.

Reasons to Refrain From Exercise

You will want to talk to your doctor or midwife before you exercise if you have any of the following conditions:

  • History or symptoms of preterm labor: If you have previously had a baby before 37 weeks gestation or if you're having signs of preterm labor, you will want to take it easy and follow your practitioner's orders. This may be only for a few weeks or only include certain types of exercise. Ask your practitioner for specific instructions.
  • History or signs of miscarriage: If you have previously had a miscarriage you may be worried that exercise will cause a miscarriage. While this is not true, you will definitely want to be careful if you're having current signs of a potential miscarriage like bleeding. Some moms who have previously had miscarriages choose to forgo exercise until after 12 weeks for their sanity. This is usually one that is confined to when you have symptoms. Your doctor or midwife will be able to tell you when you can exercise again.
  • Multiple pregnancy: Having more than one baby can increase the likelihood of complications including preterm labor. Your doctors can help you decide what level of exercise is appropriate and for how long. There are also bedrest fitness programs. Do note that the loss of muscle mass can be a real issue if bedrest is needed. Ask about physical therapy to help ease this loss.
  • Placental problems in current pregnancy: It is common practice for practitioners to recommend that women with placental issues like placenta previa decrease physical activity and avoid exercise. This is because the activity may provoke contractions or bleeding. This, however, is not based on science, but they are erring on the side of caution and working on your sense of well being mentally. In fact, with some placental issues, exercise may be permitted in the second trimester. Your practitioner can help you further make this decision.
  • Heart problems: This can be something chronic or something pregnancy-related. For example, do you experience a racing heart or irregular heartbeat? Sometimes this can even happen only while doing physical exercise. It may or may not be a problem in pregnancy — ask.
  • Lung problems: Asthma tops this list. You may find that there are some exercises that you can do but only with your inhaler close by. Be sure to get some guidelines from your obstetrical care team before exercising. There may be conditions where you can exercise safely even during pregnancy.
  • High blood pressure: Whether you have chronic high blood pressure or an issue in pregnancy, you will want to know what modifications can be made to allow you to exercise. Exercise can drop your blood pressure overall, even if your blood pressure rises slightly with exercise.
  • Weight Issues: If you are overweight or underweight your exercise or fitness regimen should be supervised by your care provider. Modifications or specific exercises might be the answer to staying active in pregnancy if you have one of these conditions.
  • Other issues: You may have other chronic or temporary issues that would keep you from exercising while pregnant. Discussing these and coming up with a plan of action is best.

Talk to Your Doctor

Your doctor or midwife should give you specific reasons why you shouldn't exercise. This may also include information about what type of exercise may be appropriate and when. You may also be given information that says certain types of exercise, like walking, are fine, within certain parameters. If you have a question, don't hesitate to ask someone.

If you are told that you can exercise at a certain point, be sure to ask what guidelines you need to follow. This can help you feel more confident in your ability to safely exercise. For example, you might be told mall walking is preferable to walking outside.

Or maybe you can exercise but monitor your heart rate closely during and after. Keeping a log and journal of when, how and how long you exercise might be helpful for your doctor or midwife to help you select the healthiest exercise for you.

This might also be something that is only for this pregnancy and does not apply to future pregnancies. Though the standard is that you shouldn't exercise harder than before pregnancy for most women, particularly with complicating factors.

By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.