When you’re pregnant, you’ve got a whole host of things to worry about—your diet, your stress level, the nursery theme. And, yes—how to exercise safely is right up there on the list. “When most women get pregnant, they think that it’s time to switch to yoga, but doctors say that nearly all types of exercise are safe during pregnancy,” says Kathleen Donahoe, senior instructor at Oh Baby! Fitness in Atlanta. Always check with your doctor before you begin exercising, and know that there are several great options for keeping you healthy during pregnancy while also helping you prepare for delivery. Here are our experts’ top picks.
1. Prenatal Yoga.
Good for you: This gentler form of yoga teaches breathing techniques that can be helpful during childbirth, Donahoe says.
Good for baby: “One of the best yoga exercises for pregnancy is cat and cow pose. It helps get the baby in the optimal birth position while also helping relieve any back pain the mom may be feeling,” Donahoe says.
Watch out for: Balance work, since pregnancy causes a change in your center of gravity. If you do balance poses, use the wall for support.
2. Weight-bearing Cardio.
Good for you: “Data shows that women benefit most from weight bearing exercise, like walking, hiking or running” says Catherine Cram, author of Prenatal Fitness for Dummies.
Good for baby: One study found that the placenta of exercising mothers who did weight-bearing exercise three to five days a week had one-third greater profusion of blood flow to the placenta, says Cram.
Watch out for: Overdoing it. Use the talk test. As long as you are still able to talk while you are exercising, you are at a safe level, says Cram.
3. Strength Training.
Good for you: “Wall sits help strengthen the muscles you will use in delivery, while also building strong quad muscles. And walking lunges incorporate pelvic floor work,” Donahoe says.
Good for baby: Building upper-body and back strength will prepare you for the lifting and bending over required once baby arrives. Donahoe recommends upright rows and lat pull downs for the back, and Cram calls for a few minutes of upper-body moves with resistance bands each day.
Watch out for: Too much weight. Use a weight level that allows for 10-12 repetitions without excessive strain, Cram says.
4. Water Aerobics.
Good for you: “Water aerobics is the best thing for swelling,” Donahoe says. “One study found that taking one water aerobics class per week while pregnant cut down 50 percent on back pain and 100 percent on days lost at work due to back pain.”
Good for baby: The breast stroke may help move the baby into the correct vaginal birth position, Donahoe adds.
Watch out for: Very hot water, like that in a Jacuzzi or hot tub, which can lead to birth defects, according to the American Pregnancy Association.
5. Prenatal Pilates.
Good for you: Pilates is very helpful during pregnancy, especially for back and sciatic nerve pain, Donahoe says. The side series is especially beneficial, since it works the abs.
Good for baby: Pilates, like water aerobics, can also help with baby positioning, helping it get into the right position before birth.
Watch out for: Moves on your back. Avoid doing any exercises while flat on your back after the first trimester to avoid dizziness, says Cram.