Exercise Is Essential

Cardiovascular exercise benefits pregnant women just as it does anyone else. But the added benefits for pregnant women can also be mental. Here's how you can get moving, stay strong and prepare for labor.


get moving

Cardiovascular exercise benefits pregnant women just as it does anyone else. But the added benefits for pregnant women can also be mental. A brisk walk almost always can help you feel better, and knowing that you still have that tool in your arsenal can give you a huge emotional lift.

Walk, run or swim> Just make sure you don’t overdo it. Decrease the intensity or duration, as needed, to avoid getting overheated. Make sure that you drink plenty of water, even if you swim.

How often> You can do aerobic activities every day if you feel up to it, but beginners should aim for at least 15 to 30 minutes three times a week. Advanced exercisers can plan on 30 to 60 minutes.

How hard> If you are beginning a new activity, start slowly and gradually increase the intensity as you feel comfortable. Listen to your body and don’t push yourself to fatigue.

Have fun> Free-form activities like strolling on a beach, dancing and yoga all count as part of the prenatal exercise package. “Pregnancy is an exciting time but also a stressful time,” says Lenita Anthony, M.S., author of Pre- and Postnatal Fitness. “Activities done for fun can help you relax.”

Labor is like an athletic event, so having good cardiovascular endurance and overall body strength will help you get through it better.

>Julie Tupler author of Maternal Fitness: Preparing For a Healthy Pregnancy, an Easier Labor and a Quick Recovery

stay strong

Strength training can help correct muscular imbalance and stress caused by pregnancy.

And no matter how big your belly gets, toned arms and legs will always look great.

Upper body> It’s important to work your upper back and shoulders because the weight of your growing breasts can pull your shoulders forward and lead to back strain.

Abs> A strong midsection may enable you to push more effectively during delivery and

could hasten your postpartum recovery.

Legs> Keeping your lower body strong can help you maintain labor positions more comfortably.


Working the muscles you’ll be using during delivery is something Julie Tupler, a certified childbirth educator, highly recommends. Try the following:

Kegels> Kegels involve squeezing and relaxing the pelvic-floor muscles, which extend from your pubic bone to your tailbone and support your pelvic organs like a sling. Doing Kegels regularly can help you learn which muscles you’ll need to relax during childbirth and also can help prevent incontinence. Tighten your pelvic-floor muscles, pulling upward and inward as if stopping your stream of urine; count to 3 and relax. Repeat for a count of 5, relax and repeat. Gradually work up to holding each Kegel for a count of 10, do 10–20 times, 5 times a day.

Squats> Do deep squats to stretch your lower back and strengthen and stretch your all-important pelvic-floor muscles. Tupler suggests that you also practice pushing with your abdominal muscles each time you have a bowel movement; simply bring your navel to your spine, hold it there and relax your pelvic-floor muscles.

4 great moves

These exercises can be done throughout all three trimesters with minor modifications. Do them four to five times a week to keep your muscles strong and balanced.

1 Squat Hold the back of a chair, feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees and lower to a quarter-squat [A]. Straighten to the starting position and repeat 10–15 times; do 2–3 sets. Widen legs and do 1 deeper squat; hold for 30 seconds [B]. After the final rep, drop onto knees to stand up.

2 Bent-over upper-back press Stand behind a chair and hold a 3- or 5-pound dumbbell in your right hand. Bend forward, resting your left forearm on the back of the chair [A]. Pull your right elbow up [B]. Pause, then slowly lower. Do 1 set of 8–12 reps, then switch arms.

3 Chest press Hold a 5-pound dumbbell in each hand; sit on the edge of a chair, place a pillow behind you and lean back. Extend your arms to midchest height [A]. Bend your elbows back until they are in line with your shoulders [B]. Do 10–12 reps, rest 60 seconds, then repeat.

4 Belly breathing Sit on the floor, legs crossed and back against a wall, placing both hands on your belly [A]. Inhale, expanding your belly into your hands, then exhale, pulling your navel in toward your spine [B]. Repeat 16–20 times, rest for 1 minute, then do another set of 16–20 reps.