The Pocket Guide to Prenatal Exercise


Exercising throughout pregnancy can be extremely beneficial for both you and baby.
It's important to check in with your healthcare provider and keep your own pre-pregnancy fitness capabilities in mind.
Barring any injuries or complications, working out at a frequency and intensity that is appropriate for your level of fitness can be an excellent way to feel good and improve mental health as well.
The Pocket Guide to Prenatal Exercise

Pregnancy often comes along with a notion of slowing down as baby grows and mama starts to show more and more. And this makes sense at face value! After all, going for a run with 20+ extra pounds in tow is a markedly different experience. But the reality is - barring any significant medical conditions or complications - pregnancy is a great time to begin or continue to move more, scoring some major health benefits for both mama and baby in the process (1).

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states that exercising during pregnancy can potentially lower the incidence of some severe health issues (2). For mom, it can help regulate appropriate weight gain, and while more research is needed, early studies suggest it may even mitigate gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and some hypertensive disorders. 

Similarly, mom's fitness level can often help ensure a healthy birth weight for the baby (e.g., neither too high nor too low!). Strong blood flow carries oxygen and nutrients to your body's tissues, especially the brain and reproductive organs. Exercising during preconception is widely prescribed because it is critical for fertility in both men and women. The same holds true once conception occurs. Robust blood flow is imperative to deliver nutrients to baby for healthy development.

Getting started

Movement all happens on a spectrum, from laying down in bed to working into your maximum effort levels. As your body changes and grows another human, think about prioritizing exercise that supports that process. You're working on conditioning your body for the ultimate physical task. Most women will want to try to find a way to fall into the middle zone on that spectrum, but it is entirely up to you and your healthcare provider to determine the best course of action based on your history and needs.

When consulting with your provider, honesty is imperative.

There is no one to impress, and because everybody is different, there are no hard and fast rules of what you should have been doing. Communicate your level of exercise experience and preferences accurately. Overstating (or, conversely, downplaying) your abilities can inappropriately set your expectations moving forward.

Why? Because most experts encourage and prescribe exercise based on a woman's pre-pregnancy activity level (3). If you miscommunicate, you could feel overwhelmed by a suggested schedule that is too aggressive or continuing along an intense pre-pregnancy regimen that could potentially put you or your baby at risk. You know your body and mind better than anyone else, so speak up in the best interest of yourself and your baby.

The health of you and your baby comes first. If these types of conversations feel tricky, let us help you approach them one step at a time.

As far as navigating activities go, consider the options available to you.

*If you perform these activities frequently, it can be safe to continue while pregnant. However, The American Pregnancy Association advises refraining from activities with any risk of falling, sustaining impact, or venturing into high altitudes if not already acclimated. Consult your doctor. 

As you can see, a few activities work well for everyone.

Walking and getting those steps in will always be a tried and true way to maintain and increase cardiovascular capacity and overall fitness. At the same time, resistance training and weight-bearing exercises are recommended across the board to build strength and fortify bones. No matter your skill level, there are a few fantastic organizations we love for this type of work, including Birthfit Prenatal and The Bloom Method. In the same vein, preventative physical therapy for your pelvic floor can help strengthen muscles that support the bladder, uterus, and bowels in the long run. This is a great way to prepare the body for labor, and can potentially help you recover smoothly post-delivery. We recommend taking a look into the MUTU System at any phase of your fertility journey.

Finally, one of our favorite movement methods - not to mention ways to unwind - can be found in a prenatal yoga session. 

Why is yoga for pregnancy so beneficial?

When you think about it, it's a no-brainer. Similar to other types of childbirth-preparation classes, prenatal yoga:

  • Encourages gentle stretching
  • Teaches mental strength and focus
  • Trains you to breathe correctly (something that none of us do) 

Prenatal yoga also goes beyond physical benefits to positively impact other areas of your life. It can help:

  • Improve your quality of sleep
  • Pull back stress and anxiety levels
  • Increase strength
  • Improve balance
  • Elevate flexibility
  • Enhance endurance
  • Decrease lower back pain, nausea, headaches, and shortness of breath
  • Condition many of the muscles you'll need for childbirth

One of our outstanding FullWell Ambassadors, Kendra Tolbert, MS, RDN, RYT, is a fertility-focused yoga teacher and dietitian who combines her expertise in mindful movement and modern nutritional science.

"There are many ways yoga can support someone who’s trying to conceive. It provides stress relief, encourages blood and lymph circulation to nourish the reproductive organs, and can help us to develop self-compassion. We even have research showing an association between partaking in mind-body practices (like yoga) and increased conception rates," Kendra highlights. "For those with PCOS, practicing yoga has been shown to improve androgen levels, insulin sensitivity, inflammation, and menstrual cycle regularity."

However, Kendra does recommend proceeding with care.

"The most important thing anyone can do to minimize the risk of injury is to listen to their body. I know that can sound esoteric or even a bit generic, but listening to and honoring our bodies’ wisdom and warnings is our best bet for staying as safe as possible. It’s easier to listen to your body when you’re moving slowly. Moving slowly gives you time to be intentional about where you’re placing your weight and how you’re moving your body. And it gives you a chance to tune in and notice what you’re experiencing as you move."

As for those who struggle to incorporate movement into life consistently, she has some advice.

"What has helped me and many of my past clients fit yoga into our days is letting go of the idea that if we aren’t doing an hour-long practice, it doesn’t count. I’m a big fan of sprinkling five-minute mindful moments throughout the day. That might look like moving through yoga poses for five minutes before eating breakfast. Then perhaps you take five minutes to breathe deeply and intentionally before enjoying lunch. After lunch, you might go for a five-minute phone-free walk. Then maybe you could meditate for five minutes after leaving work or before preparing dinner. And finally, you might want to end the day with five minutes of journaling or writing a gratitude list. If you have the time (and desire) for an hour-long practice, great! Take that time. But if you don’t, don’t worry about it. Make the most of whatever time you have."

Attending a prenatal yoga class can also introduce you to experts like Kendra and to other pregnant women that can expand your circle of support.

Final thoughts

Keep in mind that exercise goes hand-in-hand with proper nourishment in any stage of fertility. Fueling your body to move happily and healthfully is vital. With a Registered Dietitian and fertility expert leading our team of… well, more Registered Dietitians and fertility experts, FullWell can help. 

Check back for upcoming comprehensive posts on nutrition considerations concerning preconception, pregnancy, and breastfeeding! And as always, make sure you're meeting your prenatal vitamin and mineral needs. Our women's prenatal and fish oil supplements, paired with your newfound love of prenatal yoga and our organic Nourished Nerves tincture, create the ultimate support for stress responses and sleep quality during this exciting time.

* The information on this website is provided for educational purposes only and should not be treated as medical advice. FullWell makes no guarantees regarding the information provided or how products may work for any individual. If you suffer from a health condition, you should consult your health care practitioner for medical advice before introducing any new products into your health care regimen. For more information, please read our terms and conditions.