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Exercise During Your First Trimester

My mother taught me that there are many things you may learn about pregnancy “as you go along.” However, there are things you can prepare yourself for and educate yourself on as soon as you find out. While it’s commonly heard that you should not exercise while pregnant, most experts recommend that women start exercising as early as the first trimester. But where do you start?

If you’re a first-time mom, it can be tough to know what’s safe to do during pregnancy. With so many do’s and don’ts floating around, it’s almost impossible to differentiate what’s effective from what’s bogus. Our experts are here to clear the air. Today’s blog post reveals everything you need to know about exercising during your first trimester.

Stay tuned to learn the risks and benefits of following exercise plans while pregnant, as well as some of our favorite pregnancy exercises to help strengthen those muscles.

Is Working Out in the First Trimester Safe?

Pregnancy comes with a lot of body changes, the biggest one not only being what you can see, but how you feel. While you can still be as strong as you were before pregnancy, now with a baby, you might need to move quite differently than you once did—and do it safely. As with anything, it’s critical that you talk to your healthcare provider before starting a pregnancy exercise program. While the exact amount depends on one’s personal fitness level, most pregnant women find that moderate exercise, as compared to strenuous exercise, is completely healthy for both herself and her baby.

Working Out in the First Trimester Benefits

According to Caitlin Ritt, founder and CEO of The Lotus Method and pre/postnatal exercise specialist, “Preparing your body for what you are going to do—not only the shifts that are going to happen during pregnancy—can help keep you out of a lot of aches and pains.” 

Additionally, studies show that incorporating exercise into your daily routine during first trimester has numerous health benefits: 

  • Decreases discomfort. Regular exercise soothes the feelings of constipation and heartburn that are commonly associated with pregnancy. Additionally, exercise reduces swelling in the hands, feet, and legs, and it relieves those uncomfortable pregnancy aches. Light exercise also may help soothe morning sickness for some. 
  • Improves mood and energy levels. Many pregnant women report feeling more lethargic than usual. However, exercise improves blood flow and releases endorphins (aka your happy chemicals) that boost your mood, relieve anxiety, increase your energy level, and combat pregnancy fatigue. 
  • Strengthen muscles to prepare for labor. As you can probably imagine, strengthening the muscles around your hips and thighs helps prepare your body for labor. 
  • Increases blood flow. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that women experiencing healthy, normal pregnancies get about 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity weekly. (Think: brisk walking, swimming, cycling on a stationary bike, and other activities of that nature.) This increases blood flow, which strengthens your heart, lungs, and blood vessels and ensures the umbilical cord is supported. 
  • Reduces the risk of complications. Incorporating certain types of exercises into your pregnancy routine reduces the risk of complications like gestational diabetes, early pregnancy, preeclampsia, and cesarean delivery. 
  • Promotes healthy weight gain. As we all know, pregnant women gain some extra weight. However, getting regular exercise during your first trimester is a good idea because it can prevent excessive and/or harmful weight gain.

First Trimester Exercise Examples

If you’re interested in learning how to exercise during your first trimester, here are some of the best first trimester exercise examples to try (with your doctor’s approval, of course): 

Modified Pilates or Yoga

During your first trimester, you should consider doing prenatal yoga or modified pilates. (As a matter of fact, they’re some of our personal favorites.) They both reduce stress, improve flexibility, strengthen muscles, encourage stretching, and enhance breathwork. However, we recommend finding classes designed for pregnant women, as not all exercises are maternity-friendly. Also, it’s best to skip the hot yoga sessions, as research shows that fetuses shouldn’t be exposed to excessive heat.  

Low-Impact Aerobic Exercises

Brisk walking, swimming, and cycling on a stationary bike are all gentle, low-impact aerobics for pregnancy. These types of aerobic exercise are phenomenal total-body workouts, yet easy on the joints and muscles. And because they don’t strain your body in the same way as high-impact aerobics, they’re ideal for pregnant women. (Generally, walking and swimming are both safe exercises to continue during your second trimester, as well as your third. However, make sure to get your doctor’s approval first.) 

Strength and Resistance Training 

With your doctor’s approval, strength training and resistance training for pregnancy are totally okay. But given that your joints are significantly more lax during pregnancy, we recommend checking in with your body on a regular basis to make sure you are working at an intensity that feels right for you. Doing so helps decrease joint stress and reduces your risk of injury. 

Water Aerobics

A gentle yet effective form of exercise like water aerobics offers a multitude of benefits, key among them being the buoyancy provided by water, which significantly reduces the impact on the joints and mitigates the risk of strain or injury. Additionally, it can help in alleviating common pregnancy discomforts such as swelling in the limbs and back pain, thanks to the water’s supportive environment and its ability to promote circulation. Engaging in water aerobics also enhances sleep patterns and energy levels, making it a valuable exercise tool for expectant mothers aiming to stay fit while protecting their well-being.

Safety Tips for Working Out in Your First Trimester

Of course, there are potential risks associated with getting too much exercise during your first trimester. (Hence the reason why you need to have a conversation with your healthcare provider.) Additionally, women with the following complications or medical conditions should refrain from exercising while pregnant: 

  • Cerclage
  • Severe anemia
  • Placenta previa after 26 weeks 
  • Certain types of heart and lung disease
  • Preeclampsia or pregnancy-induced high blood pressure
  • Preterm labor or ruptured membranes (aka your water has broken)

On top of that, experts agree on certain precautions women should take when choosing to exercise while pregnant: 

  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workout. Also, look out for signs of dehydration. 
  • Take it easy. The very nature of being pregnant means your cardiac output (the amount of effort required for your heart to pump blood) increases by 30% to 50%. Therefore, you shouldn’t work out in a way that intentionally skyrockets your heart rate. When exercising while pregnant, use the “talk test” to verify that you aren’t over-exerting yourself. (You should feel slightly breathless, yet be able to carry a conversation.)
  • Wear a supportive sports bra. As you can probably guess, this protects your breasts. Additionally, we recommend investing in a belly support belt for the second and third trimester. 
  • Avoid overheating. This means skipping the hot yoga and hot pilates classes. However, some high-impact activities without heat, like strength training, may be okay, so you should speak to your postnatal specialist. (But don’t worry – they’re not going anywhere!) Instead, make sure all your exercises are done in temperature-controlled rooms. 
  • Avoid contact sports. When you’re pregnant, it’s recommended that you stay away from contact sports that might cause you to get hit in the abdomen. These include (but are certainly not limited to) ice hockey, boxing, soccer, and basketball. 
  • Avoid standing still or lying flat. When you lie on your back, your uterus presses on a large vein that returns blood to the heart. And when you stand motionless, blood begins to pool in your legs and feet. 

The Bottom Line

Exercising during your first trimester isn’t just for first-time mothers. Keep in mind that everybody is different and no pregnancy is exactly like another. Before starting pregnancy exercises, consult with your health care provider and postnatal specialist to find out what is best for you and your baby.