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The One Exercise You Should Be Doing While Pregnant

While there are many exercises that benefit you and your baby, one exercise stands out as accessible for any fitness level while being a highly beneficial option–walking. In fact, new studies show that walking during pregnancy could decrease the chance of an emergency cesarean delivery.

In this guide, we’ll explore the numerous benefits of incorporating walking into your pregnancy routine, some helpful safety tips, and how to break up your weekly walking routine. Keep reading for everything you need to know about walking during pregnancy.

The Benefits of Walking During Pregnancy

Walking during pregnancy offers many benefits that can positively impact both you and your growing baby. Not only does walking provide a gentle form of exercise, but it also helps ensure baby is getting the essential nutrients needed, moving into an optimal position for birth, and more.

  • Gives nutrients to your baby. “[Walking] directly improves blood flow to baby,” says Jon Reitzenstein, MD, a family medicine physician of 16 years with a medical degree from the University of Hawaii. Essentially, when you start moderately exercising, like walking, your heart rate will increase. And when your heart rate rises while pregnant, the blood flow to your placenta improves–meaning more nutrients in blood pass through the umbilical cord to your baby.
  • Moves baby into an optimal position. Toward the end of pregnancy, walking can go a long way in helping prepare for labor. “It helps the baby achieve optimal positioning in the uterus,” says Renita Oglesby, DO, a family medicine practitioner in New Jersey. When a baby is positioned optimally, they can fit through your pelvis more easily during labor.
  • Boosts your mood. Oglesby and Reitzenstein both agree that walking helps improve your mental health and mood. This simple yet effective exercise also boosts energy levels from the increased heart rate and blood flow.
  • Shorter labor. Studies have found that being overweight can mean you experience a longer first stage of labor. Reitzenstein notes that walking as an exercise limits weight gain, which can help delivery become less challenging.

Is too much walking bad in pregnancy?

No–in most cases, extended walking during pregnancy is not bad. “If it hurts for some reason (and it shouldn’t), then you should see your medical provider about this,” says Reitzenstein. If you’re properly hydrated and well nourished, your pregnant body should handle walking with no problem. However, some women can experience a slight aching in the inner groin or low back, indicating the walk may have been too long or too strenuous. 

Walking Exercises During Pregnancy

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggests pregnant women should get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week. Reitzenstein says you can divide it up any way you want. And when it comes to how much walking you should do during each stage of pregnancy, “There is no recipe for how much you should walk by trimester.”

The type of walking intensity is another factor. “Walking should be vigorous enough that you work up a sweat and feel your heart rate go up,” says Reitzenstein. Ideally, you should be able to hold a conversation just fine but be too out of breath to sing.

Here are a couple of ways to get your 150 minutes of walking in during pregnancy–from the first trimester through the third.

Walking routine #1

Take a 30-minute walk once a day, for five days a week. This routine is best for expecting moms who find it easier to lump 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise into one daily take. This method also gives you two days off each week to rest. Try going on your walk first thing in the morning, after work, or in the evening before winding down. You could even make your walk a Monday through Friday weekday routine to make it easier to remember.

Walking routine #2

If you prefer a more consistent daily schedule, try walking for 20 minutes each day. Or for 10 minutes twice a day. This option is great for moms who have more time freedom. Feel free to space out your walks as much as you’d like throughout the day.

Walking During Pregnancy Safety Tips

Before starting a new exercise routine when pregnant, it’s always best to run it by your provider first. In some cases, such as expecting moms with certain types of heart and lung diseases, placenta previa, or anemia, doctors may recommend against exercise altogether. But even if you are considered a low-risk pregnancy, you should still do some things to prepare for your walking workout.

Here are safety tips for walking during pregnancy, noted by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists:

  • Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your exercise (totaling 8 to 12 cups a day)
  • Wear a sports bra to help comfort your enlarged and swollen breasts
  • Avoid becoming overheated–wear loose-fitted clothing and avoid very hot weather
  • Take breaks as needed

When to See a Doctor 

While walking during pregnancy is considered a very safe exercise, there are some things you should look out for. If you notice the following symptoms on your walk, it’s best to pause and check in with your doctor, as noted by Oglesby:

  • Drastic increase in breathing
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Vertigo
  • Increased blood pressure

The Verdict: Walking During Pregnancy

Walking as a pregnancy workout is undoubtedly a powerful and accessible exercise that offers so many benefits to you and your baby. From increasing nutrients for the baby and getting them into an optimal position for birth to boosting your mood and helping shorten labor, walking is one of the best exercises you should be doing while pregnant.

But remember, as with any exercise during pregnancy, safety should always be a priority and you should always speak with your medical provider first. Aside from that, stay hydrated, avoid walking in hot weather, and take breaks as needed. Aim for 150 minutes of walking each week–however that looks for you and your schedule. 

Experts in this article:

Renita Oglesby, DO, is a practitioner in New Jersey specializing in family medicine. She graduated from the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2005 and has helped families ever since.

Jon Reitzenstein, MD, is a family medicine doctor who provides telehealth services to parents and children seeking help. He received his medical degree from the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine and has been in practice for 16 years.