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Safe Exercise During Pregnancy: ACOG Backed Guidelines
Safe Pregnancy Exercise | Image Courtesy of Lucas Favre via Unsplash

Dr. Debbie Dy, PT, DPT

Orthopedic Clinical Specialist/Pelvic Health Physical Therapist 

Once the exciting news of a new pregnancy is shared, it is common to get flooded with misinformation and “advice” from concerned family members regarding the safety of exercise during their pregnancy. Historically, it is common for people to be told to “take it easy” during their pregnancy or spend more time in bed. What we know is that exercise during pregnancy is safe and beneficial for both birthing parent and baby. 

ACOG Updated Guidelines on Exercise During Pregnancy

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) in 2020 released updated guidelines regarding exercise in pregnancy which states that “exercise is both safe and desirable for birthing people in the absence of obstetric or medical complications or contraindications.” Not only is regular exercise safe for most pregnancies, exercising has immense physical and mental health benefits for not only the birthing person, but for the growing fetus as well. Birthing people who engage in regular exercise during their pregnancies have been shown to have decreased rates of gestational diabetes, hypertension, cesarean births, operative vaginal births and postpartum recovery time. It can also be preventative for the development of depressive disorders in the postpartum period.

ACOG recommended program for exercise during pregnancy

ACOG currently recommends an exercise program that leads to an eventual goal of moderate-intensity exercise for at least 20–30 minutes per day on most or all days of the week. For moderate-intensity exercise, ratings of perceived exertion should rate between 13-15 or “somewhat hard” on Borg Ratings of Perceived Exertion scale. A simple Talk Test can be used as well: as long as one can carry on a conversation while performing exercise, they are likely not overexerting themselves. Pregnant people who were more sedentary prior to pregnancy should take a more gradual progression towards these exercise recommendations. Outside of these measures, other signs you may be overdoing it with exercise intensity include vaginal bleeding, abdominal pain, painful contractions, calf pain or swelling, dizziness, headaches and chest pain. 

Something else to consider is the climate in which you are exercising. Pregnant people should perform exercises in a thermoregulated environment to avoid prolonged heat exposure. So save your hot yoga for the postpartum period! Other types of exercise that should be generally avoided include contact sports, activities associated with increased risk of falling ie. gymnastics, downhill skiing, surfing and horseback riding.

Pregnancy and motherhood itself are extreme sports and it is important that you plan accordingly! All of our therapists at Femina Physical Therapy are well versed in providing fitness programs that are tailored to your needs during pregnancy. If you are interested in learning safe and effective ways to exercise during pregnancy to keep your body strong and flexible throughout your pregnancy from a licensed physical therapist and Pilates instructor, give us a call to schedule today! 

References: 

  1. Barakat, R., Refoyo, I., Coteron, J., & Franco, E. (2018). Exercise during pregnancy has a preventative effect on excessive maternal weight gain and gestational diabetes. A randomized controlled trial. Brazilian Journal of Physical Therapy. doi:10.1016/j.bjpt.2018.11.005
  2. Berghella V, Saccone G. Exercise in pregnancy, Am J Obstet Gynecol 2017;216:335–7.
  3. McMurray RG , Mottola MF , Wolfe LA , Artal R , Millar L , Pivarnik JM . Recent advances in understanding maternal and fetal responses to exercise . Med Sci Sports Exerc 1993 ; 25 : 1305 – 21 
  4. Soultanakis HN , Artal R , Wiswell RA. Prolonged exercise in pregnancy: glucose homeostasis, ventilatory and cardiovascular responses. Semin Perinatol 1996 ; 20 : 315 – 27 .

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Testimonial by Y.L. (mom of 2)

After having my second baby via C-section I searched for months to try to find help for my lower back pain and separated abdominal muscles. I finally came across Heather Jeffcoat via a mommy blog. I reached out to her via email and set my first appointment. My first appointment went amazing … she listened to what my symptoms, check my separation and explained to me in detail what the next steps would be. Not only did my abdominal separation go from 3 to about 1 -1/2 but my back has pain has significantly reduced. I’m personally recommending all my mommy friends to Heather!

Y.L. (mom of 2)

Testimonial by R.H.

No one could tell me why I was having pain during sex--sharp pain, not just uncomfortable, pain. I was referred to Heather Jeffcoat after researching several different options. I had seen a specialist who told me physical therapy would not help and my only option was surgery. I really didn't want to go that route, so when we got a referral, I decided to try it--it can't hurt, I thought. I am so glad I did. She diagnosed the problem right away, which was a relief in itself.

To know why I was having pain eased my mind immensely. And to hear that she could fix it without surgery was another relief. She said she could fix the problem in 6 weeks. I think it was actually 4 for me. She was very methodical, and treated me as an intelligent human being capable of participating in my own recovery. I would absolutely recommend her to anyone. She did not try to prolong my session numbers, she worked hard to accommodate my schedule (and the fact that I had to bring a baby to sessions), and she was completely honest the entire time. It is so hard to find someone with these characteristics, much less a professional who is so good at what she does. She has my highest respect.

-- R.H.

Testimonial by R.S.

I wanted to thank you so much for helping me get through something I thought I may never be able to. We have achieved pain-free intercourse and this has really solidified our marriage. We are so grateful to you for all the work you do! Thank you!!

-- R.S.

Testimonial by M.N., age 28

A personal journey and testimonial from one of my patients:

I was diagnosed with vaginismus 4 years ago. I never heard of such medical condition until after I got married. At first my husband and I didn't know what to do, we didn't know what the issues were or how to overcome it. Being born and raised in Armenia and being Christian I wasn't that open about talking to sex with others and so it wasn't easy to seek help. But eventually I went to an Ob-Gyn and luckily she knew about the medical condition (not many doctors know). She referred me to a physical therapist and I couldn't believe it and thought it's something I can handle myself. I ordered a kit from vaginismus.com and started practicing with dilators. There was some small progress but wasn't much helpful.

Read more: Testimonial by M.N., age 28

Testimonial by T.H.

I started seeing Heather in October 2014. For more than two years, I had been suffering from painful urinary tract infection type symptoms after my bartholins gland surgery which included constant burning and urinary frequency sensation that led to more and more painful intercourse. I had made multiple visits to internist, obgyn and urologist's offices, went through a range of treatment with UTI and bladder frequency medication that included antibiotics, vesicare, estrogen cream, but nothing worked.

Read more: Testimonial by T.H.

Testimonial by Jackie W.

I was in multiple car accidents a decade ago, and I have been to many physical therapists through the years without success. They found the root of my lower back pain problems and after nearly a decade of barely being able to walk I finally can again without pain. They are also the best pelvic floor pts and the only ones who found the connection between my pelvic floor and lower back problems. If you need help with physical pain, they are your answer.

-- Jackie W., 1/19/17 via Yelp!

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