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Table of Contents > Articles > Exercise and Motherhood
Exercise and Motherhood

If you're pregnant or have just given birth, you're probably concerned how to get the extra weight gained off. The natural solution is to get exercise. Good news: research shows that women who exercise during pregnancy and after giving birth experience not only an improvement in physical well being but better mental health as well.

In addition to weight management, the advantages to exercising during and after pregnancy are numerous. During pregnancy, exercise can help you feel better and cope with a dramatically changing body. Exercise has been shown to increase energy; improve posture and relieve backaches and leg cramps; lower stress, anxiety, and depression; aid digestion and relieve constipation; and prepare your body for labor. After pregnancy, exercise may help prevent a dropped uterus, regain and maintain vaginal and abdominal muscle tone, and prevent urinary incontinence and lower back pain. A recent study reported that women who practiced "vigorous exercise" three times a week after giving birth had an easier adjustment to motherhood, greater involvement in social and leisure activities, and more overall satisfaction with their lives.

Some women are concerned that exercise may cause them to deliver early. However, even vigorous exercise has not been shown to increase the risk of pre-term delivery. In fact, highly conditioned exercisers have the same rate of timely deliveries as their unconditioned peers. In addition, experts say that healthy women should exercise during pregnancy without fear of compromising fetal growth and development.

You should discuss your exercise goals with your doctor during and after your pregnancy and be sure to get his or her approval on any exercise program before you start. You should, of course, avoid exercise that may cause you to fall or be jostled, such as horseback riding, skiing, and rollerblading. Otherwise, there are some basic guidelines to follow:

  • If you are unable to talk normally during exercise, it's too strenuous.
  • After 20 weeks of pregnancy, avoid doing any exercises lying on your back.
  • Avoid strenuous exercise in hot, humid weather or when you have a fever.
  • Wear comfortable clothing that will help you stay cool.
  • Wear a well-fitting, supportive bra.
  • Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration and overheating.
  • Be sure to get the extra 300 calories a day required during pregnancy.

Stop exercising if you experience any of the following:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Vaginal bleeding or fluid discharge
  • Dizziness or feeling faint
  • Difficulty walking
  • Uterine contractions and chest pain

For your baby and your body, the evidence is clear: exercise will help you both greatly.

Suggested Resources

Pregnancy Fitness by the editors of Fitness Magazine and Ginny Graves (Three Rivers Press 1999)

Your Pregnancy Workout: The Essential Guide to Staying Firm, Fit, and Healthy by Emma Scattergood (Sterling Publications 1998)

Fit for Two: The Official YMCA Prenatal Exercise Guide by Thomas Hanlon and YMCA of the USA (Human Kinetics 1995)


American Medical Association Web site. "Maternal Leisure-Time Exercise and Timely Delivery," American Journal of Public Health, October 1998. "Training in Pregnant Women: Effects on Fetal Development and Birth," American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, February 1998. Available at:

Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction's Web site. "Exercise." Available at:

Sampselle CM, Seng J, Yeo S, Killion C, Oakley D. Physical activity and postpartum well-being. JOGNN. 1999;28(1):41-48.

Review Date: December 1999
Reviewed By: Integrative Medicine editorial

Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc

The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts) regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein.

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