Aerobic exercise is essential for pregnant women

with advice from Ann Cowlin, MA, CSM, CCE

Aerobic exercise is essential for pregnant women.

It used to be that women were told to rest and relax during pregnancy. Kick her feet up while she can. There were fears that too much movement could hurt the baby — or the mother. Now, says Ann Cowlin, the creator of Dancing Thru Pregnancy, a fitness program for expectant mothers (and a Physiquality partner), “it is the sedentary or low-activity mother and her children who are at risk.”

In our current world, Ann points out, we are not as active as previous generations. Think about what most of our grandmothers and grandfathers did during the day — manual labor in fields or factories. Even housework required a great deal more physical strength without the variety of machines thought essential in our houses today. “Few women exercise enough today to build the strength necessary for childbirth,” says Ann. “It’s no surprise that some women are afraid of birth and don’t have confidence in their ability to withstand it.”

Aerobic activity increases your endurance, strength and range of motion.Ann says that the number one solution to this lack of activity is aerobic exercise. It increases endurance, strength and range of motion. It improves your breathing capacity (giving you more oxygen and less fatigue) and reduces your need to tap your cardiac reserve during physical activity, both of which benefit a mother during childbirth. In addition, she notes, “regular participation in a good cardio or aerobic workout gives a woman the mental toughness and confidence needed to know that her body is capable of the work — and the recovery — involved in birth, what we call body trust.”

And, as we’ve posted in the past, the benefits of aerobic exercise aren’t just for mom. Studies have shown that exercise-exposed babies have healthier hearts and improved breathing movements in utero. Exercise enriches and enlarges the placenta, increasing the exchange of nutrients, oxygen and carbon dioxide with the fetus. And studies have shown that exercise during pregnancy leads to healthier birth weights.

In 1985, guidelines were published that recommended pregnant women not raise their heart rate over 140 beats per minute. This guideline seems to still be pervasive in the public realm, but it is no longer recommended by most physicians, especially if the woman is already exercising when she becomes pregnant. While it is important to discuss your exercise regimen with your obstetrician once you become pregnant, most forms of exercise can be continued throughout your pregnancy, with minor adaptations that consider how your body (in particular, your core, spine and hips) will change over those nine months.

Prenatal exercise classes are a great way for expectant mothers to continue to be active during pregnancy.Prenatal exercise classes are one option that include exercises that are essential for soon-to-be mothers. While classes for pregnant women often include exercises specifically designed to prepare the core and pelvic floor to give birth, Ann says that building strength and coordination, and simply being upright and moving, are keys to a healthy labor. She also suggests looking for classes that include squatting, and core movements for the pelvis and spine. (Looking for a prenatal exercise class? See if there is a Total Pregnancy Fitness class from Dancing Thru Pregnancy near you.)

While slower classes like yoga and Pilates may not give you as much of an aerobic workout, Ann recommends the mental activity practiced in such classes. “Relaxation training and meditation help you develop the mental skills, like mindfulness and deep breathing, that accompany your movement during birth,” she says. “You’ll learn to recognize your body’s signals so that you’ll know when it’s time to push.”

And don’t forget to consult with your physical therapist, whose training in the way your body moves and functions will help you before, during and after pregnancy. Visit our clinic locator to find the Physiquality therapist nearest you.


Ann Cowlin, MA, CSM, CCE Ann Cowlin, MA, CSM, CCE, is the creator of Dancing thru Pregnancy, one of Physiquality’s partner programs. Ann is a movement specialist in the Yale Athletic Department and the Childbirth Education coordinator at the Yale Health Center. She is also the author of Women’s Fitness Program Development, a guide to creating girls’ and women’s health and fitness programming, and is the expert consultant for the U.S. Army’s Pregnancy and Postpartum Train the Trainer Program.


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For further reading, look through our selection of articles on women’s health, in addition to the below links:

New York Times.

Prenatal yoga: What you need to know. Mayo Clinic, December 15, 2015.


Robinson, Erica L. How does exercise affect your heart?

Dancing Thru Pregnancy.

Exercise during pregnancy. American College of Sports Medicine.

Exercise-exposed fetuses have improved breathing movements in utero, a marker for healthy development. The American Physiological Society, April 17, 2009.

Is it safe to do Pilates while pregnant?, 2009.

Barnes, Jeremy. If a person’s lung size cannot increase, how does exercise serve to improve lung function? Scientific American, May 16, 2005.

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Exercise during pregnancy and the postnatal period. ACOG home exercise program. Washington, D.C.: ACOG; 1985.

The material and information contained on this Web site is for information only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or consultation.

Consult your personal physician before beginning any exercise program or self-treatment.