I got a lot of strange advice from people during my five pregnancies, but no subject inspired more commentary than my exercise routine. "You shouldn't do jumping jacks; you'll give the baby brain damage!" "Don't lift things above your head, or you'll wrap the cord around the baby's neck!" Or, my personal favorite, "If you keep doing squats, you're going to pop that baby out of you without even knowing it!" (If only labor and delivery were that easy!) For the most part, I politely thanked everyone for their concern and then continued practicing yoga, lifting weights, and doing cardio. I loved exercising, and I didn't see why I had to give it up just because I was pregnant—and my doctors agreed.
Now, a new Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology study backs this up. Researchers looked at data from over 2,000 pregnant women, comparing those who exercised and those who didn’t. The women who exercised were more likely to deliver vaginally—as opposed to having a C-section—and less likely to have gestational diabetes and high blood pressure. (It’s worth noting that the women in the study didn’t have any pre-existing health conditions. If that’s not you, see a doctor about the best plan for you and your pregnancy.)
The benefits of exercising during pregnancy extend far beyond the actual birth. "Exercise during pregnancy is important for many reasons," says Anate Aelion Brauer, M.D., ob-gyn, assistant professor at NYU School of Medicine. "Regular exercise helps reduce stress and increase energy, helps ensure you gain the right amount of weight in pregnancy, improves common discomforts in pregnancy such as constipation and insomnia, as well as helps prevent pregnancy-related diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes," she says. "Research even shows that labor itself is easier and shorter in women who engaged in regular exercise throughout their pregnancy."
So how much exercise should you (and baby) get? Just because your Instagram is full of pregnant women doing CrossFit or running marathons doesn't mean that's a good idea for you. The key is to maintain your current level of activity, not increase it, according to the American Academy of Obstetrics and Gynecology. They recommend that all women who have no complications with their pregnancies get "30 minutes or more of moderate exercise a day on most, if not all, days of the week," adding that the exercise can be anything you enjoy that doesn't risk abdominal trauma (like horseback riding or skiing). And be sure to tell your doctors what you're doing and check in if you feel any pain, discomfort, or have any worries.