Activities To Avoid While Pregnant—Plus, Ones To Enjoy
Learn the risks and benefits of each.
As your baby bump grows, you may find it more and more difficult to do certain activities you're used to. Even simple tasks, like tying your shoes, may require a good ol’ heave-ho by the time you reach your third trimester. And, while something as benign as tying your shoes isn’t likely to cause any harm to you or your baby, along with foods and drinks to steer clear of, there are certain activities to avoid while pregnant.
We know, it can be overwhelming—and downright confusing—to learn all the dos and don’ts you should follow during this critical time of your baby's development. That’s why we’ve distilled them down into easily accessible categories. Ahead, read all about exercises to avoid while pregnant and household activities to avoid during pregnancy—and, most importantly, why you should hold off. We’ll also fill you in on pregnancy-friendly activities that you can not only do, but also enjoy.
How Does Pregnancy Physically Change Your Body?
Before we get into specific things to avoid during pregnancy, rather than bombard you with even more no-nos than you’ve already come across, let’s take a minute to be mindful of why you should abstain from certain activities. When you’re pregnant, your body is transformed in order to accommodate the new little life inside you, which can make you and your baby more susceptible to issues and even injury.
Your energy levels, heart rate, and balance are altered when you’re pregnant. Same goes with your breathing, body temperature, and the mobility of your joints. You may immediately notice some of these changes to your body during pregnancy, while others may sneak up on you when you least expect it. The best thing to do is keep these temporary limitations top of mind, so you don’t push your body too hard—no matter what pregnancy activities you’re undertaking.
Lower energy levels: Growing and nourishing a baby is no easy feat. You may notice that you tire more easily, especially as your pregnancy progresses. Try your best to accept—not fight—what your body is telling you, and rest as much as you can whenever you have the opportunity to do so.
Elevated heart rate: Like so many other bodily functions while you’re pregnant, your heart is beating for two. You may notice your pulse becoming quicker and stronger. This is because your pregnancy hormones ramp up the functioning of your circulatory system to help pump oxygen to your little one.
Subpar balance: You’ve likely grown accustomed to maneuvering your unique body shape and size through the world. When you’re pregnant, however, not only are you negotiating your surroundings with a new physique, the surge in pregnancy hormones can also affect your balance. This—along with the fact that the increased blood flow to your baby means it takes longer for blood to return to your heart—can cause you to experience vertigo (a.k.a. dizziness). To help protect yourself from feeling woozy or taking a potentially nasty spill, try not to get up from a sitting or lying down position too quickly, or sit or stand in the same position for too long.
Increased Respiration: Because your body requires an increased level of exertion while pregnant—whether you’re simply shopping for groceries or preparing your delivery bag or nursery, you need more oxygen to breathe than you normally would. Your growing infant requires it. But this is also because your growing baby bump puts pressure on your diaphragm, the muscle you use for breathing. It may also be why you sometimes feel out of breath after doing simple tasks and don’t have the same stamina as your pre-pregnant self. Ditto as to why you may become more comfortable sleeping on your side, as opposed to your back, as your pregnancy progresses.
Raised body temperature: The increased hormones and subsequent demands on your system can quite literally raise your temperature, leading you to sweat more often and more intensely than you usually would. Aside from sweating being a potentially annoying side effect of pregnancy, it can also put you at greater risk of dehydration and heat exhaustion. To help combat these dangerous reactions, be sure to drink plenty of water—at least seven eight-ounce glasses a day. Also, take plenty of breaks if you’re exerting yourself, and seek shade or air conditioning if you’re in a hot environment.
Painful or achy joints: As you’ve likely gathered by now, hormones—and pregnancy hormones, in particular—can really do a number on your body. Other areas they affect are the joints connecting your bones, making them more lax and stretchy. This may not only make you feel like your walk has become a waddle, it can also make you more prone to injury. Then, there’s the fact that the weight you gain while pregnant can increase pressure on your joints, such as your ankles and knees. In all these cases, try to avoid making any sudden or awkward movements, as they could result in pains and/or strains.
Although all of these changes to your body while pregnant are perfectly normal, we’d be remiss not to mention that if any of them become impediments in your daily life or give you cause for concern, always speak to your doctor.
What Types of Exercise Should You Avoid While Pregnant?
So, now that we know how changes to your body affect the way your pregnant body reacts, let’s discuss what types of activities to avoid while pregnant. First, we’ll cover some recreational activities, then, in the following section, we’ll fill you in on some seemingly harmless household activities to avoid while pregnant.
Fall risks: Because your balance may be off and your joints may be a little more loosey-goosey than usual, you’re at a higher risk of falling when you’re pregnant—which wouldn’t be safe for either you or your baby. Activities that could jostle you and potentially throw you off balance should be avoided for the time-being. Examples include horseback riding, skating, and cycling. It’s best to stay away from any unnecessary heights as well, like climbing tall ladders, as well as intense running while pregnant or heavy lifting while pregnant.
High-impact activities: Your baby bump and infant inside are precious, so it’s best to keep them out of harm's way. Avoid any activities that may expose your midsection to impacts, such as soccer, basketball, boxing, or ice hockey. Diving, water skiing, or surfing should also be avoided—belly flops and pregnancy just don’t mix. Also, keep an eye out for hidden risks, such as visiting a petting farm or zoo; it may seem harmless, but you never know when an animal may lunge at you or kick.
Heavy lifting: Heavy lifting—even lifting a heavy grocery bag or a small older child—is also a pregnancy no-no too. So, enlist the help of someone else or, if possible, have heavy items like groceries delivered.
Flat-on-your-back activities: After your first trimester, hold off on exercises or activities that require you to lie flat on your back, such as sit-ups or certain yoga positions. When you’re in this position, your uterus puts pressure on a major vein that brings blood to your heart, the inferior vena cava. This can cause a drop in your blood pressure and interfere with the supply of blood to your baby.
High altitudes & low depths: We’d never tell you to relocate or cancel vacation plans if you’re pregnant (unless of course you’re instructed to by your doctor). But, if you live or are staying in the mountains (at an altitude of over 6,000 feet), refrain from exercising, as it can reduce the amount of oxygen your baby gets. Similarly, save any skydives or deep-dives until you’re not pregnant. Extreme altitudes across the board can interfere with your baby’s oxygen supply. Scuba diving, for instance, can cause decompression sickness, which can put your baby at risk of developing dangerous gas bubbles in their system.
Hot environments: As you may have inferred when we mentioned that your body temperature naturally rises when you’re pregnant, it’s best to avoid any activities that can increase it even more. These include exercises like hot yoga (a.k.a. Bikram yoga) or exercising outdoors on a hot and humid day. Other steamy activities you don’t necessarily have to avoid—only limit—are lounging in a sauna or hot tub; for safety, enjoy these types of luxuries for no more than 15 and 10 minutes at a time, respectively.
What Chores or Tasks Should You Avoid While Pregnant?
Alas, not every pregnancy no-no can be avoided. Instead, some activities, like housework and home maintenance, require a little finesse to prevent direct contact or limit the amount and length of your—and your unborn baby’s—exposure.
The main concern lies in toxic substances, which can be present where you might—and might not—expect them. These largely involve chemicals known as teratogens, which can be harmful to you and, therefore, your baby. The most commonly recognized teratogens are cigarettes, alcohol, some prescription drugs, and illicit drugs. But, they’re also present in materials and substances you may already have lying around your house. You may have already guessed that hard-core cleaners such as bleach, ammonia, lye, and oven cleaner can be dangerous—paint fumes and paint cleaner as well. However, a sandbox and dirty kitty litter box can have hidden dangers buried inside too.
Keep reading to learn more about what the risks are and how you can tackle household activities during pregnancy in a safer manner. Of course, always consult your doctor for advice pertaining to your specific situation.
Cleaners: We’ve already foreshadowed that harsh cleaning chemicals, like bleach, ammonia, lye, and oven cleaner, can be toxic. In an ideal scenario, having someone else take over cleaning duties is safest while you're pregnant. But, for many people, this isn’t an option. Instead, be sure the areas you’re cleaning are well-ventilated, either with an exhaust fan or open window. And always wear rubber or impermeable gloves to help prevent any chemicals from being absorbed into your skin.
Home improvement & painting projects: We know how much fun it can be to ready your home for welcoming your new baby, especially when it’s your first. However, certain chemicals in paints and sealants give off toxic fumes that can pose a danger to your unborn little one. Sanding or scraping walls or molding can also release toxic particles into the air. If your home pre-dates 1970, there’s even a chance that the paint used contains lead, which can cause severe developmental issues in your infant. (If you suspect your home contains lead-based paint, it’s best to call in the pros, like an environmental home assessor, to advise you on your risk level and how to proceed.)
In any case, if you’re selecting new indoor paint, look for water-based latex formulations that don’t contain any lead or mercury. If someone else will be handling the job, be sure to schedule it for a time when you won’t be in the home, like when you’re running errands, working outside of the home, or on vacation. If you will be in the vicinity, or tackling the job yourself, be sure to flip any exhaust fans you have on and open the windows. In any case, always cover your heating and/or air conditioning vents to prevent fumes from travelling to other rooms in your home, and store any unused paints or chemicals outside in the shade or somewhere they’ll get proper ventilation. Never keep them near heating or air conditioning equipment.
Mommy Pro Tip: If you’re setting up your new baby’s nursery, have a blast! Just be sure to follow these baby room precautions to be sure your child stays safe through all their adorable little milestones, from smiling to taking off like a wobbly little shot down the hall!
Gardening: Soil, among other common household items, contains a common parasite, called Toxoplasma gondii. It’s present in the blood streams of millions of Americans and, though most people never show any signs of infection, it’s particularly dangerous for your unborn baby. This is because it can cause permanent blindness and intellectual disabilities. To help protect your little one, if you garden, be sure to use gloves and avoid touching your mouth. And, wash your hands, as well as any fruits and veggies you may have grown thoroughly.
Kitty litter: Your kitty-cat may be your precious baby now, but as soon as your little one arrives, Move over Fluffy! (Only kidding. We love our fur babies too.) But, even before your human baby arrives, they’re at risk if you’re changing the cat litter. Kitty poo is also a known source of Toxoplasma gondii. If you can, pass this chore off to someone else. If it’s a cross you must bear, just be sure to use rubber or impermeable gloves while you change the box, and open a window or go outside when you do to help avoid inhaling any potentially toxic vapors.
Above all, when it comes to household activities to avoid, be cautious, but try not to panic. Yes, toxic substances are, well, toxic, and can be harmful to your unborn child. But try not to let fear of them stoke paranoia. Instead, try to keep things in perspective. Limit your exposure as best you can through protective gloves and proper ventilation. If you’re still concerned, that’s OK too. Talk to your doctor to see what they advise and/or enlist the help of friends or family to help you manage housework if they can.
What Activities Can You Do While You’re Pregnant?
We know how many nos, can’ts, and don’ts you’re faced with when you’re pregnant. So, now, let’s focus on the yesses, cans, and dos. As long as your doctor agrees that you and your baby are healthy enough to partake, there are plenty of pastimes that are generally safe while pregnant. Read on to learn about pregnancy-friendly activities you may enjoy.
Mommy Pro Tip: If you didn’t exercise on a regular basis prior to becoming pregnant, as long as your doctor says you’re good to go, now may be a prime time to start. Just try not to get overzealous and jump from 0 to 60. Instead, start off slow, exercising for about five minutes a day. Then, work your way up to around 30 minutes.
Walking: Walking isn’t just a relaxing way to unwind and get some exercise, it’s actually an ideal place to start. You’ll get a moderate amount of aerobic exercise without putting your joints through the ringer. And you can even eventually incorporate a brisk daily stroll into your self-care regimen. (Remember: Pregnant joints can be rubbery joints, so low-impact movement, with shoes that support and cushion your feet, is the way to go.)
Prenatal yoga: If you aren’t already a yoga aficionado, there are likely community organizations in your area that specialize in pregnancy yoga, as well as plenty of accredited online classes. These movements can help reduce stress and anxiety, improve your sleep, lower back pain, headaches, nausea, and shortness of breath, and increase your overall strength, endurance, and flexibility—including in the muscles you’ll be using during childbirth. They can also help you control and focus on your breath, improve your range of motion, and learn relaxation and restoration techniques to promote self-awareness and a sense of inner calm.
Swimming: Just being in water can help relieve the weight of your baby bump. Swimming or even moving against the water can improve your blood flow and help ease discomfort in your lower back, joints, and muscles.
Stationary biking: While the risk of falling off of a regular bike isn’t quite worth it while you’re pregnant—especially as your pregnancy progresses—riding a stationary bike gives you a low-impact workout without the worry.
Strength training: Strength training is a great way to help build muscle and strengthen your bones—as long as you’re lifting an appropriate amount that’s not too heavy. To be sure, talk to your doctor about what weights are safe to lift according to your body type, physical condition, health, and stage of your pregnancy.
How Do You Know If You’re Overdoing It While Pregnant?
As with many aspects of life, too much of a good thing can sour any potential benefits. There are some signs you should keep an eye out for to be sure you’re not pushing yourself and your baby into a potential danger zone.
If exercising or any other activity is repeatedly giving you a headache, or causing you to feel the least bit faint or dizzy, have chest pain, a rapid pulse, or trouble breathing, immediately stop what you’re doing and contact your doctor. Same goes if you have any muscle weakness, difficulty walking, or your lower legs swell or cause you any pain. If you experience regular, painful contractions, or if you can no longer feel your baby moving, stop what you’re doing and get immediate help or call 911.
Of course, as with everything—but especially when you’re pregnant—moderation is key, as is keeping an open line of communication with your doctor. Just as it’s important to know what activities to avoid while pregnant, it’s always best to get professional medical advice on what activities are best suited for your—and your little one’s—unique needs.
Next: We can’t wait to share with you an activity you can enjoy with your baby from the moment they arrive. Learn the Surprising Mind & Body Benefits of Baby Massage. Then, learn How To Give Your Baby a Massage yourself.