Pregnancy exercise: Warning signs to slow down or stop

Pregnancy exercise: Warning signs to slow down or stop

Your body is changing: Not only has your center of gravity shifted, but you're also carrying more weight and may tire more quickly. That's why it's important to check with your doctor before beginning a fitness regimen, exercise carefully, and listen closely to your body when you work out.

If you push yourself too hard, your body will let you know. Fitness experts call this "overtraining," and it's important to avoid for the reasons below, especially during pregnancy.

If you notice any of the following signs, you probably need to adjust your workout. Your healthcare provider or a fitness professional who specializes in prenatal exercise can help by suggesting changes to your routine.

Signs you may be exercising too hard

You can't carry on a conversation during your workout
If your heart is pounding and you can't carry on a conversation without being out of breath, you're probably working too hard. The goal is to work within your ability level and exercise moderately – not too easy, not too hard – for 20 to 30 minutes.

You feel exhausted instead of energized after a workout
A healthy workout will leave you feeling a little tired at first, but mostly energized and refreshed. If you feel completely drained or increasingly fatigued long after the workout, you're probably overdoing it.

You feel pain during or after a workout
Exercise shouldn't hurt. You may feel a bit sore during or after a workout, but the soreness shouldn't linger. If it does, you probably overused your muscles or joints.

Your muscles feel so weak it's affecting your balance
Extreme muscle weakness isn't typical after exercise. If you've worked your muscles to the point that it's difficult to keep your balance, you're overexerting yourself.

Your morning resting heart rate is elevated more than 10 beats per minute
A morning resting heart rate that's higher than usual could mean that your heart and muscles are getting overworked.

You're getting sick a lot, with longer recovery times
Too much exercise can take a toll on your immune system, making it harder for your body to fight off colds and other infections.

You feel irritable, depressed, or unable to focus
Pregnancy's hormonal shifts can lead to mood swings in some women, but overexercising and not getting enough rest can strain your mood as well. This can also make you feel less motivated to work out.

You have trouble sleeping, or you wake up still feeling tired
If your body is overtrained, it doesn't have enough time to rest and recover in between workouts, so it's hard to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night.

A caution about overheating

If you're sweating buckets and feel faint or dizzy, or if you develop a headache, nausea, cramps, or a racing heart, your body is telling you that it's having a hard time regulating your internal temperature, which can be harmful. (Your baby can get overheated just as you do.) When you overheat, blood flow is diverted to the skin to help your body cool itself instead of to the uterus, where your baby needs it.

It's unusual to overheat from exercise alone, but it is possible if it's hot outside or in the gym. If you're exercising indoors, it's best to do so in a well-ventilated, air-conditionedroom. If you're exercising outdoors, don't do it in the middle of the day – that's when temperatures are highest and the sun is strongest.

Consider staying inside if it's extremely hot out. To avoid heat stress and dehydration, drink water before, during, and after your workout.

Also, stay away from high-heat activities, such as Bikram yoga and "hot" Pilates, and don't use saunas or hot tubs during your pregnancy.

Call your healthcare provider if you feel very hot and have symptoms of overheating, such as profuse sweating, dizziness or lightheadedness, a headache, nausea, cramps, or an irregular heartbeat.

Signs of a potential health problem or pregnancy complication

Some symptoms that appear during exercise may actually signal an underlying problem with your health or your pregnancy. If you notice any of the following symptoms during your workout (or at any other time during your pregnancy), stop what you're doing. Depending on your symptoms, you might need to call your provider immediately. Watch for:

Vaginal bleeding

Some women experience light spotting throughout their pregnancy, but vaginal bleeding during pregnancy is always a cause for concern.

Early in your pregnancy, it could signal a miscarriage. In the second and third trimesters, vaginal bleeding is associated with premature labor and complications with the placenta, such as placenta previa or placenta abruption. All require immediate medical attention.

Call your healthcare provider immediately if you have vaginal bleeding. If you can't reach her, go to the emergency room.

Decreased fetal movement

If you feel that your baby isn't moving around as much as she normally does, stop exercising and take a minute to pay attention to what she's doing. Remember that sometimes it's hard to tell if your baby is moving around when you're moving around, too. Also, be sure to eat and drink water before your workout because that may affect your baby's movements.

Call your healthcare provider if your baby isn't moving around as much as normal or you notice a sudden decrease in your baby's movement.

Dizziness or headache

Persistent dizziness together with fatigue and headaches can signal severe anemia or another serious condition.

Call your healthcare provider if your head still aches or if you're still dizzy after you've cooled down, rested, and had some water.


Fainting during pregnancy shouldn't be taken lightly. It could signal dehydration, a low iron level, or something even more serious like heart or circulation problems. You may not be getting enough oxygen to your brain, which means your baby may not be getting enough either.

Call your healthcare provider immediately if you faint. If you can't reach her, go to the emergency room.

Heart palpitations

Heart palpitations can be a normal part of pregnancy, but they can also be a sign of overexertion, dehydration, severe anemia, thyroid disease, or a heart problem. To be safe, let your provider know if you sense anything unusual about your heartbeat.

Call your healthcare provider if you feel:

  • a rapid fluttering in your chest
  • an unpleasantly forceful or irregular heartbeat
  • the sensation that your heart is repeatedly stopping and starting (like your heart is "flip-flopping")
  • a pounding sensation in your neck or chest

Chest pain

Chest pain could signal a problem with your heart or lungs. If you're pregnant and have chest pain while exercising, stop what you're doing right away.

Call your healthcare provider immediately if you have chest pain. If you can't reach her, go to the emergency room.

Pain or swelling in your calf

Your feet and hands may puff up a little after you exercise, but if your calf is painful, swollen, red, or warm to the touch, it could be a sign of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). This potentially life-threatening condition is caused by a type of blood clot. DVT usually affects veins deep in the lower leg and thigh and occurs on one side of the body.

Call your healthcare provider immediately if your calf is painful, swollen, red, or warm to the touch. If you can’t reach her, or if you’re also experiencing chest pain, difficulty breathing, fainting, or any other unusual symptoms, go to the emergency room right away.

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