Walking during pregnancy is one of the safest and most effective ways to stay healthy. The activity is known to reduce the risks for pregnancy complications from inactivity or alarming weight gain.
According to doctor recommendations, women should do at least 150 minutes of light aerobic workouts, such as brisk walking, per week for a healthy pregnancy (1). Moreover, walking at a slow controlled pace is not known to cause pregnancy complications such as miscarriage, low birth weight, or preterm delivery (2).
However, although it is relatively safe, a doctor’s consultation for any form of exercise when pregnant is advisable. Read on to learn more about the benefits of walking for pregnant women and get some tips on safe walking in all three trimesters.
Benefits Of Walking During Pregnancy
Walking during pregnancy improves your fitness and strengthens your heart and blood vessels. Walking could also help you tone your muscles. The following are the possible benefits of walking during pregnancy (1) (2) (3) (4):
- Helps reduce back pain
- Helps relieve constipation
- Reduces the need for cesarean delivery
- Reduces the risk of gestational diabetes
- Reduces the risk of preeclampsia
- Helps prevent excess weight gain
- Reduces the risk of blood clots
- Promotes postpartum weight loss
How Long Can You Walk When Pregnant?
It is recommended that you walk 30 minutes at a stretch or 15 minutes twice a day for five days a week (1).
Brisk walking or walking up a hill is considered a moderate activity. A short walk every day can be more comfortable than a long walk taken every few days.
How To Adapt To Walking During Pregnancy?
Although moderate exercise is safe and beneficial during pregnancy, you may have to make a few modifications based on the anatomical and physiological changes in your body. The amount of walking that you should do depends on which trimester you are in.
If the weather is warm and humid, slow down your pace or choose other forms of exercise, such as swimming.
The following may help you to adapt to walking throughout the different phases of pregnancy:
- First trimester
Your approach to walking up to the first 12 weeks of pregnancy may vary based on your exercise habits prior to conception (2). Wear a comfortable pair of walking shoes. It will help you to avoid back pain and prevent you from falling.
If you have spotting or bleeding from the vagina, cramps in the abdomen or pelvis or a backache before or during your walks, stop walking and consult your gynaecologist immediately.
Try walking as long as you can, at a comfortable pace. You may increase the duration and intensity gradually over the trimester.
You may walk for 10 to 15 minutes on alternate days. Try to add five more minutes, if possible. This will help you to walk comfortably for 10–20 minutes for five days a week towards the end of the trimester.
You may walk for 20 minutes daily, four or five days a week. Towards the end of the first trimester, you may walk for 20–30 minutes daily, by gradually increasing the intensity and duration. Plan your routine to meet the required 150 minutes of physical activity in a week.
Although you are fit enough to walk for longer durations or to do intense workouts, it is advised to walk at a moderate pace during pregnancy. Walking for 20–30 minutes a day for five to six days a week could be ideal if you feel healthy. Do not work out beyond an RPE (Rating of Perceived Exertion) of 7.
- Second trimester
During the second trimester, you should pay attention to the posture of your body while walking, to avoid straining your back. Keep your back straight and swing your arms for balance while walking.
Ensure you wear an appropriate pair of shoes for walking. Try a belly support band if you feel it is required.
After walking, take rest and keep your legs up to avoid swelling, which is common in the later stages of pregnancy.
Continue to walk for the same duration and at the same intensity as that of the first trimester.
Don’t walk if you feel you are spotting or bleeding from the vagina, experience a backache or crampy pain in the lower abdomen or if you feel excessive wetness or leaking from the vagina. Consult your doctor in such cases.
- Third trimester
You may continue your daily walking during the third trimester as well. You should contact your doctor if you have back or pelvic pain while walking. Pain that increases in intensity, is repetitive and the duration between the pain decreases may be preterm labour and needs immediate consultation with your gynaecologist.
Avoid steep and uneven walkways. Wearing a belly belt could support your pregnant belly. Try to walk a short distance twice a day rather than taking a long walk. Walking with a family member is advisable if you are nearing your due date so that you get emergency help if needed.
General Tips For Walking During Pregnancy
Your steps may become shorter due to the pregnant belly. If you feel it is difficult to hold a conversation while walking, consider slowing down and cover less distance. Do not walk to a point that you become tired.
To ensure your safety and to stay healthy, you may take the following precautions:
- Choose comfortable shoes: Wear a comfortable pair of shoes with a good grip to avoid falls. Always choose the correct size. You can also add a gel liner inside the shoes for better shock absorption.
- Protect your skin: Use sunscreen with SPF 30 or more if you are walking outdoors. Sun exposure may increase melasma (dark spots on the skin). Make sure the sunscreen is safe to use in pregnancy
- Hydrate yourself: Drink enough water to keep your body hydrated. You may carry a water bottle if needed. Drinking cool water could make you stay cool during the workout and prevent dehydration.
- Eat before walking: Munch on a snack 30 minutes before walking. You may eat a banana, an apple, peanut butter, rice cakes, or smoothies. This could provide you with enough energy for walking. However, do not overeat.
- Choose an ideal place: You may walk indoors or outdoors. If it is humid, hot, or extremely cold outside, try walking indoors for your safety. You may use a treadmill at home. You can also choose a temperature-controlled shopping mall for your activity. If you prefer outdoor walking, morning hours are ideal. Be careful of puddles or flooding in the monsoon. In winter, be careful about ice on pathways.
Signs You Need To Slow Down
You should slow down or stop walking if you feel fatigued or tired. Although walking could benefit you during pregnancy, it should be done in moderation.
Slow down or stop walking if you experience (2):
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle or joint pain
- Bleeding or spotting per vaginum
- Backache , thigh or lower abdominal pain
- A feeling of excessive wetness or leaking per vaginum
Muscle and joint pain can get better after you rest for a day or two. Try walking slowly for a short duration after you feel healthy. If the pain persists, talk to your doctor, and try non-weight-bearing workouts, such as swimming.
When To Call The Doctor?
You should stop walking and call your doctor if you notice any of the following warning signs (1).
- Vaginal bleeding
- Breathing difficulty before walking
- Chest pain
- Weakness of muscles
- Swelling or pain on calf muscles
- Uterine contractions
- Severe abdominal or pelvic pain
- Fluid leak from the vagina
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Does walking induce labor?
Walking and staying upright could help to induce labor towards the end of pregnancy in some women. Walking helps the movement of the baby down to the birth canal. You may do it if your gynaecologist advises you to but you should not walk a lot to induce labor. It could exhaust you, and you may be unable to push during delivery (5).
2. Does walking help with normal delivery?
Walking may increase the chance of normal delivery. Moderate exercises such as walking, swimming, or pregnancy yoga could help tone your muscles, which may help in normal delivery. Exercising could also help you prevent gestational diabetes (3).
3. Is it bad to walk too much during pregnancy?
Walking for a long duration may cause tiredness and body aches. There is no need to walk too much to benefit during pregnancy.
4. How many steps should a pregnant woman walk a day?
There is no need to count your steps to measure your physical activity. You may walk for 20–30 minutes if you are well-trained and healthy. If you are a beginner, try to walk for 10–15 minutes initially and gradually increase the duration.
5. Is it safe to walk on a treadmill while pregnant?
AYou can walk on a treadmill during pregnancy. However, it is not safe to run on it as it increases risk of falls. You may set the machine at a reasonable speed and hold the rails for support. Wear proper shoes for walking, and try to do some stretches before walking. Begin at a low speed, increase the pace gradually, and wind it up with a minute or two of slow walking.
Walking during pregnancy could offer many health benefits to the mom-to-be and her unborn baby. While a 30-minute walk is recommended during pregnancy, it is better to take your doctor’s nod before choosing any walking method. Nonetheless, if you have an uncomplicated pregnancy, you may continue to walk until your delivery. Walking while pregnant could help prevent excess weight gain, diabetes, and preeclampsia; it also facilitates healthy birth weight in babies. You may go on regular short walks with your family or a group of expectant mothers. Moreover, walking also keeps you energetic, cheerful and motivated during pregnancy.
2. Exercise During Pregnancy; The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
3. Christopher P. Connolly, et al.; Walking for health during pregnancy: A literature review and considerations for future research; The United States National Library of Medicine (2018).
4. Liu J, et al.; Does physical activity during pregnancy reduce the risk of gestational diabetes among previously inactive women?; The United States National Library of Medicine (2008).
5. Marit L. Bovbjerg, et al.; What Started Your Labor? Responses From Mothers in the Third Pregnancy, Infection, and Nutrition Study; The United States National Library of Medicine (2014).
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