Prenatal Exercise: Debunking Misconceptions and 5 Safe, Beneficial Exercises

Prenatal fitness is an important aspect of a healthy pregnancy, but there are many misconceptions and myths surrounding it.

One of the most common misconceptions is that pregnant women should avoid exercising altogether. However, studies show that regular exercise during pregnancy can have many benefits for both the mother and the baby.

This includes things like a more positive labor and delivery experience – such as an easier delivery and a decreased need for interventions – and a more optimal postpartum recovery.

Beyond regular exercise, corrective exercise can be beneficial for both moms and pregnant women in several ways. It can help to alleviate aches, pains, and discomforts during pregnancy, improve posture and alignment, and prevent or rehabilitate common pregnancy-related conditions such as diastasis recti (separation of the abdominal muscles) and pelvic floor dysfunction.

Benefits For Baby

The benefits for the baby are just as impressive! Research shows that babies born to mom’s who exercised during pregnancy have higher Apgar scores compared to babies born to mother’s who didn’t exercise during pregnancy.

Studies have found that regular exercise during pregnancy is associated with improved fetal oxygenation, which can promote better fetal growth and development. Additionally, regular exercise during pregnancy has been associated with improved maternal cardiovascular fitness, which can help to support the baby’s cardiovascular system and promote better fetal oxygenation. These mechanisms may contribute to increased newborn alertness immediately after birth.

However, it is important to note that the correlation between increased newborn alertness immediately after birth and mothers who exercised during pregnancy is not conclusive, as many other factors such as genetics, prenatal care, and overall health of the mother can also play a role in newborn alertness.

Similarly, newborns who were exposed to exercise while in the womb have also been shown to have an easier time latching after birth, perhaps due to increased alertness.

Picture showing group of pregnant women during fitness class

Other Misconceptions When Exercising During Pregnancy

In the past, pregnant women were often told to only do low-impact exercises. While it’s important to listen to your body and not push yourself too hard, many women can continue with their normal exercise routine during pregnancy, as long as they are cleared by their doctor. Let’s be clear, pregnancy is not the best time to go learn something exceptionally challenging that could pose harm to mom and baby. However, if you enjoy a particular strenuous activity that you were comfortable doing before pregnancy, chances are you can continue the same challenging activity during pregnancy, or at least a variation of it. Seek help from an expert who specializes in prenatal fitness if you are unsure if you should continue with your regular training routine.

Another misconception is that pregnant women should avoid certain types of exercises, such as weightlifting or high-intensity interval training (HIIT). These types of exercises can be safe and beneficial for pregnant women as long as they are done in moderation and with proper form and muscle balance. Women who train with Mom Belly Fitness during their pregnancy often comment that “Labor HIIT Training” exercises were a great tool that helped to prepare them for the physical challenge of labor and delivery.

Lastly, it is not always necessary for pregnant women to avoid lying on their back during exercise, as long as the woman is comfortable. Understanding proper diaphragmatic breathing techniques can assist with a more optimal posture to help disperse pressure on the spine. 

5 Beneficial Exercises For Pregnant Women

It is always important to understand your specific muscle imbalances and to focus your training to correct these imbalances before progressing your routines. However, if you’re just getting started, here are some key exercises to support your fitness routine during your pregnancy.

1. Pelvic Tilts

This exercise helps to strengthen the abdominal muscles and improve posture, which can alleviate lower back pain during pregnancy.

More importantly, by understanding the position of your pelvis, you can focus the work during your pelvic tilts to work achieve a more neutral position which can provide you with better access to your core and pelvic floor muscles. A comprehensive physical assessment can help you understand if you have a more anteriorly dominant or posteriorly dominant tilt in your pelvis. It is common for pregnant women to have a more anteriorly dominant pelvic tilt which can lead to pregnancy-related low back pain and mis-managed pressure on the pelvic floor.

Pelvic tilts can be performed while standing, back-lying, side-lying, or while on all fours (such as in “Cat-Cow”).

2. Pelvic Floor Exercises (Like Kegals)

These exercises help to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which can prevent or treat incontinence and other pelvic floor dysfunctions that may occur during pregnancy.

Note: It is strongly recommended that you complete a pelvic floor assessment either before, during, or after your pregnancy (it is even better to do so at each stage, since these muscles can change throughout your pregnancy and after delivery) to understand if your pelvic floor muscles are over-active or under-active. By understanding the way in which your pelvic floor muscles are firing, you’ll be more equipped to perform Kegals in a way that is best going to support your hips, pelvis, core, and low back as your uterus grows as well as during the postpartum period. For example, it may not be wise to perform Kegals consisistently throughout the day if you are presenting with over-active pelvic floor muscles.

Weak pelvic floor muscles can present in women who are both under-active or over-active in the muscles supporting their pelvis.

3. Cat-Cow Stretch

This exercise is a gentle way to stretch and strengthen the back, which can help to alleviate pain and improve posture.

This is also a great position to perform pelvic tilts and to practice diaphragmatic breath techniques.

Depending on the tilt of your pelvis, you may want to focus your range to be more dominant posterior or anterior to help rebalance the muscles that support the pelvis. For example, a pelvis that presents more anteriorly dominant can cause low-back pain and a weak pelvic floor over time. It is a good idea to have a prenatal fitness specialist assess the tilt of your pelvis, so you can work to correct it throughout your pregnancy. It is common for pregnant women to have an anteriorly tilted pelvic tilt as baby grows and the pelvis dumps forward.

4. Squats

Photo Credit: Laura Weigel Photography

Squats can help to strengthen the legs and prepare the body for labor and delivery. It’s important to use proper form and to be mindful of your range of motion. It is often recommended that pregnant women avoid going too deep to avoid putting pressure on the pelvic floor. However, with the proper use of your core, pelvic floor, and postural muscles, you may be able to safely increase your range of motion.

Squats are also very beneficial to practice throughout your pregnancy and ahead of birth. Squatting during childbirth is believed to open up the pelvis and potentially make more room for the baby to pass through the birth canal. Some studies have found that squatting may slightly increase the diameter of the pelvic outlet, while others have found no significant difference. A squat position also allows for gravity to assist with delivery.

Start with bodyweight squats to get a feel for what muscles are taking over during a squat movement. Aim to recruit the glute and core muscles during a squat and allow your quads to assist you during this movement. To keep pressure out of your knees during a squat, be sure to focus on sitting the hips back and down to keep the knees from going forward of the toes. If your quads feel dominant during your squat, try tucking your tailbone slightly and driving through your heels to rise from a squat.

5. Hip-Bridges

Photo Credit: Laura Weigel Photography

This exercise helps to strengthen the glutes and core, which can alleviate lower back pain and improve posture. If you have trouble loading your glutes or if you are noticing you have low-back pain during a bend or deadlift movement, hip-bridges are a good way to train your bend pattern without putting unnecessary strain on your low back. Once you feel you have proper glute load in a hip bridge, try transitioning to an upright bend position and aim to keep work in the glutes and out of the low-back.

Find What’s Best For You During Your Pregnancy

Whether you are just starting to exercise during your pregnancy or you are researching the best prenatal exercises to incorporate into your regular exercise routine, it is important to feel safe, comfortable, and pain-free. Look for exercises you enjoy and for movement patterns that will support your growing uterus and assist you with your labor, delivery, and recovery.

It is important to remember that weight gain is a natural and necessary part of pregnancy, and pregnant women should not be overly concerned about gaining too much weight.

Lastly, be sure to avoid holding your breath while exercising or performing physical activities (unless you are swimming under water without oxygen support!). If you find you are breath-holding during any of the above movements, you are potentially putting unnecessary pressure on your pelvic floor muscles, which can lead to leakage, pain, and other dysfunctions down the line.

It is always recommended to seek out guidance from a certified prenatal fitness expert or your medical provider during your pregnancy journey and Postpartum recovery.

Click Here to schedule a free clarity call or a mini-movement-assessment.

No-Bake Chocolate PB Protein Bites

No-Bake Chocolate Protein Bites


  • 1 C Organic Rolled Oats
  • 1 C Organic, Unsweetened Peanut Butter (Or any other nut or seed butter)
  • 1/4 C Chia Seeds, ground
  • 2 Servings Chocolate Protein Powder of Choice (I use Orgain Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein)
  • 1 TBSP Maple Syrup, optional
  • 1/4 C dark-chocolate chips, optional

Allow peanut butter to soften to room temp for easy mixing. Mix peanut butter with remaining ingredients. Roll into balls and place on a sheet pan. Place in the freezer for 1 hour before serving.

Store in an air-tight container up to 3 months in a standard freezer and 6 months in a deep freezer.

Homemade Chunky Guacamole


  • 2 organic avocados, peeled & pitted
  • 1 TBSP red onion
  • 1 TBSP favorite salsa (I like the fresh pico de gallo from Trader Joe’s or their organic garlic salsa)
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 2 TBSP Trader Joe’s Chili Lime Seasoning
  • 1 lime wedge
  • salt and pepper to taste
Bowl of guacamole and avocado halves.

Put the pitted avocado halves in a bowl and mash until mostly smooth, but still a little chunky. Mix in the remaining ingredients except the lime. Once blended, squeeze the lime juice and mix in. Serve with your favorite chips or veggie sticks. My favorite chips for dipping are Siete Cassava Tortilla Chips!

Sometimes I’ll add pistachio nuts or chopped apples to give it a fun crunch and festive taste!

Spinach, Blueberry, & Yogurt Smoothie


  • ½ cup ice
  • ½ cup frozen wild blueberries
  • 1 frozen banana
  • ½ cup organic spinach
  • ½ cup organic Greek yogurt
  • 1 date (or sweetener of choice), optional 
  • 1 tsp flax seed, optional 
  • Splash of water or milk of choice (I use oat or coconut milk), as needed  

Blend all ingredients in a high speed blender, add a splash of milk or water as needed for texture preference. Serve Immediately.

Homemade Classic Hummus

Serving Size: 2 TBSP; Calories Per Serving: ~60 Calories


  • 2 cans of organic garbanzo beans, drained (with 1 tsp of liquid reserved) and rinsed
  • 2 TBSP tahini
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp organic lemon juice
  • 1 TBSP Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Salt to taste
  • ¼ tsp Cumin 
  • ¼ tsp Crushed red pepper flakes, optional 

Blend all of the ingredients, including reserved liquid, in a food processor or high-speed blender. Top with a sprinkle of paprika and a drizzle of olive oil. Refrigerate for up to 7 days. 

Serve with whole-grain crackers and raw veggies.

Pregnancy Cravings? Try These Twelve Nutritional Trimester Approved Snacks

4 Trimesters, Twelve Snacks, 1 Growing Belly

A breakdown of nine snacks to power your pregnancy broken down into trimesters.

I often get asked by clients about what healthy snacks I ate during my pregnancy. As a personal preference, I tried to stay consistent about avoiding added sugars, highly-processed grains, and high-sodium foods. 

I was very active during both of my pregnancies and was teaching multiple fitness classes throughout, so I also had to make sure I was eating enough good, quality proteins, fats, and carbs and was very mindful of staying hydrated.   

My pregnancy tastes and food choices differed slightly between pregnancies. 

The pregnant body is fascinating, especially when it comes to cravings and aversions. It is often said that your cravings and aversions during pregnancy are a potential signal of nutrients your body needs or has too much of in order for your body to find homeostasis and provide baby with the necessary nutrients for healthy growth and development.

For example, I went from being a vegetarian for about three years before my first pregnancy, to quickly craving pulled pork in my first few weeks of pregnancy and being grossed out by numerous vegetables in my first trimester.

Yet, with my second pregnancy, I was grossed out by almost all meats and craved salad and fruit! 

The following snacks are of personal preference and were consciously chosen to support my needs, cravings, and comfort throughout pregnancy.

With that said, here are my top snack choices, by trimester, between the two of my pregnancies:

1st Trimester

As many women know, the first trimester can be hard when trying to eat right or eat anything at all! Sometimes I would wake up starving and want to eat everything… and some days I could only nibble on crackers just to get some food in my belly. 

Here were some of my go-to snacks that helped me deal with food aversions and helped me consume necessary calories for the day:

1. Bone Broth

Three cups of bone broth surrounded by carrots, mushrooms, herbs, and ginger set atop a cutting board.

Sipping on broth was a go-to throughout both of my pregnancies! Especially in the first trimester and the last month of pregnancy. If I ever had morning sickness and couldn’t eat anything, I could almost always sip on a cup of chicken bone broth. 

Organic Bone Broth is packed with nutrients that are great for a pregnant belly – protein in the form of collagen, healthy fats, calcium, Vitamins A & K, Magnesium, Iron, Selenium, and Zinc – to name a few.

The star of bone broth is the nutrient Collagen. This protein is necessary as our body shifts and grows throughout pregnancy – Collagen is important to help maintain the connective tissue that is stretched during pregnancy – such as the Linea Alba. 

A thinning, over-stretched Linea Alba can eventually lead to a pregnancy-related injury called Diastasis Recti. A diastasis in the Linea Alba is normal throughout pregnancy. A natural “separation of the abdominals” will occur as your belly grows to make room for baby.

However, if you let this connective tissue overstretch without maintaining control of your inner-core muscles, you are going to put more wear and tear on the connective tissue, leading to more microtears and injury down the line.

If your injury-based Diastasis goes untreated, there is also a higher risk in developing a hernia, which can cause more problems down the line.

Keeping up with your Collagen intake during pregnancy is going to help you maintain your connective tissue throughout your body.

For vegetarians or pescatarians, a variety of marine collagen supplements are becoming more widely available and still provide a variety of benefits. Just be sure they are not loaded with fillers and soy.

If you are concerned about collagen intake for a vegetarian diet, consider foods like wild rice and organic leafy greens – which both contain lots of supportive nutrients to promote muscle and connective-tissue maintenance.

Try adding some wild rice to an organic vegetable broth!

2. Flax

A spoonful of flax seed.

Flax Oil or Milled Flax Seeds are abundant in Omega-3 Fatty Acids – an essential nutrient for fetal brain development.

Caution: Flax seeds and flax oil should be consumed in moderation – about 1 TBSP per day.

Flax Seeds are packed with fibre, magnesium, postssium, protein, zinc, vitamins B6 and E, and Omega-3 Fatty Acids. 

Flax is beneficial for both mom and baby.

For Mom: Pregnancy tends to lower mom’s immune system. By consuming flax, you’ll unlock some important phytonutrient protection which can provide our immune system with a boost. 

For Baby: Flax seeds are especially great in the first two trimesters since they are rich in Omega3s and Linoleic Acids – which are essential nutrients for fetal brain development – which is growing rapidly in those first few months. Did you know, your baby’s brain is already developing by week 5? And from here on out, rapid brain development occurs. 

Flax Seed or Cold-Pressed Flax Oil is best when consumed organic to avoid potentially harmful pesticides and chemicals.

Try some milled flax crackers and blend some up in a smoothie. You can get the same benefits from Cold-Pressed Flax Oil which will be found in the refrigerated section at most local grocers.

3. Berries

Raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries.

Berries are high in Vitamin C, antioxidants, fiber, potassium, and folate – all of which are super important for your pregnancy. 

Folate is essential due to its role in making DNA and is essential for healthy neurodevelopment. 

You may be familiar with “Folic Acid” which is found in prenatal vitamins. Folic Acid is a synthetic form of folate and is not the same as naturally derived folate.  Folate is the general term for B9 – which can be found in Folic Acid, folinic acid, methylfolate, and food folate. 

While it is still considered important to consume a prenatal vitamin that includes folic acid due to the limitations of our food industry and bioavailable foods, when possible, it is still a good idea to load up on folate-rich foods such as berries, leafy greens, beans, and citrus fruits because folate is more readily available. 

Note, those with the MTHFR gene variant and aren’t able to metabolize folic acid efficiently and will benefit from consuming folate-rich foods.

One of my favorite go-to snacks was frozen wild blueberries in oat milk as an after-dinner dessert.

Again, organic is best, when possible, since berries are known to be sprayed for pests. If you can find wild blueberries that are from a farm that does not spray their crops with harmful chemicals, wild is great, too! 

Second Trimester

1. Carrots

Organic carrots provide a great source Beta-Carotene which is converted into Vitamin A – A necessary nutrient for fetal development. (Note, Vitamin A in the form of Retinol – like in animal sources or synthetically derived – can  be harmful to a fetus when consumed in excess amounts.). 

Vitamin A is important for baby’s bone, teeth, and eye development.

For a yummy snack, crunch on carrots with creamy hummus!

Carrot sticks with hummus dip.

2. Hummus

Hummus can be a very beneficial snack during pregnancy – however, it comes with a warning.

Hummus, made from chickpeas and tahini, is high in protein, healthy fats and calcium. This dip also usually contains olive oil – a great source of MUFAs (Monounsaturated foods – great for heart health!), lemon juice– high in vitamin C and antioxidants, and garlic – also high in antioxidants! 

Take note, store-bought hummus comes with a risk of containing listeria or other bacterial contaminations. To reduce this risk, consider making your own!

Try my easy homemade hummus recipe!

3. Nut/Seed Butter with Apples

Sliced apples with a bowl of peanut butter. Some apples have been dipped in the peanut butter.

I loved almond butter with my first pregnancy and peanut butter with my second. Nut and seed butters are a great source of protein and healthy fats when you’re looking to take in a couple hundred extra calories to meet your increasing caloric needs as your baby grows. 

Bonus: Apples are high in fiber and vitamins and pair wonderfully nut/seed butters for a tasty treat to give you a boost between meals!

Third Trimester

1. Dates Dates Dates!

A bowl of medjool dates.

I loved to eat dates during my pregnancies (and still do)! 

Eating one medjool date will land you close to 70 calories per date and will provide you with some much needed vitamins and minerals – like potassium, to keep your body’s electrolytes in balance – and fiber. 

The main reason I love eating dates during pregnancy, especially during the last trimester, is for its alleged properties that influence our hormones estrogen and progesterone, which play a role in ripening our uterus and cervix. 

In a 2011 study, women who ate 6 dates a day for four weeks prior to their estimated due dates were shown to have a higher mean cervical dilation and shorter duration of first-stage labor compared to the group that didn’t consume dates. 

The study also noted that 96 percent of the women who consumed dates experienced spontaneous labor, while only 79 percent of the women who didn’t eat dates had spontaneous labors.

Try stuffing dates with peanut butter for a sweet caramel-like treat! Or if you’d rather something a little more savory, try stuffing dates with sharp cheddar cheese for a fun treat for your taste buds!

If you are on the go and needing a snack, grab a Lara Bar – which are non-gmo snack bars sweetened with dates and nuts. (The blueberry and chocolate peanut butter bars are my favorites!)

2. Green Smoothies

The top view of a spinach smoothie.

Not a fan of eating leafy greens like spinach? Blend it up! Spinach is another vegetable that is loaded with folate! Spinach will also provide you with the nutrients iron, calcium, and vitamins A and C. 

However, spinach is on the “dirty dozen” list for pesticide contamination, so make sure to buy your spinach organic to help limit consumption of these nasty chemicals. 

Limit yourself to approximately ½ to 1 C of spinach per day if you are susceptible to kidney stones. Lastly, as with all produce, be sure to wash your spinach to reduce the risk of consuming harmful bacteria.

Spinach can be added to smoothies to help you get more greens if you’re not into eating steamed spinach or salads every day. 

Try my go-to delicious blueberry, spinach, and yogurt smoothie recipe.

3. Avocados

A bowl of guacamole with halved avocados on the side.

More specifically, guacamole.

I craved guacamole throughout both of my pregnancies. (I also craved salty tortilla chips to go with it!)

Avocado is a great healthy fat full of phenomenal nutrients like folate, magnesium, potassium, B vitamins, and Vitamin C. Plus, they are high in fat to leave you feeling full and also provide you with the necessary extra calories to consume in your 3rd trimester. 

As for the salty chip craving, I opt for Cassava Chips to help keep gmo corn out of my diet. I like them even better than regular tortilla chips! My favorite are from the company Siete. They are super thin and crispy and are made with avocado oil. They pair perfectly with my guacamole recipe. (Ok, I’ll admit, I occasionally go for the white corn tortilla chips. Definitely buy these organic if you are able!)

Note, I do not recommend buying store-bought, pre-made guacamole or guac powders. These are loaded with fillers and preservatives to keep the guac from turning brown and sour. Fresh, homemade guac is always best. And it’s surprisingly easy to make!

Here is my favorite homemade guacamole recipe.

BONUS: Fourth Trimester, Mom’s Recovery

The fourth trimester is an important time for mom’s recovery. Your food choices are going to help nourish your body to recover more efficiently and effectively. And whether you are nursing or formula feeding, your caloric intake and hydration is still important.

1. Pineapple

Pineapple is a fantastic recovery food. It’s loaded with nutrients like Vitamin C, Manganese, and various micronutrients that are great for boosting immunity and lowering inflammation.

This antioxidant-rich food is touted for helping fight oxidative stress.

The first few days after delivering a baby can be hard on our elimination. Eating pineapple can help aid in digestion and is a great after meal dessert.

If you are planning on nursing, pineapple’s anti-inflammatory affects can help encourage less inflammation in the breast and can assist if your breasts become engorged.

Pineapple is also said to alleviate pain and aid in recovery from surgery and strenuous exercise. Pineapple juice after you deliver has potential to help limit pain from uterine cramping and post-birth discomfort.

Personally, I craved pineapple very soon after delivery and downed some organic pineapple juice along with some coconut water to rehydrate and promote healing.

Tip: Before your due date, buy an organic pineapple, wash the rind before slicing (to make sure no bacteria will contaminate the fruit when cutting) and throw it in a container or air-tight bag to freeze so you will have some on hand after delivery to throw into a smoothie.

2. Trail Mix

For a protein-rich, nutrient-dense snack that’s easy to grab and go, before labor, consider prepping a batch of trail mix to have on hand for when you are resting and recovering with your newborn.

Choose nuts with good fats and high protein, unsweetened dried fruits for a boost in vitamins, and dark chocolate chips or cocoa nibs for sweetness cravings.

3. Protein Bites

For another protein-rich snack that is already made, consider making some no-bake protein bites that you can stick in the freezer.

These are great for satisfying hunger between meals.

Try my No-Bake Chocolate PB Protein Bites recipe.

Mindful Food Choices

One thing to remember during your pregnancy, is the phrase “We are what we eat”… and if that is true, then it also applies to the baby growing in your belly (or, your breastmilk if you are nursing)!

Take care and be conscious of what you are consuming. Be mindful of harsh chemicals like pesticides and limit your consumption of chemically-processed sugar. Try baking or sweetening things with pure maple syrup and local honey** but stay mindful with how much you are consuming.

As your baby develops, they take in the nutrients you consume. These nutrients affect their growth and development. Treat your body and your growing baby with care. Find comfort in nurturing your baby right from the start by taking good care of yourself. 

Something else to be mindful of is how much you are eating and whether or not you are getting enough. Be sure to talk with your care provider about how many extra calories you should be consuming each trimester. This will vary depending on your pre-pregnancy weight, height, and activity level, among other things.

Lastly, don’t forget to stay hydrated and drink plenty of clean water throughout your pregnancy. Aim for half of your body weight in ounces and be sure to drink an extra eight ounces per 30 minutes of exercise.

Don’t Stress, Mama

Among all things, don’t be too hard on yourself. If some days, all you can take down is a a couple pieces of chocolate and a few peanut-butter crackers… don’t beat yourself up about it. Try not to let your food decisions weigh on you. Pregnancy is 40 weeks long. Some days will be easier than others. It’s ok, mama!

And if you ever have questions or concerns about what you are eating, there is no shame in seeking advice from your care provider, a friend, a nutritionist, or someone in the birthing world.

If you choose to breastfeed, be sure to check out my list of favorite snacks for breastfeeding along with what I packed in my nursing basket!

*Note: Melissa is a certified pre and postnatal fitness specialist with additional certifications in personal training and sports nutrition. Melissa is not a registered dietician. If you have any questions or concerns about your caloric intake or diet throughout your pregnancy, please consult with your care provider or a registered dietician.

**Honey is NOT safe to give to a baby under one year of age due to the risk of Botulism. However, it is safe for MOM to consume honey if breastfeeding, because botulism isn’t transmitted via breastmilk.