Safe Abdominal Exercises During Pregnancy

Safe abdominal exercises during pregnancy: A guide to a healthy pregnancy journey

Pregnancy is a beautiful and transformative journey in a woman's life. It's a time filled with joy, anticipation, and changes, both physical and emotional. Staying active during pregnancy has numerous benefits, including improved mood, better sleep, and enhanced physical fitness, which can contribute to a smoother labour and delivery process. However, when it comes to exercising during pregnancy, safety is paramount, particularly when it involves abdominal exercises.

In this article, we will explore the importance of maintaining an active lifestyle during pregnancy, the potential risks of abdominal exercises, and, most importantly, provide a comprehensive guide to safe abdominal exercises during pregnancy. 

The importance of staying active during pregnancy

While it's essential to focus on self-care and rest during this time, staying active is equally important. Staying active during pregnancy has many health benefits for you and your growing baby. Here are some of the ways that exercise can help you during your pregnancy:

  1. Physical benefits

Pregnancy is often accompanied by changes in your body, such as weight gain, posture adjustments, and hormonal fluctuations. Regular physical activity can help you manage these changes effectively.1,2 

Some of the physical benefits of staying active during pregnancy include:

  • Improved cardiovascular health
  • Enhanced muscular strength and endurance
  • Better posture and reduced back pain
  • Maintenance of a healthy weight
  • Increased energy levels
  1. Emotional well-being

Pregnancy can be emotionally taxing due to hormonal changes, stress, and anxiety about the upcoming changes in your life. Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural mood elevators. Regular physical activity can help alleviate stress, reduce anxiety, and improve your overall mental well-being.

  1. Preparing for labor and delivery

Maintaining physical fitness during pregnancy can help prepare your body for the strenuous process of labour and delivery. Strong abdominal muscles, in particular, can aid in the pushing stage of labour. However, it's crucial to choose safe exercises that target the core without putting unnecessary strain on your body.

Why are abdominal exercises during pregnancy so important?

Abdominal exercises, done safely and with guidance, can be a wonderful addition to your pregnancy journey for several reasons:

  1. Core Strength and Stability: Your abdominal muscles are like the body's natural corset, providing support for your spine and internal organs. As your baby bump grows, maintaining core strength helps alleviate back pain and keeps your posture in check.
  2. Preparation for Labor: The abdominal muscles play a pivotal role during labour and delivery. Strengthening your core can help you push effectively, making the birthing process smoother.
  3. Reducing Discomfort: Abdominal exercises can help alleviate common discomforts like bloating and constipation. They stimulate the digestive system, providing relief during pregnancy when these issues are prevalent.
  4. Mood Enhancement: Staying active, including safe abdominal exercises, releases endorphins, those natural mood boosters. In a time of hormonal fluctuations, exercise can help reduce stress and anxiety, promoting overall emotional well-being.
  5. Postpartum Recovery: A strong core during pregnancy can aid in a quicker postpartum recovery. It can help your body bounce back after childbirth by supporting the healing process.

The risks of abdominal exercises during pregnancy

While staying active is generally encouraged during pregnancy, it's important to be cautious when it comes to abdominal exercises. The main concern is that certain abdominal exercises can increase the risk of diastasis recti, a condition where the abdominal muscles separate along the midline, causing a gap or bulge in the abdomen. This separation can weaken the core and contribute to back pain and pelvic instability. 3

Here are some exercises to avoid during pregnancy:

  1. Traditional crunches and sit-ups

These exercises put significant strain on the abdominal muscles and can lead to diastasis recti. Avoid any exercise that involves lying flat on your back, especially during the second and third trimesters.

  1. Planks

Planks are excellent for core strengthening, but they can cause excessive pressure on the abdominal muscles, especially as your belly grows. If you choose to do planks, do them on your knees to reduce the strain.

  1. Twisting exercises

Exercises that involve twisting the torso, such as Russian twists or bicycle crunches, can increase the risk of diastasis recti. These movements place excessive stress on the abdominal muscles.

Safe abdominal exercises during pregnancy

Now that we've discussed the importance of staying active during pregnancy, why abdominal exercises are so important, and the risks associated with certain abdominal exercises, let's focus on safe and effective ways to maintain core strength during this crucial time. 

Remember to consult with your healthcare provider before starting any exercise regimen during pregnancy, as individual circumstances may vary.

Pelvic tilts

Pelvic tilts are an excellent way to strengthen your abdominal muscles without straining them. They also help to alleviate lower back pain, a common discomfort during pregnancy. Here's how to do pelvic tilts:

  1. Start by getting on your hands and knees, with your wrists aligned under your shoulders and your knees under your hips
  2. Inhale deeply and arch your back while tilting your pelvis forward
  3. Exhale and round your back, tucking your pelvis under
  4. Repeat this movement slowly for 10-15 reps

Cat-cow stretch

The cat-cow stretch is another gentle exercise that can help maintain flexibility in your spine and strengthen your core. Here's how to perform it:

  1. Start in the same hands-and-knees position as the pelvic tilts
  2. Inhale as you arch your back, lifting your head and tailbone
  3. Exhale as you round your back, tucking your chin to your chest
  4. Continue flowing between these two positions for 10-15 cycles

Bump lifts in tabletop position

  1. Get down on your hands and knees. Place your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Your back should be in a neutral position.
  2. Engage your core muscles by gently pulling your navel in towards your spine. This provides support to your lower back and pelvis.
  3. Inhale deeply as you prepare
  4. Exhale as you slowly lift your knees just an inch or two off the ground while keeping your back straight and parallel to the floor. This action resembles a small "bump lift."
  5. Hold this position for a few seconds while maintaining your balance and core engagement.
  6. Inhale as you gently lower your knees back to the ground
  7. Repeat the bump lifts for a set of 10-15 reps

Standing leg lifts

This standing exercise engages your core and helps maintain balance, making it a safe choice for pregnant women. Here's how to perform standing leg lifts:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold onto a sturdy chair or countertop for support.
  2. Shift your weight to your left leg and engage your core.
  3. Lift your right leg straight out to the side while keeping your foot flexed.
  4. Lower your right leg back to the ground.
  5. Perform 10-15 reps on each side.

Seated ball circles

Using an exercise ball can provide stability while working your core muscles. Ensure you choose the right size ball for your height. Here's how to do seated ball circles:

  1. Sit on the exercise ball with your feet flat on the floor and knees at a 90-degree angle.
  2. Place your hands on your hips.
  3. Gently make circles with your hips, moving clockwise for 10-15 reps and then counterclockwise for another 10-15 reps.

Modified planks

Traditional planks can be challenging for pregnant women due to the increased pressure on the abdominal area. A modified plank can offer similar benefits with reduced strain. Here's how to do a modified plank:

  1. Begin on your hands and knees, with your wrists aligned under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
  2. Extend one leg straight back and then the other, coming into a plank position on your hands and toes.
  3. Hold this position for 10-20 seconds, maintaining a straight line from your head to your heels.
  4. If you feel any discomfort or strain, lower your knees to the ground for extra support.


Swimming and water aerobics are fantastic low-impact exercises during pregnancy. The buoyancy of the water helps alleviate the pressure on your joints and allows for a full-body workout that includes the core.

Prenatal yoga

Prenatal yoga classes are tailored to the needs of pregnant women. They focus on gentle stretching, relaxation, and core strengthening in a safe and supportive environment.

Prenatal pilates

Prenatal Pilates classes emphasize core stability, posture, and breathing techniques that are essential during pregnancy. Make sure you attend classes specifically designed for expectant mothers, as they will provide modified exercises suitable for each trimester.


Staying active during pregnancy is crucial for your physical and emotional well-being. Safe abdominal exercises can help you maintain core strength and prepare your body for labour and delivery. However, it's essential to choose exercises that minimize the risk of diastasis recti and other potential complications.

Always consult with your healthcare provider before starting any exercise program during pregnancy to ensure it is safe for your circumstances. Listen to your body, and if you experience any discomfort or pain while exercising, stop immediately and seek medical advice.

Remember that every pregnancy is unique, so what works for one woman may not work for another. Prioritize your health and the health of your baby, and enjoy the journey towards motherhood with confidence and grace.


  1. Ribeiro MM, Andrade A, Nunes I. Physical exercise in pregnancy: benefits, risks and prescription. Journal of Perinatal Medicine [Internet]. 2022 Jan 27 [cited 2024 Feb 29];50(1):4–17. Available from:
  2. Wang L, Zhu L. Exercise during pregnancy may have more benefits than we thought. eBioMedicine [Internet]. 2022 Mar [cited 2024 Feb 29];77:103889. Available from:
  3. Michalska A, Rokita W, Wolder D, Pogorzelska J, Kaczmarczyk K. Diastasis recti abdominis — a review of treatment methods. Ginekologia Polska [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2024 Feb 29];89(2):97–101. Available from:
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Sarah Engelbrecht

BSc Physio (Hons), University of Cape Town, South Africa

Sarah Engelbrecht is a practicing physiotherapist, who qualified in 2003. She has many years of experience in healthcare and helping patients with their health, fitness, and wellness. Her writing has been featured on various websites in the UK and the US. presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
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