Regular exercise is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle and it’s just as important during pregnancy. Exercising at least 2-3 times a week is proven to improve your physical and mental health. Women who have exercised regularly prior to pregnancy can continue most activities. If you haven’t exercised regularly, pregnancy is a good reason to start.
Benefits of exercise during pregnancy:
- Helps maintain a healthy body weight, reducing the risk of gestational diabetes
- Helps improve your fitness and exercise tolerance – good for both labour and running after a newborn!
- Has been shown to improve women’s mood and reduce depression in pregnancy 
- Can help improve lower back and pelvic girdle pain, a common issue for pregnant women
What should I be aware of when exercising in pregnancy?
Pregnancy brings about natural changes in a woman’s body. Normal pregnancy changes that can affect exercise include:
- The growing abdomen affects your centre of gravity and balance – be careful when attempting exercises that rely on good balance
- The hormone progesterone produces a sensation of breathlessness. This, with your growing belly, can make you short of breath after exercise. Exercise at a level of intensity that still allows you to hold a conversation
- Your pelvis and joints relax in pregnancy, in preparation for labour and delivery. This can make you more prone to joint injury during high-impact exercise.
- Up to 40% of women experience stress urinary incontinence in pregnancy
- Pregnancy naturally increases your body temperature. Be careful not to overheat and make sure to keep up your water intake.
- In the second half of pregnancy, avoid any exercise that requires you to lie flat on your back. The growing womb may compress your major blood vessels and cause you to faint
Allaying common fears
- “Exercise will hurt my baby.” This is not true. There is good evidence to suggest the fetus tolerates exercise well in uncomplicated pregnancies .
- “Exercise increases my risk of high blood pressure.” Also not true. While your BP does increase very slightly during exercise, this rapidly returns to normal and does not increase the risk of developing pre- eclampsia or other blood pressure problems .
Exercises to choose…and some to avoid
- Low impact exercises such as swimming, yoga or Pilates are excellent choices during pregnancy. They reduce joint strain, improve core strength and are helpful for women experiencing back or pelvic girdle pain.
- Walking, jogging and cycling are also good for improving cardiovascular fitness
- Lifting heavy weights can put undue strain on your pelvic floor – aim for lighter weights with higher reps
- Martial arts and all contact sports should be avoided – you don’t want any accidental blows to your belly
- Avoid scuba diving
- Don’t forget about pelvic floor exercises, which reduce the risk of prolapse or urinary incontinence in later life
Are there any situations in which I should avoid exercising?
- If you’ve had preterm contractions (premature labour), a low-lying placenta or vaginal bleeding, speak to your obstetrician first
- Women with pre-existing high blood pressure should be careful of very strenuous physical exercise
- If you are having twins or triplets, seek advice from an obstetrician in the later stages of pregnancy
- Women with pre-existing serious heart disease should only exercise under the instruction of their cardiologist
- Remember – there is no substitute for common sense. If you are worried, ask your doctor.
Seek immediate medical attention…
…if you experience any of the following symptoms while exercising:
- Chest pain
- Severe shortness of breath
- Uterine contractions or tightenings
- Vaginal bleeding or leakage
- Reduced fetal movements
1. Guszkowska M et al. Influence of a single physical exercise class on mood states of pregnant women. J Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol. 2013; 34: 98-104.
2. Artal R, et al. Fetal heart rate responses to maternal exercise. Am J Obstet Gynecol 1986; 155:729
3. Amorim MM et al. Maternal hemodynamic responses during two types of moderate-intensity physical exercise in pregnancy. Obstet Gynecol. 2014; 123 Suppl 1: 37S-8S.