Can I exercise during pregnancy?

Photo by Vitor Pinto on Unsplash

Today’s post is for all the active ladies out there, keen to know what the official medical advice is on exercising during pregnancy.

Welcome to Post #3 in my series “Can I exercise…?” Previously we explored exercising while sick, and exercising after a heart attack.

The information in this post is mostly taken from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the National body for pregnancy and women’s health care in Australia and New Zealand. You can access their official guidelines here.

Can I exercise during pregnancy?
The short answer is, yes, you can exercise during pregnancy, and in fact, it is recommended. Exercise helps to improve physical fitness, which definitely assists during the physical changes of pregnancy and the physical stress experienced during childbirth. Exercise also helps to prevent excessive weight gain, which can have negative consequences for the baby. Furthermore, exercise has psychological benefits, which may also assist with the mother’s emotional state in this time.

As always,  you should check with your doctor about your own individual circumstances and make sure that you are safe to exercise. Some women may have complications during their pregnancies or other issues such as heart problems or severe asthma which may make exercise unsafe during pregnancy. This is especially important for women who were previously inactive.

How often can I exercise?
The guidelines for exercise remain the same as the Australian national guidelines for exercise for the general public: 30 mins, most days of the week, for a total of 150-300mins. This may be reduced in women who were previously inactive.

How hard can I exercise?
This is slightly tricky to answer. How intensely you can exercise depends on your baseline fitness prior to pregnancy and how much/hard you exercised previously. If you were previously inactive, or moderately active, moderate intensity is the way to go. This might be defined simply as being able to hold a conversation during activity- for example, brisk walking. If you were previously quite physically active and fit, you might be able to exercise at a higher intensity, perhaps defined as having to pause for breath during conversation. However, regardless of how fit you were previously, pregnancy is not the time for competition. 

What exercises are safe to do?


Aerobic and strength exercises are both recommended. Brisk walking, swimming and stationary cycling are all good forms of aerobic activity. As you gain weight during pregnancy, this can put extra stress on your joints, which make swimming and cycling excellent activities due to their supportive nature. However, pregnant women should take care not to spent prolonged time in heated spas and hydrotherapy pools due to changes in blood pressure.

Running is generally considered safe in women who were runners previously and whose bodies are accustomed to this exercise, as long as they adjust their intensity appropriately according to comfort levels. Remember, the physical changes that occur with pregnancy may interfere with your ability to perform some exercises and these may need to be modified.

You can perform stretching based activities such as yoga and pilates, as long as you perform these slowly and within your comfort zone. Your ligaments become more flexible during pregnancy,which can increase the risk of injury if you’re not careful.

Can I continue weightlifting during pregnancy?
Strength training is an important component of a well rounded exercise program. Women who previously did not do any resistance training should aim for 2 non-consecutive days a week with 1-2 sets of 12-15 repetitions for each exercise. The resistance can be provided by body weight (e.g. push ups), resistance bands or light dumbbells. Avoid heavy weightliftingexercises that involve straining or holding the breath, lying on the back after the first trimester, and walking lunges (due to changes in the pelvis).

What about team-based sports like netball and soccer?
As the fetus grows, your centre of gravity shifts, which affects your sense of balance. This can be dangerous in sports that involve fast changes in direction.

Other considerations:
With the increase in metabolic rate experienced in pregnancy it is safest not to exercise in hot or humid weather and to make sure you are adequately hydrated with plenty of fluids.

Activities that involve jumping or bouncing are not recommended due to a weakened pelvic floor during pregnancy.

If you experience any of the following, you should seek medical attention immediately:

  • chest pain
  •  unexplained shortness of breath
  •  dizziness, feeling faint or headache
  •  muscle weakness
  • calf pain, swelling or redness
  •  sudden swelling of the ankles, hands or face
  •  vaginal bleeding or amniotic fluid loss
  •  decreased fetal movement
  •  uterine contractions or pain in the lower back, pelvic area or abdomen (potentially indicating preterm labour)

I am involved in the GP Shared Antenatal Care program for Sydney North, which is a program that allows women to see both their GP and the midwives at their local hospital for the care of their pregnancy. If you live in the Northern surburbs of Sydney, and would like to participate in GP Shared antenatal care, then come and see me in my practice at Warringah Mall.

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