Safe exercise in pregnancy

Being active during pregnancy does wonders for you and your baby’s health.  It is important to be fit for the pregnancy, the labour and afterwards.

What types of exercise are recommended?

There are different types of exercise that will help you stay fit in your pregnancy. A combination of cardiovascular (heart and lung) exercise and strength training exercise is recommended. 

  1. General or planned exercise, like walking and swimming
  2. Every day or incidental exercise, such as walking to the train or  taking the stairs
  3. Pelvic floor exercises 
  4. Abdominal strengthening exercises 
Exercise can give you more energy, better sleep, better fitness for pregnancy and labour and reduce likelihood of gestational diabetes and high blood pressure

Check with your health professional

Consult your doctor or midwife when starting a new exercise program or continuing with your pre- pregnancy exercise program. The type and amount of exercise that you normally do will influence the advice provided.

If you are new to exercise it is important to build up your exercise levels slowly because it can be harmful to you or your baby to take up high intensity exercise quickly.

How much general exercise is recommended?

It may come as a surprise, but the recommendations for exercise in pregnancy are the same as the rest of the community; providing your pregnancy is healthy.

Doing any exercise is better than doing none. If you currently do no exercise, start by doing some, and gradually build up to the suggested amount.

The aim is for 30 minutes per day of moderate-intensity physical activity per day or on most, if not all, days. 

This can be broken up into smaller groups of exercise which may be helpful later on in your pregnancy. For example, you could walk in two groups of 15 minutes, or three groups of 10 minutes.

Alternatively for women who are already exercising at a high level, the recommendation is 1 ¼ to 2 ½ hours of vigorous-intensity physical activity, or combination of both types of exercise.  

By the third trimester do no more than three sessions per week of vigorous exercise.   

What’s moderate intensity exercise or physical activity?

Let your body be your guide. You know you’re at a good exercise intensity when it requires moderate effort and your breathing rate increases but you can still talk normally. Please note that heart rate is not an accurate indication of exercise intensity in pregnancy. 

What is vigorous exercise?

It requires a large amount of effort and a rapid increase in your breathing rate. Vigorous exercise is only suitable for women who have been exercising vigorously before pregnancy (e.g. running or fast cycling on an exercise bike). 

Which exercises should I avoid?

  • High impact activities and sports where you may fall or be hit in the stomach (e.g. squash, downhill skiing, horse riding, martial arts, gymnastics, scuba diving and trampolining)
  • Lifting heavy weights; use small weights and increase the repetitions
  • bouncing and jumping
  • sit ups, abdominal curls and crunches

Warning signs when exercising

Most women can exercise throughout their pregnancy. Discuss any specific problems or discomforts you have. Stop immediately and contact your doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • pain
  • dizziness
  • vaginal bleeding
  • vaginal heaviness or dragging
  • contractions
  • unusual shortness of breath
  • headaches or nausea
  • decreased baby movements
  • “waters” leaking
  • incontinence

What types of exercise are good in pregnancy?

  • Low impact exercise such as walking, swimming, exercise bike or cross trainer
  • Water (aqua) aerobics
  • Yoga or Pilates
  • Low impact or pregnancy exercise classes
  • Strengthening exercises using your body weight, resistance bands or light to moderate weights

Some activities are safe when done in moderation by pregnant women who were doing them regularly prior to pregnancy. These include running and strength training.

“I found it easier to book into a pregnancy exercise class than other exercise.  I was then committed and had to go.  Also I was around other pregnant women so I didn’t feel self-conscious”—Michelle.

Tips for safe exercising

  • Wear light, loose clothing and appropriate footwear 
  • Wear a well fitted, supportive bra
  • Warm up and cool down as part of your program
  • Drink plenty of fluid before, during and after exercise
  • Adopt good posture while exercising. 
  • Avoid quick changes in position (e.g. from lying to standing) when you are exercising—it may make you feel dizzy
  • After 16 weeks of pregnancy, avoid spending more than a few minutes lying on your back when exercising
  • Don’t overheat; reduce or modify your exercise on hot days and avoid hot spas and saunas
  • Don’t exercise to the point of exhaustion
  • Avoid any exercise or activity that causes pain

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For urgent assessment at any stage of your pregnancy, please present to your nearest emergency centre or Mater Mothers’ 24/7 Pregnancy Assessment Centre in South Brisbane.

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