Exercise During Pregnancy

Published 14 February 2023 | Dr Ujwala Parashar

For all women who are pregnant and don’t have complications, exercise is an essential ingredient to help you (and your baby) enjoy a healthy pregnancy. A well-planned and regular exercise regime will help you to maintain a healthy lifestyle through good fitness levels. This helps during labour as well as a quicker recovery after delivery.

What are good goals and rules for exercise during pregnancy?

An ideal goal is to maintain good fitness, but not peak fitness. Rules to follow include:

  • Stay well-hydrated 
  • Wear comfortable/non-restrictive clothes
  • Good footwear
  • An appropriate bra
  • Avoid excessive over-heating

What are the benefits of exercising whilst pregnant?

Exercise promotes an improvement in your physical and mental wellbeing. It helps you to maintain a healthy weight and enables you to return to your pre-baby weight more easily. It also reduces your risk of developing gestational diabetes which has a higher ration in women who are overweight when pregnant.

Are there risks associated with exercise during pregnancy?

If you have no complications in your pregnancy, there are no known adverse risks associated with 150 minutes of moderate-vigorous exercise each week.

However, as your pregnancy progresses, your body undergoes many changes such as

  • Increased looseness (laxity) of joint
  • Increased resting heart rate
  • Changes in the centre of gravity

So - as your pregnancy progresses, modifications to your exercise program need to be implemented.

What exercises should be avoided during pregnancy?

If you participate in activities that include a high degree of rapid change of direction, you should speak with Dr Parashar. She may advise that you consult with an exercise physiologist or a physiotherapist regarding the development of a program that will be more suitable during your pregnancy.

Other activities to avoid when pregnant include:

  • Contact sports
  • High altitude exertion sports (this includes scuba diving and skiing)
  • Exercising lying on your back after the first trimester

What are considered safe exercises during pregnancy?

Aerobic conditioning and strength training exercises that include all the major muscle groups and your pelvic floor are ideal.

Good choices for aerobic exercise include:

  • Walking
  • Jogging
  • Swimming
  • Aquarobics
  • Pilates (advise your instructor you are pregnant)
  • Cycling (on a stationary bike)
  • Specific pregnancy exercise classes

Remember that all exercise should include a warm up and cool down phase and should also include gentle stretching exercises. 

Use the “talk test”!

The talk test is a good guide to determine if the intensity of the exercise your are undertaking is suitable. While exercising you should be able to maintain a conversation; and if that is not possible, reduce the intensity.

Cautions for exercise during pregnancy

Whilst most forms of exercise are safe during pregnancy, you should avoid exercise that involve positions and movements that may be uncomfortable for you and your baby. Some other red flags are:

  • Avoid raising your body temperature too high
  • Do not exercise to the point of exhaustion
  • When weight training – choose low weights and more repetitions. Do not lift heavy weights
  • Do not exercise if you are ill
  • Listen to your body – if you don’t feel like exercising on a particular day then don’t 

When should you stop exercising during pregnancy?

Remember to listen to your body and be aware. If you experience any of the following, you should stop exercising immediately and contact Dr Parashar:

  • Abdominal pain
  • If you have any kind of fluid “gush” from the vagina
  • You have pain or swelling in the calf
  • You have chest pain
  • You have decreased foetal movement
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath prior to exertion
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Pelvic pain

The importance of pelvic floor exercises during pregnancy

Pelvic floor exercises are an important part of your exercise regime prior, during and post pregnancy and include:

  • Sit and lean slightly forward keeping your back straight
  • Squeeze and lift your muscles as though you are trying to stop urinating
  • Hold the “squeeze” for up to 5 seconds and then relax for up to 10 seconds
  • Keep breathing!

Repeat this up to 10 times each session for 3 – 4  sessions per day

If you are an elite athlete

Elite athletes who continue training while pregnant require supervision by an obstetrician who understands the impact of strenuous exercise on yours and your baby’s health. If you are an elite athlete, speak to Dr Parashar regarding a tailored exercise program with input from an exercise physiologist or physiotherapist.

Take home message

Any physical activity during pregnancy is better than none. If you are not physically active and are pregnant, introduce some physical exercise as part of your everyday routine. If you need guidance on the levels of activity to participate in during pregnancy, Dr Parashar can help. 

Dr Ujwala Parashar, Obstetrician & Gynaecologist

Sam Samant

Dr Ujwala Parashar is a highly trained female obstetrician and gynaecologist with over 15 years of professional experience and training, practicing in Sydney's North Shore and Barangaroo. If you would like more information on conception, or if you are seeking obstetric options and advice, please contact us or call 1300 811 827 to arrange a consultation with her.