Exercise during pregnancy

Is it safe to exercise during pregnancy?

With your health care provider’s OK, exercising during pregnancy is safe for you and your baby. At your first prenatal care checkup, ask your provider about what kinds of activities are safe for you to do. If you have certain health conditions or pregnancy complications, exercise during pregnancy may not be a good idea.

If your pregnancy is healthy, exercise doesn’t increase your risk of having a miscarriage, a premature baby (born before 37 weeks of pregnancy) or a baby born with low birthweight (less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces). Miscarriage is when a baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks of pregnancy. Premature babies and babies born with low birthweight are more likely than other babies to have health problems at birth and later in life.

How much exercise do you need during pregnancy?

Healthy pregnant women need at least 2½ hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. Aerobic (also called cardio) activity is when you repeatedly move large muscles, like your arms and legs. Aerobic activities make you breathe faster and deeply and make your heart beat faster. Moderate-intensity means you’re active enough to sweat and increase your heart rate. Taking a brisk walk is an example of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. If you can’t talk normally during an activity, you may be working too hard.

You don’t have to do all 2½ hours at once! Instead, break it up through the week. For example, do 30 minutes on most or all days. If this sounds like a lot, split up the 30 minutes by doing something active for 10 minutes three times each day.

Why is physical activity during pregnancy good for you?

For healthy pregnant women, regular exercise can:

  • Keep your mind and body healthy. Physical activity can help you feel good and give you extra energy. It also makes your heart, lungs and blood vessels strong and helps you stay fit.
  • Help you gain the right amount of weight during pregnancy
  • Ease some common discomforts of pregnancy, like constipation, back pain and swelling in your legs, ankles and feet
  • Help you manage stress and sleep better. Stress is worry, strain or pressure that you feel in response to things that happen in your life.
  • Help reduce your risk of pregnancy complications, like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. Gestational diabetes is a kind of diabetes that can happen during pregnancy. It’s a condition in which your body has too much sugar (called glucose) in the blood. Preeclampsia is a kind of high blood pressure some women get after the 20th week of pregnancy or after giving birth. These conditions can increase your risk of having complications during pregnancy, like premature birth (birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy).
  • Help reduce your risk of having a cesarean birth (also called c-section). Cesarean birth is surgery in which your baby is born through a cut that your doctor makes in your belly and uterus.
  • Gets your body ready for labor and birth. Activities like prenatal yoga and Pilates can help you practice breathing, meditation and other calming methods that may help you manage labor pain. Regular exercise can help give you energy and strength to get through labor.

Is physical activity safe for all pregnant women?

No. Not every woman should exercise during pregnancy. Talk to your provider to make sure it’s OK for you to exercise. Conditions that make physical activity unsafe during pregnancy include:

  • You have preterm labor or bleeding from the vagina, or your water breaks (also called ruptured membranes). Preterm labor is labor that happens before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Bleeding from the vagina and having your water break may be signs of preterm labor.
  • You’re pregnant with twins, triplets or more (also called multiples) with other risk factors for preterm labor. If you’re pregnant with multiples, ask your provider if it’s safe for you to exercise. Your provider may ask you not to do intense or high-impact activities, like running. But you may be able to do low-impact activities, like walking, prenatal yoga or swimming.
  • You have cervical insufficiency or a cerclage. The cervix is the opening to the uterus (womb) that sits at the top of the vagina. Cervical insufficiency (also called incompetent cervix) means your cervix opens (dilates) too early during pregnancy, usually without pain or contractions. Cervical insufficiency can cause premature birth and miscarriage. If you have cervical insufficiency or a short cervix, your provider may recommend cerclage. This is a stitch your provider puts in your cervix to help keep it closed so that your baby isn’t born too early. A short cervix means the length of your cervix (also called cervical length) is shorter than normal.
  • You have gestational hypertension or preeclampsia. Gestational hypertension is high blood pressure that only pregnant women can get. It starts after 20 weeks of pregnancy and goes away after you give birth.
  • You have placenta previa after 26 weeks of pregnancy. This is when the placenta lies very low in the uterus and covers all or part of the cervix. The placenta grows in your uterus and supplies the baby with food and oxygen through the umbilical cord. Placenta previa can cause heavy bleeding and other complications later in pregnancy.
  • You have severe anemia or certain heart or lung conditions. Anemia is when you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to the rest of your body. If you have a heart of lung condition, ask your provider if it’s safe to exercise during pregnancy.

What kinds of activities are safe during pregnancy?

If you’re healthy and you exercised before you got pregnant, it’s usually safe to continue your activities during pregnancy. Check with your provider to make sure. For example, if you’re a runner or a tennis player or you do other kinds of intense exercise, you may be able to keep doing your workouts when you’re pregnant. As your belly gets bigger later in pregnancy, you may need to change some activities or ease up on your workouts.

If your provider says it’s OK for you to exercise, pick activities you enjoy. If you didn’t exercise before you were pregnant, now’s a great time to start. Talk to your provider about safe activities and start slowly. Try to build up your fitness little by little. For example, start with 5 minutes of activity each day, and work your way up to 30 minutes each day.

These activities usually are safe during pregnancy:

  • Walking. Taking a brisk walk is a great workout that doesn’t strain your joints and muscles. If you’re new to exercise, this is a great activity to start with.
  • Swimming and water workouts. The water supports the weight of your growing baby, and moving against it helps keep your heart rate up. It’s also easy on your joints and muscles. If you have low back pain when you do other activities, try swimming.
  • Riding a stationary bike. This is safer than riding a regular bicycle during pregnancy. You’re less likely to fall off a stationary bike than a regular bike, even as your belly grows.
  • Yoga and Pilates classes. Tell your yoga or Pilates teacher that you’re pregnant. She can help you modify or avoid poses that may be unsafe for pregnant women, like lying on your belly or flat on your back (after the first trimester). Some gyms and community centers offer prenatal yoga and Pilates classes just for pregnant women.
  • Low-impact aerobics classes. Low-impact aerobics don’t put as much strain on your body that high-impact aerobics do. In low-impact aerobics, you always have one foot on the ground or equipment. Examples include walking, riding a stationary bike and using an elliptical machine. In high-impact aerobics, both feet leave the ground at the same time. Examples include running, jumping rope and doing jumping jacks. Tell your teacher that you’re pregnant so that she can help you modify your workout, if needed.
  • Strength training. Strength training can help you build muscle and make your bones strong. It’s safe to work out with weights as long as they’re not too heavy. Ask your provider about how much you can lift.

You don’t need to belong to a gym or own special equipment to be active. You can walk in a safe area or do exercise videos at home. Or find ways to be active in your everyday life, like doing yard work or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

What kinds of activities aren’t safe during pregnancy?

Be careful and check with your provider when choosing your activities. During pregnancy, don’t do:

  • Any activity that has a lot of jerky, bouncing movements that may cause you to fall, like horseback riding, downhill skiing, off-road cycling, gymnastics or skating
  • Any sport in which you can get hit in the belly, like ice hockey, boxing, soccer or basketball
  • Any exercise that makes you lie flat on your back (after the third month of pregnancy), like sit-ups. When you lie on your back, your uterus puts pressure on a vein that brings blood to your heart. Lying on your back can cause your blood pressure to drop and limit the flow of blood to your baby.
  • Activities that can cause you to hit water with great force, like water skiing, surfing or diving
  • Skydiving or scuba diving. Scuba diving can lead to decompression sickness. This is when dangerous gas bubbles form in your baby’s body.
  • Exercising at high altitude (more than 6,000 feet), unless you live at a high altitude. Altitude is the height of something above the ground. For example, if you’re at high altitude, you’re probably in the mountains. Exercising at high altitudes during pregnancy can lower the amount of oxygen that reaches your baby.
  • Activities that may make your body temperature too high, like Bikram yoga (also called hot yoga) or exercising outside on hot, humid days. You do hot yoga in a room where the temperature is set to 95 F to 100 F. It’s not safe for pregnant women because it can cause hyperthermia, a condition that happens when your body temperature gets too high. Some studies suggest that spending too much time in a sauna or hot tub may make your body temperature too high and increase your risk of having a baby with birth defects. To be safe, don’t spend more than 15 minutes at a time in a sauna or more than 10 at a time minutes in a hot tub.

When should you stop exercising?

When you’re doing physical activity, drink lots of water and pay attention to your body and how you feel. Stop your activity and call your provider if you have any of these signs or symptoms:

  • Bleeding from the vagina or fluid leaking from the vagina
  • Chest pain, fast heartbeat or trouble breathing
  • Feeling dizzy or faint
  • Headache
  • Muscle weakness, trouble walking or pain or swelling in your lower legs. Pain or swelling in your lower legs may be signs and symptoms of deep vein thrombosis (also called DVT). DVT happens when a blood clot forms in a vein deep in the body, usually in the lower leg or thigh. If untreated, it can cause serious health problems and even death.
  • Regular, painful contractions. A contraction is when the muscles of your uterus get tight and then relax. Contractions help push your baby out of your uterus.
  • Your baby stops moving. This may be a symptom of stillbirth (when a baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks of pregnancy).

Does pregnancy change how your body responds to exercise?

Yes. During pregnancy, your body changes in many ways. When you’re active, you may notice changes in your:

  • Balance. You may notice that you lose your balance more easily during pregnancy.
  • Body temperature. Your body temperature is slightly higher during pregnancy, so you start sweating sooner than you did before pregnancy.
  • Breathing. As your baby develops and your body changes, you need more oxygen. Your growing belly puts pressure on your diaphragm, a muscle that helps you breathe. You may even find yourself feeling short of breath at times.
  • Energy. Your body’s working hard to take care of your baby, so you may have less energy during pregnancy.
  • Heart rate. Your heart works harder and beats faster during pregnancy to get oxygen to your baby.
  • Joints. Your body makes more of some hormones during pregnancy. This can make the tissues that support your joints more relaxed. Try to avoid any movements that may strain or hurt your joints. Hormones are chemicals made by the body.

When can you start exercising again after giving birth?

Ask your health provider when it’s OK for you to be active again:

  • If you have a vaginal birth without any complications, it’s usually safe to start exercising a few days after you give birth or as soon as you’re ready. Vaginal birth is the way most babies are born. During vaginal birth, the uterus contracts to help push your baby out of the vagina (birth canal).
  • If you have a c-section or a complications during birth, you may need to wait longer to start exercising after birth.

If you were active during pregnancy, it’s easier to get back into exercise after your baby is born. Just start slowly. If you feel pain or have other problems during exercise, stop doing the activity and talk to your provider.

Last reviewed: August, 2017

Exercises To Do and Avoid During Pregnancy

  • Introduction to exercise during pregnancy
  • Body changes during pregnancy
  • Exercise frequency and intensity during pregnancy
  • Appropriate physical activities during pregnancy
    • Warm up
    • Walking
    • Water sports
    • Stationary cycling
    • Weight training
    • Running
  • Exercises to avoid during pregnancy

Introduction to exercise during pregnancy

Exercise during pregnancy is well recognised as being both a safe and beneficial practice for mother and foetus. So while all women should be encouraged to engage in physical activity no studies have yet identified “how much is too much” which makes it necessary to be cautious and speak with your doctor about your specific circumstances.

There are some general guidelines which outline which exercises are recommended for pregnant women but the appropriateness of these activities will be largely determined by pre-pregnancy fitness level and previous exercise experience as this will dictate what intensity, frequency and type of activity can be safely maintained by each individual during pregnancy.

Body changes during pregnancy

The body changes that occur in a woman while she is pregnant may interfere with the ability to engage in some types of exercise.

There is a significant increase in body weight during pregnancy that can make jogging and running uncomfortable. The change in body weight and weight distribution can alter balance and coordination making sports that require these skills challenging and even dangerous.

The ligaments and joints around the pelvic region will begin to loosen up as the pregnancy progresses in order to prepare the body for labour. For this reason activities which may impose a risk of injury in this area should be avoided. This is anything that requires quick changes of direction, jumping and jerky movements.

Physiologically, the increase in resting heart rate associated with pregnancy necessitates that women do not over exert themselves.

The decrease in blood pressure which occurs in pregnancy may also make some women light-headed and dizzy meaning that activities involving balance may be difficult.

Exercise frequency and intensity during pregnancy

It is recommended that pregnant women, with what is considered as a low risk pregnancy, engage in moderate intensity exercise for 30 minutes a day, 4 times a week. Low risk pregnancies are those which are not otherwise constrained by medical or obstetric complications.

Depending on the woman’s individual medical history and exercise experience, the exercise program will need to be initiated differently. Your doctor can help you with this.

More information on Beginning an Exercise Program During Pregnancy.

What is classed as “moderate” intensity exercise is subjective and will be quite different depending on individual fitness levels. A good way to determine a comfortable intensity while exercising is through the talk test. If you cannot maintain a conversation during exercise then this is not considered to be moderate intensity and you should reduce the intensity of your physical activity until you can.

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Appropriate physical activities during pregnancy

Appropriate physical activities to engage in during pregnancy are quite common sense. Any activities that have a low risk of falling, injury and joint and ligament damage should be chosen. This includes low impact activities that do not require too many quick changes to the centre of gravity or depend predominantly on balance.

Warm up

All exercise should begin with a warm up and cool down period. The hormones produced during pregnancy make women especially flexible in preparation for childbirth but this can lead to excessive stretching and pulling which can cause injury. Stretching should be done very gently, especially after the first trimester.

For more information on Warming Up Before Exercise.

Walking

Walking is the most common exercise amongst pregnant women. Walking is safe for everyone, including pregnant women who are only just beginning to exercise. Walking has a low risk of falls and it is easy to control exertion levels. Brisk walking is low impact for joints and muscles yet still gives a total body workout and improves cardiovascular fitness.

Water sports

Some water sports such as swimming, water aerobics and water walking are safe and fun sports.

Swimming works almost all muscles in the body without the risk of overheating. Water aerobics is great for cardiovascular fitness. These water sports are safe as there is no risk of falling or losing balance and the water supports body weight so the risk of muscle strain is low.

Water activities are especially effective for women who experience back pain and leg swelling during pregnancy as it has been found to alleviate these symptoms.

Stationary cycling

Cycling is another good cardiovascular workout that will help improve leg muscle strength. During pregnancy stationary cycling is a better alternative because as your belly grows, especially in the third trimester, balance on a bike will be difficult.

Weight training

Studies to date on light to moderate resistance training using free weights and weight machines during pregnancy have found no adverse findings in patients that regularly engaged in the activity before pregnancy. Women who have never engaged in weight training prior to their pregnancy should not begin once they have conceived.

Studies have shown that there are benefits from engaging in weight training while pregnant. Improvements in strength and flexibility have been noted. This is turn will help the body adapt to the physiological changes that occur during pregnancy. Women may find they can tolerate their heavier body weight and altered centre of gravity better with muscle strengthening that is gained from training, especially focussing on lower back strength.

Running

Running is safe in moderation for women that were running frequently before they became pregnant. It is not advised that women that have never run before take up running during their pregnancy. Depending on the individual, the running regime may need to lessen in intensity and frequency.

Exercises to avoid during pregnancy

While frequent moderate intensity exercise is safe and recommended for pregnant women there are some sports that will increase the risks of injury, stress and other complications. Some activities will simply be too uncomfortable or tiring. It is important that women who are planning to exercise while they are pregnant are aware of what exercises they should avoid including:

  • Heavy weight training lifts that involve maximal isometric muscle contractions are thought to put too much stress on the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal system;
  • Holding your breath during difficult positions during yoga or while weight training. If you are ever not breathing during any exercise this is a clear indication you are over-exerting yourself and you need to stop immediately;
  • Exercises lying on your back after the first trimester of pregnancy should be avoided to reduce the risk of affecting blood flow to the foetus and hypotension from vena cava compression by the uterus;
  • Exercises which involve lying on the stomach;
  • Some abdominal strengthening exercises will be very uncomfortable due to muscle weakness and the development of abdominal seperation, a condition where called diastasis recti. This occurs as a result of the growing uterus;
  • Standing still for long periods of time is not recommended;
  • Contact sports and high-impact sports such as ice hockey, soccer and basketball can risk abdominal trauma, excessive joint stress and falls;
  • Scuba diving should be avoided as the pressure can result in birth defects and foetal decompression sickness;
  • Any activities that increase the risk of falls should be avoided in order to reduce the risk of injury to you and your foetus. This includes sports such as gymnastics, horseback riding and water skiing;
  • Any activities which require changes to the centre of gravity should be avoided as this can cause balance problems. This includes vigorous racquet sports such as squash and tennis;
  • Any sports at altitude may induce altitude sickness which in turn can reduce the oxygen supply to the foetus. This does not appear to be the case for moderate intensity exercise at altitudes anywhere up to 2,500m but if you want to exercise at altitudes above this upper limit you should be guided through appropriate acclimatisation and make modifications to you activities as guided by your doctor. If you experience symptoms of altitude sickness including excessive shortness of breath, chest pain and light-headedness and weakness, you must stop exercising immediately and seek medical aid.

More information

For more information about pregnancy and exercise, including pre-pregnancy exercise, suitable types of exercise, risks and benefits of exercise and exercise myths, see Pregnancy and Exercise.
For more information about pregnancy, including preconception advice, stages of pregnancy, investigations, complications, living with pregnancy and birth, see Pregnancy.
For more information on fitness and exercise, including stretches, types of exercise, exercise recovery and exercise with health conditions, as well as some useful videos, see Fitness.

  1. National Collaborating Centre for Women’s and Children’s Health. Antenatal care: routine care for the healthy pregnant woman. Clinical Guideline March 2008 2nd ed. RCOG Press; London: 2008.
  2. Sydney South West Academy of Sport Policy Statement: Exercise During Pregnancy . SWSAS . Available from: URL: http://www.swsas.org.au/documents/pregnancy%20and%20sport%20policy.pdf
  3. Davies GAL, Wolfe LA, Mottola MF, MacKinnon C. Exercise in pregnancy and the postpartum period. Joint SOGC/CSEP Clinical Practice Guideline. 2003; 129: 1 – 7.
  4. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Endorsed statements . Pregnancy in Sport – Guidelines for the Australian Sporting Committee, 2002 . Available from: URL: http://www.ranzcog.edu.au/womenshealth/endorsedstatements.shtml
  5. Mottola M. Exercise Prescription for Overweight and Obese Women: Pregnancy and Postpartum. Obstet Gynecol Clin N Am. 2009; 36: 301–16.
  6. Gavard JA, Artal R. Effect of exercise on pregnancy outcome. Clin Obs Gynecol. 2008; 51(2): 467–80.
  7. Nutrition Australia: Physical Activity During Pregnancy . Sports Nutition 2010 . Available from: URL: http://www.nutritionaustralia.org/national/resources
  8. American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: Exercise during pregnancy . ACOG 2003 . Available: URL: http://www.acog.org/publications/patient_education/bp119.cfm
  9. Sleeping positions during pregnancy . American pregnancy association, 2010 . Available from URL: http://www.americanpregnancy.org/pregnancyhealth/sleepingpositions.html

Read more about swimming in pregnancy.

Walking

Walking is a great basis for pregnancy fitness and you can do it for the whole nine months if you feel comfortable.

Walking is free and it’s available on your doorstep. If you’re not used to exercising, walking is a great place to start.

Read more about walking in pregnancy.

Yoga

Yoga is an activity that focuses on mental and physical wellbeing. It uses a series of body positions (called postures) and breathing exercises. Pregnancy yoga uses relaxation and breathing techniques with postures that are adapted for pregnancy.

Read more about yoga in pregnancy.

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Can I work out at home while I’m pregnant?

If you can’t get out or you’re short of time, there are plenty of exercises you can do at home or at work that you can fit around your daily activities.

Look for pregnancy workout DVDs or try our easy home or office workout. You could always look at ways that you can be more active around the house – putting extra energy into the housework or gardening, for example.

If you work, can you use your commute to exercise by getting of the bus or train a stop early and walking the rest of the way?

What are pelvic floor exercises?

Pregnancy and birth weaken your pelvic floor muscles. These muscles are located in your pelvis and go from your pubic bone at the front to the base of your spine at the back. They are shaped like a hammock and protect your bowels, womb and bladder.

Your pelvic floor muscles support these organs when you jump, sneeze or cough, lift heavy things, and push your baby out in the second stage of labour.

When you’re pregnant you should make sure you exercise the muscles of your pelvic floor. By keeping them strong you can help decrease the risk of becoming incontinent (when wee leaks out accidentally).

You can exercise them at any time of day, wherever you are, without anybody knowing you’re doing the exercises.

Try these pelvic floor exercises.

Where can I find pregnancy exercise classes?

It’s not always easy to find a suitable session or instructor while you are pregnant, so here are some tips on how to find one:

  1. Ask your midwife, GP or the receptionist at your surgery or antenatal clinic.
  2. Join Facebook groups or online forums specifically for mums in your local area and ask for recommendations about local classes or instructors.
  3. Ask the instructors at your usual class or gym if they can refer you to someone.
  4. Contact your local council or leisure centre and ask about local services. Even if you can’t see anything on their website, give them a call and they might know somewhere nearby that offers sessions.
  5. Look for posters in local maternity/baby stores or at community centres, and ask other pregnant women or mums you bump into.
  6. Many instructors are members of the Register of Exercise Professionals, and you can search for those who are qualified to teach pregnant women.
  7. Always make sure you tell your instructor about your pregnancy, including any complications or medical conditions.

If you join a general class rather than a pregnancy-specific class, ask the instructor if they are able to advise you on any exercises that you shouldn’t do or ways to adapt exercises for you. If they aren’t able to do this, you should look for a different session.

Things to be aware of

There are a few things to be aware of:

  • Be careful if you are doing exercises where you could lose your balance, such as cycling, horse riding or skiing.
  • Avoid contact sports where there is a risk of being hit, such as kickboxing, football, judo or squash (though if you’re in a team you can still continue to do any non-contact training).
  • Don’t exercise at high altitudes without acclimatising.
  • Don’t exercise for more than 45 minutes at a time.
  • If you have any unusual symptoms, stop exercising and contact your doctor or midwife immediately.
  • Don’t let yourself get too hot – drink lots of water, don’t over-exercise (see below) and don’t exercise in a very hot, humid climate without giving your body a few days to get used to it.
  • Don’t do exercises in which you lie flat on your back after 16 weeks.

Read about exercises to avoid in pregnancy.

If you take care with these points you can safely continue to stay fit through your pregnancy and beyond.

If you did not exercise before getting pregnant, it is safe and healthy to start now. Start with 15 minutes of exercise 3 times a week and increase it gradually to 30-minute sessions 4 days a week or every day.

Exercise doesn’t have to mean planned sessions – there are some ideas here for everyday activity that can help boost your health and that of your baby.

Don’t overdo it

Avoid pushing yourself too hard as this can make you overheat, which is not good for your baby. You should aim to work hard enough so that you breathe more deeply and your heart beats faster, but not so hard that you can’t pass the talk test. You should be able to hold a conversation without gasping for breath.

If you’re doing an exercise class or working out in the gym, tell the teacher or gym instructor you’re pregnant and ask their advice about checking your heart rate.

Heart rate to aim for when doing aerobic exercise in pregnancy

Your age Heart rate (beats/minute)
Less than 20 years 140-155
20-29 years 135-150
30-39 years 130-145
Over 40 years 125-140

Download our guide to staying active in pregnancy

Pregnant work out videos

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