By Dr. Lisa Watson ND
Can pregnant women exercise? The answer is a resounding yes! They can, and for most women they should. There are many benefits of exercise during pregnancy including:
- Reduced back pain
- Decreased constipation, bloating and swelling
- Prevention or treatment of gestational diabetes
- Improved energy
- Improved mood
- Improved posture
- Better muscle tone, strength and endurance
- Better sleep
- Decreased incidence of Caesarean section, decreased time in hospital and increased Apgar scores in infants
30 minutes most (or all!) days of the week is enough for you and your baby to enjoy the benefits of exercise during pregnancy.
Exercising Safely During Pregnancy
Most healthy pregnant women will need slightly modified exercise plans during pregnancy. If you are already exercising you should continue to do so. Try to keep your perceived exertion the same as before your pregnancy – as your pregnancy progresses it will take less exercise to reach your current threshold and your exercise intensity will naturally decrease.
If you are not already exercising you can, but should consult with a health care provider first and plan on low intensity exercise throughout your pregnancy.
Exercises that are safe during pregnancy include:
- Swimming – works a variety of muscles, is low-impact and the buoyancy of the water promotes smooth movement of the joints
- Walking – an easy, safe form of exercise that can be done by anyone, anywhere
- Stationary cycling – a good aerobic workout that promotes strength and flexibility of the hip muscles and joints and has minimal risk for accident (unlike outdoor cycling)
- Low-impact aerobics – low impact, moderate intensity aerobics is safe and will keep your heart and lungs strong and give you the endurance you need for labour and delivery
Guidelines for Exercising During Pregnancy
There are some guidelines for safe exercise during pregnancy that all expectant women should know.
Do not exercise if you have:
- Pregnancy-induced hypertension
- Preterm rupture of membranes
- Second or third trimester bleeding
- Incompetent cervix
- Signs of intrauterine growth retardation
Recommendations for safe exercise during pregnancy
- Drink water before, during and after exercise to prevent dehydration
- Wear clothing that is not restrictive and allows you to move and keep cool
- Avoid exercise in hot, humid weather or if you have a fever
- Avoid inverted exercises that place your head or heart below the level of your uterus
- After the first trimester, avoid doing any exercises on your back
- Avoid exercises that have repetitive bouncing or jerky movements, or require you to change direction suddenly – especially in the third trimester
- Avoid weight lifting exercises that require significant core strength, especially during the third trimester
- Consume adequate complex carbohydrates to replace the muscle glycogen lost during exercise (this will minimize the risk of fetal ketosis)
- Do not exceed a maximal heart rate of 140-160 beats per minute
If you experience any of these warning signs, stop exercising and call your health care provider immediately:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Dizziness or feeling faint
- Increased shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Calf pain or swelling
- Uterine contractions
- Decreased fetal movement
- Fluid leaking from the vagina
With all this information you can confidently engage in exercise during pregnancy. It’s a healthy lifestyle choice for you, and your baby.
Dr. Lisa Watson maintains a general family practice at the Integrative Health Institute. She welcomes patients of all ages and stages of wellness and has a special interest in adolescent and pediatric health, teen health, women’s health, pregnancy, fertility, menopause, dermatology, headaches and healthy aging. The Integrative Health Institute is located downtown Toronto at the corner of King and Sherbourne St.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. FAQ: Exercise During Pregnancy, 2011.
Hudson T, Women’s Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. Keats Publishing. 1999
Rosato F. Fitness and Wellness: The Physical Connection, 2nd Ed. West Publishing Co, 1990