In order to bring you the best possible user experience, this site uses Javascript. If you are seeing this message, it is likely that the Javascript option in your browser is disabled. For optimal viewing of this site, please ensure that Javascript is enabled for your browser.

Exercise during pregnancy

The benefits of regular exercise during pregnancy don’t stop when the baby is born – it can pay off after birth too. Besides boosting stamina to help with the demands of pregnancy and labour, exercise helps you maintain a healthy weight and it helps lower your risk of diabetes during pregnancy and later in life.

How pregnancy affects your body

There are a number of changes to your body that can occur during pregnancy, affecting your ability to do exercise. You put on weight; your joints gradually loosen to prepare for birth; your resting heart rate increases; and your blood pressure usually goes down. Some of these changes also affect your balance and coordination and so increase your risk of injury.

This is why — no matter if you’re a seasoned athlete or someone unused to exercise — it’s important to get advice from your doctor about exercising once you’re pregnant. Together you can decide the type of exercise that is best for you. This depends in part on how physically active you were before pregnancy. It also depends on whether there are any complications in your pregnancy or if there were problems in previous pregnancies.

Activities that are generally safe during pregnancy

You can generally participate in the following activities while pregnant even if you're not used to doing physical activity. However, don’t overdo it – slow down if you feel you wouldn’t be able to comfortably carry on a conversation during the exercise, and get some help from exercise professionals if you feel like you could use some support.

  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Cycling – outdoors in safe conditions or on a stationary bicycle
  • Exercise in water (aqua aerobics)
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Stretching
  • Pregnancy exercise classes.

If you participate in yoga and Pilates, avoid postures that lead to over-stretching. With yoga, stick to gentler styles and avoid ‘hot’ yoga done in a heated room because it may cause you to overheat. Also avoid staying in one pose for too long as this can decrease blood flow to the baby and make you dizzy. Tell the instructor you’re pregnant before you start. Some yoga and Pilates classes are designed especially for pregnant women so ask your midwife or the hospital about the classes available in your area.

Continuing regular physical activities during pregnancy

If you have an uncomplicated pregnancy it is generally safe for you to continue your previous physical activities, but only after discussion with your doctor. Some key considerations:

  • moderate level exercise can be done throughout your pregnancy.
  • limit vigorous exercise to no more than three sessions a week in the third trimester
  • you can continue weight training while you’re pregnant but stick to light-to-moderate weights. Avoid heavy weights
  • high-risk activities that increase your chances of injury or falling such as skiing, waterskiing, horse riding and martial arts are probably best avoided during pregnancy. Scuba diving is another high-risk activity worth giving a miss when you’re pregnant as excess oxygen or carbon dioxide can harm the baby
  • whether you continue contact sports will depend on the sport. For instance, if you’re an experienced netball player with a low-risk pregnancy, you may be able to continue playing netball during the first trimester. It’s best if you discuss your individual situation with your doctor in these instances.

Abdominal and pelvic floor muscle exercises

It’s important to begin conditioning these muscle groups from the start of pregnancy. Pregnancy and a vaginal birth weaken the pelvic floor muscles so strengthening these muscles beforehand can only benefit you. Strong abdominal muscles will help your body support the weight of the baby during pregnancy as well as reduce the strain on your back. It’s also important to resume strengthening them after birth as soon as it’s safe to.

Your midwife or the hospital can provide you with information to help you keep these muscle groups strong, or refer you to classes.

Exercising after birth

After a normal vaginal delivery you can commence gentle exercise as soon as it’s comfortable. More intense exercise should be delayed for 6 weeks.

After a Caesarean section, wait at least 6 weeks to allow the incision to heal properly before commencing any exercise. Talk to your doctor about timing and the intensity level of any exercise before continuing or starting.

Tips for safe exercising

Besides avoiding movements that risk injury, it’s important to:

  • stay hydrated - if you don’t drink enough water and become dehydrated, your body temperature may rise and you may experience contractions. Neither of these is good for the baby.
  • warm up and cool down - this is especially important in pregnancy. Aim for a slow, gentle warm up and a gradual cool down.
  • don’t change positions suddenly - during pregnancy your centre of gravity changes so it’s easier to fall over. Also, your blood pressure drops around the fourth month of pregnancy so sudden changes of position from lying to standing can make you dizzy.
  • avoid exercises lying on your back after the first trimester - this position puts pressure on a major blood vessel. This reduces blood flow to your brain, which makes you dizzy, as well as reducing blood flow to the baby. If you have any dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, spots before the eyes, tingling fingers or any discomfort while lying on your back, roll onto your side.
  • avoid overheating - you’ll feel warmer than usual when you’re pregnant as blood flow is increased and your metabolism works faster. Research suggests that becoming overheated in pregnancy, especially in the first three months, may increase the risk of problems for the baby. To avoid this, don’t exercise in the heat, wear cool, loose clothing and stay hydrated.

Warning signs to stop exercising

If you have any of these signs during exercise (or afterwards), stop exercising and see your doctor:

  • faintness, dizziness or feeling nauseous
  • shortness of breath
  • heart palpitations or chest pain
  • sudden swelling of the face, hands or ankles
  • vaginal bleeding
  • uterine contractions
  • back or pelvic pain
  • amniotic fluid leakage
  • decreased or unusual change in the baby’s movements.

Further information

Sports Medicine Australia: Active Women
www.sma.org.au/resources-advice/policies-guidelines/active-women

Sources

Babycenter. Safe exercise in pregnancy. [online] [Accessed 21 Jul 2014] Available from: www.babycenter.com.au

Diabetes Australia. Gestational diabetes. [online][Last updated Jan 2014, accessed 21 Jul 2014] Available from: www.diabetesaustralia.com.au

Hammer RL Perkins J Parr R. Exercise during the childbearing years. J Perinat Educ. 2000; 9: 1–14.

Nutrition Australia. Physical activity during pregnancy. [online] [Accessed Jul 2014] Available from: www.nutritionaustralia.org

Physical Activity Australia. Pregnancy and exercise. [online] [Accessed Jul 2014] Available from: www.physicalactivityaustralia.org.au

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) and Diabetes Australia. General practice management of type 2 diabetes – 2014-15. Melbourne: RACGP. 2014.

Sports Medicine Australia (SMA). Exercise in pregnancy factsheet. [online] [Accessed 21 Jul 2014] Available from: www.sma.org.au

Last updated: 24 July 2014

Disclaimer
This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

Bupa Australia Pty Ltd makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. Bupa Australia is not liable for any loss or damage you suffer arising out of the use of or reliance on the information. Except that which cannot be excluded by law. We recommend that you consult your doctor or other qualified health professional if you have questions or concerns about your health. For more details on how we produce our health content, visit the About our health information page.