Department of Health & Human Services
Premiers Active April

Staying active while pregnant

To maintain a healthy lifestyle during your pregnancy, women without contraindications should aim to participate in aerobic and strength-conditioning exercises. The following tips help you maintain your health and wellbeing throughout your trimesters.

Supporting your changing body

Keeping informed about the right types of activity to do throughout your pregnancy will help you feel healthy and prepared for your baby’s arrival.

Benefits

Pregnant woman holding child's handLooking after yourself while pregnant improves your chances of bouncing back after your baby arrives. You’ll also likely experience:

  • Improved physical and mental wellbeing
  • Returning to your pre-baby weight more quickly
  • Reduction in the risk of developing gestational diabetes (which is more common in mothers who are overweight).

Risks

There are currently NO known adverse risks associated with meeting the recommended guidelines of at least 150 minutes of moderate-vigorous physical activity per week.

However, as pregnancy progresses, the body goes through significant changes such as increased laxity of joints, change in centre of gravity and an increased resting heart rate.

Therefore, modifications to programs may need to be considered. Women participating in activities that require a high degree of balance or rapid changes in direction should consult with their doctor first. Your doctor may recommend you see a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist for an individually prescribed exercise program.

Modifying how you exercise

How often should you exercise?

Doing any physical activity is better than doing none. If you currently do no physical activity, start by doing some, and gradually build up to the recommended amount, as indicated below:

  • 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week; or
  • 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week; or
  • An equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous intensity activity
  • Aerobic activity should be performed in bouts of at least 10 minutes duration.

Intensity of exercise

  • Moderate vigorous intensity should be firstly guided by the Borg Scale of Perceived Exertion or the ‘Talk Test’, or alternatively heart rate zones (see below)
  • Importantly, no research to date has identified a ‘safe’ upper-limit to exercise intensity
  • Ultimately, listen to your body. Be aware of signs and symptoms to cease physical activity immediately and consult your doctor.

The following tests can be used as a guide to exercise at a comfortable intensity:

Age & heart rate test

Less than 20 years old: 140 – 155 (beats per minute), 23 – 26 (beats per 10 seconds)
20 – 29 years old: 135 – 150 (beats per minute), 22 – 25 (beats per 10 seconds)
30 – 39 years old: 130 – 145 (beats per minute), 21 – 24 (beats per 10 seconds)
40 or older: 125 – 140 (beats per minute), 20 – 23 (beats per 10 seconds)

Talk test

  • Moderate intensity: can talk, but can’t sing
  • Vigorous activity: hard to talk

As the ‘talk test’ implies, the woman is exercising at a comfortable intensity if she is able to maintain a conversation during exercise; she should reduce the exercise intensity if this is not possible.

Recommended exercises

  • Aerobic conditioning and strength training of all major muscle groups and pelvic floor.
  • Specific activities to avoid include contact sports, high altitude exertion and scuba diving. Additionally, exercise in the supine position (lying on back) should be avoided after the first trimester or 16 weeks gestation.
  • Modifying the position of the exercise to instead be performed on one’s side, sitting or standing is a safe alternative.

Aerobic exercise includes:

  • Walking/jogging
  • Swimming
  • Cycling (on a stationary bike)
  • Low impact aerobic exercise classes. Women active before pregnancy can continue with their regular exercise / sport as long as associated risks and recommended modifications are considered.

Strength training exercise includes:

  • Shoulder shrugs and shoulder blade pinches
  • Abdominal tightening and curl ups
  • Head raises lying on side or standing position
  • Shoulder rotations
  • Modified push ups against a wall
  • Buttocks squeeze
  • Standing leg lifts
  • Heel raises.

Pelvic floor exercises include:

  • Sit and lean slightly forward with a straight back
  • Squeeze and lift the muscles as if you are trying to stop a wee
  • Hold the squeeze for up to 5 seconds, and then relax for up to 10 seconds
  • Repeat up to 10 times, 3 – 4 times per day
  • Keep breathing through the exercise.

All exercise should include a warm-up and cool-down phase. Stretching exercises are also useful but should be done gently due to the increased joint laxity during pregnancy.

Signs and symptoms to cease exercise

If the following symptoms arise, cease exercise and consult your doctor:

  • abdominal pain
  • any ‘gush’ of fluid from the vagina
  • calf pain or swelling
  • chest pain
  • decreased foetal movement
  • dizziness or presyncope
  • dyspnea before exertion
  • excessive fatigue
  • headache
  • pelvic pain
  • excessive shortness of breath
  • painful uterine contractions
  • vaginal bleeding.

Elite Athletes

Elite athletes who continue to train during pregnancy require supervision by an obstetric care provider with knowledge of the impact of strenuous exercise on maternal and foetal outcomes. Women with special needs may require a referral to a physiotherapist, exercise physiologist or sports medicine specialist to develop an appropriate exercise program.

Tip – It is important to stay well-hydrated, wear comfortable and non-restrictive clothing (such as a correctly fitted bra and appropriate footwear) and where possible avoid excessive over-heating.

Pregnant woman on exercise ball

For further information

Visit the Sports Medicine AustraliaAustralian Breastfeeding Association and Sports Dieticians Australia websites for further information.

References

For a full list of references, contact Sports Medicine Australia.

Acknowledgments

Authored by Melanie Hayman, PhD Candidate, Central Queensland University. Sports Medicine Australia wishes to thank the sports medicine professionals and Active Women in Sports Project partners who provided expert feedback in the development of this factsheet. This factsheet has been developed with support from the Victorian Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure.

Disclaimer

The information contained in this fact sheet is in the nature of general comment only, and neither purports, not is intended, to be advice on a particular matter. No reader should act on the basis of anything contained in this fact sheet without seeking independent professional medical advice. No responsibility or liability whatsoever can be accepted by Sports Medicine Australia or the authors for any loss, damage or injury that may arise from any persons acting on any statement or information contained in this fact sheet and all such liabilities are expressly disclaimed.

Last updated: November 29, 2016 at: 5:08 pm

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