Is it safe to exercise during pregnancy?

There is often concern among pregnant women about how much and what type of exercise they should be doing whilst they are growing a human being inside their womb.

In 2020, The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) updated their guidlines on Exercise in Pregnancy. This includes 6 main recommendations.

1. Women without contra-indications should participate in regular aerobic and strength conditioning during pregnancy.

Contraindications may include cardiovascular disease, poorly controlled asthma, poorly controlled diabetes, and bone or joint problems that may be made worse by physical activity.

2. Women should be advised that there is no evidence that regular exercise during an uncomplicated pregnancy is detrimental to the woman or fetus.

Benefits of exercise include a reduced risk of

  • Gestational diabetes
  • Gestational hypertension
  • Pre-eclampsia.
  • Depression during and after your pregnancy.

Indications to cease exercise include

  • Chest pain
  • Unexplained shortness of breath
  • Muscle weakness,
  • Calf pain, swelling or redness
  • Loss of amniotic fluid or vaginal bleeding
  • Dizziness, headache or feeling faint
  • Decreased fetal movement.
  • Sudden onset swelling of hands/feet
  • Uterine contractions or pain in the lower back, pelvic area or abdomen (potentially indicating pre-term labour)

3. Assessment of medical and obstetric risks should be undertaken to identify potential contraindications to exercise for the pregnant woman prior to commencing an exercise program.

Please consult your Physiotherapist for an individually prescribed exercise program and speak to your doctor if you have any concerns.

4. Exercise prescription for the pregnant woman requires appropriate consideration of the frequency, intensity, duration and mode of exercise.

During healthy pregnancies, women should be encouraged to exercise at a moderate intensity for 30-60 mins per session, accumulating at least 150 minutes of exercise per week. Both resistance and aerobic exercise are safe.

Not sure what is moderate exercise? Use the talk test – can you hold a conversation? If not, you are probably exercising too vigorously and you should stop and have a rest.

To protect your pelvic floor, it is best to avoid activities that involve jumping or bouncing.

5. Exercise prescription for the pregnant woman should consider her baseline level of fitness and exercise experience.

During pregnancy is not the time to start jogging for the first time, or suddenly start increasing your weights.

6. Exercise prescription for the pregnant woman should take into account the physiological adaptations to pregnancy and consider the gestation at which it is prescribed.

Limit the duration exercising flat on your back up until 26 weeks and completely avoid it during your third trimester.

One of the concerns about vigorous or high intensity exercise, particularly in the first trimester, is concern regarding thermoregulatory capacity, overheating and the impact on fetal development. Studies have found that is is safe to do 35 mins of aerobic land based exercise at 80-90% heart rate maximum in 25 degree Celsius weather, or 45 minutes of water exercise in water temperatures less than or equal to 33.4 degrees, without risk of a core temperature that would be detrimental to the fetus.

Click here to book an appointment with a physiotherapist for advice on how you can safely exercise during your pregnancy.

Look out for our upcoming new pre-natal physio-led exercise classes!

Written by Luci Minogue, Physiotherapist.