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Pregnancy & Exercise

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

Exercise during pregnancy can be safe and beneficial for both the mother and baby, especially in a healthy and uncomplicated pregnancy. Engaging in the recommended type and amount of physical activity during pregnancy can reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia, pregnancy-induced hypertension, instrumental delivery, and unplanned cesarean section. It may also help alleviate lower back and pelvic girdle pain.

According to the guidelines from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG), pregnant women with a normal pregnancy are advised to participate in 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week. It is encouraged to spread the exercise over a minimum of three days per week, but being active every day for at least 30 minutes is recommended, even if the woman was previously inactive.

The exercise routine should include a combination of aerobic activities such as brisk walking, cycling, swimming, dancing, or exercise classes, and strength exercises using body weight, light weights, or resistance bands. The intensity of the exercise should be adjusted based on the woman's pre-pregnancy level of physical activity. Pregnant women who were active before conceiving can continue with their usual activities as long as they feel comfortable, but they should consult a health professional if they plan to continue with vigorous intensity or high-impact sports and exercises.

It is important to note that some exercises may need to be modified as the pregnancy progresses due to changes in biomechanics and potential pain. For example, after 16 weeks, exercises lying on the back should be avoided.

However, exercise is not recommended in certain circumstances, such as in cases of incompetent cervix, ruptured membranes, preterm labor, persistent bleeding in the second or third trimester, placenta previa, pre-eclampsia, evidence of intrauterine growth restriction, multiple gestation (triplets or higher number), poorly controlled Type 1 diabetes, hypertension, thyroid disease, or other serious cardiovascular, respiratory, or systemic disorders.

If any of the following symptoms occur during physical activity, pregnant women should stop and seek advice from a health professional:

- Chest pain

- Persistent excessive shortness of breath that does not resolve with rest

- Severe headache

- Persistent dizziness or feeling faint that does not resolve with rest

- Regular painful uterine contractions

- Vaginal bleeding

- Amniotic fluid loss

- Calf pain, swelling, or redness

- Sudden swelling of the ankles, hands, or face

- Decreased fetal movement

If there is uncertainty about which physical activities are safe during pregnancy, it is essential to consult with a healthcare provider before starting an exercise program.

*Exercise intensity ratings are based on ratings of perceived exertion on a scale of 1-10 where 1 is not moving and 10 is maximal effort. Activities in the range 3-7 indicate moderate-vigorous intensity and are considered safe and are recommended for health benefits in pregnant women. This can also be judged by the ‘talk test’ in which a conversation can be held during moderate intensity activities but difficult during vigorous activities.

Brown, W.J., Hayman, M, Haakstad, L.A.H., Mielke, G.I. et al. (2020). Evidence-based physical activity guidelines for pregnant women. Report for the Australian Government Department of Health. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health.


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