Can Pregnant Women Exercise?
Traditionally, pregnant women were instructed to reduce exercise and activity levels for the duration of the pregnancy and immediately post-partum.
Recent evidence suggests that an exercising mother displays normal variations in physiological responses to exercise, that aid in the maintenance of foetal well-being during exercise. So yes, well-conditioned women, who continue a regular exercise regimen through-out the duration of pregnancy, do not experience any increase in the incidence of congenital abnormalities, premature membrane rupture, duration of labour or preterm delivery rate, low foetal birth weight or slow neonatal development.
Current Guidelines for Exercise while Pregnant Are
- Remain active; even exercising up to moderate intensity is safe i.e. "maintain a good fitness level throughout pregnancy without trying to reach peak fitness or train for an athletic competition".
- Check with your specific Sport's Association whether they have a policy regarding pregnant athletes engaging in competition. Most don't, and therefore leave the decision in the hands of the individual athlete, coach and health care professionals.
Frequency and Duration of Exercise
- Training sessions of up to 60 minutes, 6 days per week does not appear to be harmful to the foetus.
Intensity of Exercise
- You are able to continue training at moderate intensities during your pregnancy, even with the occasional bouts of high intensity, or maximal exercise, without any detrimental effects to either your health or your foetus.
- In order to monitor your intensity during exercise, rating scales (i.e. Borg scale of Perceived Exertion) should be used rather than heart rate. Exercising according to heart rate is not recommended when pregnant due to the blunted heart rate response when pregnant and exercising.
Type of Exercise
- Varies depending on the stage of your pregnancy. Ligament laxity occurs as a result of increased production of the hormones relaxin and oestrogen, resulting in the ‘pelvis remodelling', in order to accommodate the growing foetus.
- Associated posture changes and the weight gain associated with pregnancy, also effect what you are able to do. Virtually all women experience some degree of musculoskeletal discomfort during pregnancy, in particular low back pain.
- Swimming - should be safe to continue throughout the duration of the pregnancy, due to the water's buoyant nature.
- Bike riding - may be continued as per normal until the change in posture and pelvic remodelling, combined with an increase in body weight occurs in the 2nd trimester. At this time your balance may become compromised, and a stationary exercise bike (vertical or a recumbent) may be safer.
- Running - may continue as able, but avoid running large weekly kilometres to avoid injury and low back discomfort. A firm supportive bra should be used, due to the increased weight and volume of the breast, to minimise discomfort and stretching while running. Once into the third trimester, try ‘water running' to reduce the workload on your body.
- Weights / Core Stabilising Exercises - are appropriate at all phases of pregnancy, but care should be taken not to hold your breath, as it may reduce the amount of oxygen in your blood. A weights program also appears safe for mother and foetus, with heart rates remaining within normal limits. Care should be taken to avoid any exercises where you are lying on your back or are doing pure abdominal strength exercises, due to increased risks of your foetus' normal development.
You Must Stop Exercise if you Suffer Any of the Following:
- Pain or uterine contractions
- Vaginal bleeding
- Shortness of breath
- Leakage of amniotic fluid
- Pins & needles
- Visual disturbances
- Drink plenty of fluids, to avoid dehydration of you and foetus.
When Can I Return to Exercise / Competition after Giving Birth?
- It wouldn't be advised to return to exercise / competition any earlier than 6-8 weeks post-partum (particularly if a caesarean was performed).
- The ultimate decision on when to compete post-partum should be based on your fitness goals, fitness testing results, and progression and level of training.
- It must be made in consultation with your coach, obstetrician and any other health professional involved with her care.
Published by Balmain Sports Medicine