Exercise and pregnancy
While exercising may be the last thing you feel like doing when you’re pregnant, it’s important to stay active as regular exercise has a range of health benefits for both you and your baby. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) encourages pregnant women to do between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate intensity physical exercise each week. This includes a combination of aerobic and strength conditioning exercise.
Before you start any new exercise program, it’s best to check with your healthcare professional to assess any medical risks.
Benefits of exercise during pregnancy
There are many benefits to exercising when you’re pregnant. These can include:
- increase in fitness and energy levels
- stress relief
- faster recovery from labour
- better sleep and insomnia management
- decrease in back and pelvic pain
- decrease in the risk of developing anxiety or depression
- decrease in delivery complications
Regular exercise can also help to reduce the risk of developing the following pregnancy complications:
- pregnancy-induced hypertension
How much exercise is enough?
When you’re pregnant, you should try to keep active every day. RANZCOG encourages pregnant women to do 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity physical exercise each week. They also caution against exercising for more than 60 minutes at a time unless the intensity is relatively light. If you’ve previously been inactive or if you’re overweight, it’s important to limit your exercise duration to 15 to 20 minutes at the start of exercising and build up to 30 minutes sessions over time.
What exercises should you be doing?
It’s important to do a combination of both aerobic and strength training exercises when you’re pregnant.
Aerobic exercise or “cardio” means “with oxygen”. It’s continuous exercise that causes your breathing and heart rate to increase and keeps your heart, lungs and circulatory system healthy.
The following aerobic exercises are generally safe to do during pregnancy:
- walking (aim for a brisk pace)
- jogging (if you’re already jogging regularly)
- stationary cycling
Strengthening or anaerobic exercise involves short burst of energy and is usually higher in intensity. Anaerobic exercise is any activity that breaks down glucose for energy without using oxygen. A lot of energy releases in a small period of time, and your oxygen demand is greater than your oxygen supply.
RANZCOG recommends pregnant women perform strengthening exercises twice a week on non-consecutive days. These exercises should cover the main muscle groups in the body. Examples of strengthening exercises include using light weights, body weight or elasticised resistance-bands. When you’re pregnant, it’s important to avoid lifting with heavy weights, walking lunges, or straining your body.
You should aim for one to two sets of 12 to 15 repetitions for each strengthening exercise. These strength training exercises should be at a moderate intensity with slow, steady movements and correct breathing technique.
Exercises to avoid
You should avoid strenuous exercise during hot or humid weather and you should also avoid exercises that involve lying flat on your back after the first trimester of pregnancy.
It’s important not to perform activities that include a risk of falling over or getting hit. These can include:
- contact sports such as kickboxing, judo, squash and rugby
- horseriding, skiing, or gymnastics
RANZCOG also recommend that you avoid heavy weight lighting or other activities that involve straining.
When to stop exercising
If you start feeling any of the following symptoms, it’s important to stop exercising straight away and see your doctor:
- dizziness or feeling faint
- chest pain or heart palpitations
- unusual shortness of breath
- vaginal bleeding
- excessive fatigue
- muscle weakness
Where to get more information
You can speak with your doctor, midwife or physiotherapist for more information about exercising during pregnancy.
- Pregnancy, Birth and Baby helpline on 1800 882 436 – you can speak with a maternal child health nurse and the service is available 7am to midnight, 7 days a week
- Healthdirect on 1800 022 222 – you can speak with a registered nurse and the service is available 24 hours a day.
- Exercise during pregnancy at the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
- Pregnancy: your essential guide at the Raising Children Network
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