Exercise is good for healthy pregnant women who are receiving prenatal care. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC) recommends that women without complications in their pregnancies get regular aerobic and strength-conditioning exercise.footnote 2
Exercise can improve your posture, relieve back pain and other discomforts related to pregnancy, and prepare you for the challenges of childbirth. Most women can begin or continue to exercise during pregnancy. Try exercise classes designed specifically for pregnant women or classes that offer safe variations for pregnant women. Many pregnant women find exercising in the water, such as swimming or water aerobics, most comfortable.
Moderate exercise/activity is safe for most pregnant women. But it's always a good idea to talk to your doctor before you start an exercise program.
Stay at your pre-pregnancy level of fitness
In the early stages of pregnancy, some women can continue their pre-pregnancy exercise routines (including running, aerobics, biking, roller-skating, skiing, weight lifting, or other physically strenuous activities). Other women find it necessary to take it easy during the first weeks of pregnancy but can return to their usual exercise after their morning sickness or extreme fatigue subsides.
For women who did not exercise before they became pregnant, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada recommends beginning with 15 minutes of continuous exercise 3 times a week, increasing gradually to 30-minute sessions 4 times a week.footnote 2
While you are pregnant, listen to your body.
- When you're fatigued, take it easy, but don't become completely inactive. Mild to moderate aerobic exercise, such as walking, helps your mood and keeps your energy up.
- If you like regular strenuous exercise, pay attention to your body's signals to gradually slow down or change your routine as your pregnancy advances.
- Remember that you can feel off balance as your body changes with pregnancy. So be extra careful when you do any exercise in which you could lose your balance.
Fuel your body
Eat a small snack or drink juice 15 to 30 minutes before you exercise. Do not exercise on an empty stomach. If you have not eaten, your body may run low on glucose, causing your liver to release substances known as ketones or ketoacids into your blood. Ketones are harmful to a fetus.
Continue to eat a balanced diet. In general, Canada's Food Guide recommends that pregnant women eat 2 or 3 extra food guide servings a day during their second and third trimesters.footnote 1 This is about 340 calories a day in the second trimester and 450 extra calories a day in the third trimester.footnote 3 When you exercise during pregnancy, you may need to increase your caloric intake.
Stay hydrated and avoid overheating
Do not become overheated while exercising. To avoid dehydration, drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after exercise. Continue drinking liquids after exercise even if you do not feel thirsty. This will help you stay hydrated.
To prevent fetal injury, avoid sports that can involve potential contact, such as ice hockey, soccer, and basketball. Vigorous exercise above 1800 m (6000 ft) and scuba diving can be dangerous for your fetus.footnote 2
Unless you are a competitive athlete, avoid strenuous activity, and exercise only in moderation. You should be able to talk while you are working out. Do not exercise to the point that you feel tired.
Stop what you are doing and contact your doctor if you notice any of the following:footnote 2
- Excessive fatigue or shortness of breath
- Pain or cramping, especially in the back or pelvic area
- Vaginal bleeding or rupture of the membranes
- Pounding heartbeat (palpitations) or unusual sensations in your chest
- Persistent contractions
After your fourth month of pregnancy, avoid any exercise that requires you to lie flat on your back on a hard surface, such as sit-ups and some yoga poses. The increasing size and weight of your uterus will press on the large blood vessel that returns blood from your lower body to your heart.
As your pregnancy advances (usually during the second trimester), unstable joints, an expanding abdomen, and an altered centre of gravity can make you more unstable on your feet. Also, by then your uterus is mostly above the protective circle of your pelvic bones. Avoid exercises that might cause you to fall, such as skiing or roller-skating.
Swimming and brisk walking are safe exercises throughout pregnancy.
- Do not start a new or more strenuous exercise program without first checking with your doctor.
- Do not use exercise to lose weight.
- Avoid exercising during hot, humid weather or if you are not feeling well.
- Discontinue dangerous sports, such as horseback or motorcycle riding, water-skiing, diving, parachute jumping, or scuba diving.
There is no evidence that exercise causes miscarriage. But if you have a history of repeated miscarriages, your doctor may advise you to avoid exercises that require your body to bear extra weight (such as running) during the first trimester.
Your baby will not be harmed if you can't exercise because of a complication of your pregnancy or an existing chronic illness or condition. You may be able to do simple exercises in bed, with your doctor's approval.
- Health Canada (2009). Prenatal nutrition guidelines for health professionals: Background on Canada's Food Guide. Available online: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/pubs/nutrition/guide-prenatal-eng.php.
- Davies GA, et al. (2003). Exercise in pregnancy and the postpartum period. Joint SOGC/CSEP Clinical Practice Guideline No. 129. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada, 25(6): 516–522.
- Kaiser LL, Campbell CG (2014). Practice paper of the academy of nutrition and dietetics: Nutrition and lifestyle for a healthy pregnancy outcome. eatrightPro. http://www.eatrightpro.org/resource/practice/position-and-practice-papers/practice-papers/practice-paper-nutrition-and-lifestyle-for-a-healthy-pregnancy-outcome. Accessed November 16, 2017.
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Kirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Current as ofDecember 11, 2017
Current as of: December 11, 2017