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Physical Activity Throughout Pregnancy

Being physically active during pregnancy has many benefits for both you and your baby. Pregnancy should not stop you from being active. In fact, the 2019 Canadian Guideline for Physical Activity Throughout Pregnancy (the Guideline) states that if you have not been active before pregnancy, it's an important time to start. The PARMed-X for Pregnancy can help you decide the type of activity that is right for you.

 

Benefits of Physical Activity

Physical activity can decrease the risk of1:

  • Prenatal depression and it's severity3
  • Use of forceps or vacuum to assist birth4
  • Abnormal blood sugar especially in women with diabetes6
  • Having an abnormally large baby7
  • Prenatal and postnatal urinary incontinence with the use of pelvic floor muscle training8
  • Low back and pelvic pain9
  • Extra prenatal weight gain and postpartum weight retention10

Physical activity throughout pregnancy is considered safe and beneficial for you and your baby7 11 12 13. However, you should complete the PARmed-X for Pregnancy health screening tool before you take part in a prenatal fitness class or other exercise and consult with your healthcare provider if you have any of the “Contraindications” (reasons not to be physically active) identified in the Guideline or in the PARmed-X for Pregnancy. There are many fun choices for being active!

Common Questions about Physical Activity and Pregnancy

Should I start to or become more active now that I am pregnant?

How much exercise is enough?

Can I lift weights?

Are there special safety precautions because I’m pregnant?

How can I tell if I’m over doing it?

 

Build your stamina for labour and birth

Pregnant woman walking
 
 

How should I start to or become more active now that I am pregnant?

It's important to be physically active throughout your pregnancy, unless your health care provider has given you advice to limit activity. Being active has many benefits to you and your growing baby.

If you have not been regularly active before pregnancy, start slowly and increase your activity until you meet the Guideline recommendations. Walking and swimming are two activities that are popular.

If you have been regularly active before pregnancy, you can safely continue physical activity during pregnancy.

How much exercise is enough?

The PARmed-X for Pregnancy is a great tool to identify the amount of physical activity that is right for you. Use the checklist provided to help choose a safe level of physical activity.

There may be times during your pregnancy that it's difficult to be active because of fatigue &/or discomforts. You will need to modify your physical activity during this time. Start slowly and work up to the recommended amount of physical activity when you are able.

Every active minute counts! Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity over at least 3 days each week. Even better, be active every day.

It’s also important to reduce your sedentary time. Watch Dr. Mike Evans video for ideas about how to make your day harder. Learn more about the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines.

Can I lift weights?

Yes, it’s helpful to add resistance training activities to a variety of aerobic activity. It's usually safe to lift weights if they are not too heavy. Using heavy weights can put too much stress on your body. Instead, use a higher repetition range (10 reps or more per set) with lower weights. This will lower joint-related stress and reduce the risk of injury.

Activities should be modified so you're not lying on your back14. Try side lying, sitting or standing. It's important to be aware that you are breathing during all exercise, exhale on exertion and inhale on relaxation15.

Are there special safety precautions because I’m pregnant?

There are a few safety considerations when you are pregnant. Some sports carry significant risk and shouldn’t be continued during pregnancy. You should be able to carry on a conversation while being physically active. Take breaks as needed. Review the PARMed-X for Pregnancy before beginning or changing your physical activity program and speak with your healthcare provider if you have any contraindications (reasons not to be physically active) identified in the Guideline.

  • Do not scuba-dive during pregnancy, as your baby is not protected from decompression sickness and gas embolism.
  • Avoid activities which involve physical contact or danger of falling, which may increase the risk of injury to your baby. These activities include, but are not limited to, horseback riding, downhill skiing, ice hockey, gymnastics or Olympic lifts. Avoid hiking where you might fall.
  • Avoid non-stationary cycling as this activity may carry a higher risk of falling as pregnancy progresses because of traffic or unsteady surfaces. Brisk walking, stationary cycling, swimming or aquafit are good alternatives.
  • Avoid vigorous physical activity in excessive heat, especially with high humidity, to avoid dehydration (e.g., hot yoga).
  • Always warm up your muscles before activity and gently stretch after your activity.
  • Never exercise on an empty stomach, be sure to eat a light snack about 30–60 minutes before exercising.
  • Never strain or hold your breath.
  • Stay hydrated. Sip water before, during and after exercise.
  • Avoid lying on your back during exercise.

How can I tell if I’m over doing it?

Listen to what your body tells you. If you are feeling like you need to stop exercising, then stop.

If you have any of the following symptoms call your healthcare provider:

  • Painful uterine contractions (more than 6-8 per hour).
  • Bleeding from your vagina.
  • Any “gush” of vaginal fluid.
  • Increasing back pain, pubic pain, or pain in your abdomen.
  • Swelling of ankles, hands or face that happens suddenly.
  • Dizziness, faintness or unusual shortness of breath.
  • Chest pain.
  • Changes in your baby’s movement.
  • Swelling, pain, and redness in the calf of one leg.

Editorial Credit:

Thank you to Dr. Michelle Mottola, Director of the Exercise and Pregnancy Lab at Western University for her content expertise in writing this webpage.

 
Date of creation: December 31, 2012
Last modified on: June 13, 2019
 
 

References

1Mottola MF, Davenport MH, Ruchat S, et al. Canadian guideline for physical activity throughout pregnancy. Br J Sports Med 2018;52:1339-1346. Retrieved from
https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/52/21/1339#block-system-main
2Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology. (2018). 2019 Canadian 
Guideline for 
Physical Activity 
throughout Pregnancy Retrieved from
https://csepguidelines.ca/guidelines-for-pregnancy/
3Davenport MH , McCurdy AP , Mottola MF , et al . Impact of prenatal exercise on both prenatal and postnatal anxiety and depressive symptoms: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med 2018;52:1376–85 Retrieved from
https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/52/21/1376?ijkey=997c9f87a06e25800e71903cf07fa1fd3836a2fa&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha
4Davenport MH , Ruchat S-M , Sobierajski F , et al . Impact of prenatal exercise on maternal harms, labour and delivery outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med 2018. Retrieved from
https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/early/2018/10/17/bjsports-2018-099821
5Davenport MH , Ruchat S-M , Poitras VJ , et al . Prenatal exercise for the prevention of gestational diabetes mellitus and hypertensive disorders of pregnancy: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med 2018;52:1367–75. Retrieved from
https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/52/21/1367?ijkey=9acd60e53359ed6c4d5e76b759bc51186ff7f425&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha
6Davenport MH , Sobierajski F , Mottola MF , et al . Glucose response to acute and chronic exercise during pregnancy: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med 2018;52:1357–66. Retrieved from
https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/52/21/1357?ijkey=8eb78ad22df71083729ead7cf548e080114e124d&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha
7Davenport MH , Meah VL , Ruchat S-M , et al . The impact of prenatal maternal exercise on neonatal and childhood outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med 2018;52:1386–96. Retrieved from
https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/52/21/1386?ijkey=1cb1cbd5afa1e60b670fc6436926e8ba5856ce5f&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha
8Davenport MH , Nagpal T , Mottola MF , et al . Prenatal exercise (including but not limited to pelvic floor muscle training) and urinary incontinence during and following pregnancy: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med 2018;52:1397–404. Retrieved from
https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/52/21/1397?ijkey=2194a320d210c46d35b5037735a2f15e1f53d722&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha
9Davenport MH , Marchand AA , Mottola MF , et al . Exercise for the prevention and treatment of low back, pelvic girdle and lumbopelvic pain during pregnancy: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med 2018. Retrieved from
https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/early/2018/10/17/bjsports-2018-099400?int_source=trendmd&int_medium=trendmd&int_campaign=trendmd
10Ruchat S-M , Mottola MF , Skow RJ , et al . Effectiveness of exercise interventions in the prevention of excessive gestational weight gain and postpartum weight retention: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med 2018;52:1347–56. Retrieved from
https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/52/21/1347?ijkey=d71131eebf22a2864c3aace03001ec8473394b87&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha
11Davenport MH , Kathol AJ , Mottola MF , et al . Prenatal exercise is not associated with fetal mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med 2018. Retrieved from
https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/early/2018/10/17/bjsports-2018-099773
12Davenport MH , Yoo C , Mottola MF , et al . Effects of prenatal exercise on incidence of congenital anomalies and hyperthermia: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med 2018. Retrieved from
https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/early/2018/10/17/bjsports-2018-099653
13Skow RJ , Davenport MH , Mottola MF , et al . Effects of prenatal exercise on fetal heart rate, umbilical and uterine blood flow: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med 2018 Retrieved from
https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/early/2018/10/17/bjsports-2018-099822
14Mottola MF , Nagpal TS , Begeginski R , et al . Is supine exercise associated with adverse maternal and fetal outcomes? A systematic review. Br J Sports Med 2018 Retrieved from
https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/early/2018/10/17/bjsports-2018-099919
15Schoenfeld B. Resistance Training During Pregnancy: Safe and Effective Program Design. Strength Condit J. 2011; 33 (5):67-75