Exercising Safely During Pregnancy: What You Need to Know

Exercising Safely During Pregnancy: What You Need to Know

Exercising Safely During Pregnancy: What You Need to Know

“In the past, pregnant women were discouraged from exercise. However, this was mainly due to social and cultural biases and unfounded concerns about safety for the foetus, rather than based on scientific investigation. Today, the benefits of regular exercise for pregnant women without contraindications are well-established” (RANZCOG,2020).

The most updated guidelines developed by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) highlight:

-Women without contraindications should participate in regular aerobic and strength conditioning exercise during pregnancy

-Women should be advised that there is no evidence that regular exercise during an uncomplicated pregnancy is detrimental to the mother or foetus

We at Malvern Physiotherapy Clinic are trained to screen for any conditions that may require modification to the types of exercise performed or may first require guidance from your obstetrician or midwife before commencing an exercise program.

How much pregnancy exercise and how often?

Guidelines recommend that those with uncomplicated pregnancies should participate in 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week consisting of:

  • 30 – 60 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise on most or all days of the week (e.g. walking, swimming, cycling)
  • 2-3x resistance/ strength training per week (e.g. Pilates, bodyweight training, light weights)

The “talk test” is a simple way to measure relative intensity. In general, if you’re doing moderate-intensity activity, you can talk but not sing during the activity.

Benefits of safe pregnancy workouts

Staying active throughout your pregnancy is an excellent way to maintain or build a strong body in preparation for the birth and to set yourself up for success with the carrying, feeding and pram-pushing that follows delivery. The benefits of exercising throughout pregnancy for both mum and baby are extensive and well-documented. 

Benefits for mum:

  • Reduced risk of gestational diabetes and hypertension
  • Reduced risk of preeclampsia
  • Reduced severity of pregnancy-related back and pelvic pain 
  • Reduced risk of urinary incontinence  
  • Reduced likelihood of requiring medical interventions during labour
  • Increased muscle strength and function to support your changing body
  • Increased mood and sleep
  • Protects against preterm birth 

Benefits for baby:

  • Decreased risk of poor foetal growth
  • Increased placenta function 
  • Higher newborn APGAR scores (a measure of baby’s physical health at birth)
  • Increased ability for the baby to manage the stress of birth 
  • Increased cardiorespiratory health, memory, and intelligence extending into childhood

Fact or Fiction?

There is a lot of debate and misinformation about what movements and activities should be avoided throughout pregnancy. We are here to debunk a few of those misconceptions. In uncomplicated pregnancies, it is safe to:

  • Participate in strength/ Resistance Training
  • Perform twisting movements
  • Lie on both sides when sleeping

Is it safe to run?

If you are already running regularly prior to your pregnancy, there is limited scientific evidence to say whether you should continue or not. This should be decided on an individual basis and in consultation with your doctor, midwife or physio. Listen closely to your body and monitor the intensity appropriately. Consider the impact of the weight of the baby on your pelvic floor and if you are experiencing any symptoms such as urinary leakage, pelvic heaviness or vaginal bleeding, you should stop running and consult with your doctor and/or a pelvic floor physio.

Exercises to Avoid

There are some clear guidelines on what types of exercise or sports should be avoided during pregnancy: 

  • Exercises with high intra-abdominal pressure (e.g. heavy weight lifting that requires you to hold your breath)
  • Contact or collision sports (e.g. hockey, martial arts)
  • Sports involving the risk of abdominal strike (e.g. cricket softball)
  • Sports with a risk of falling (e.g. skiing, skating, horse-riding)
  • Sports requiring extreme balance (e.g. gymnastics, water skiing)
  • Sports with significant change in pressure (e.g. scuba diving, skydiving)
  • High-intensity training at altitudes >2000m

Studies show lying supine (>5mins) reduces uterine blood flow. During exercise, there is partial compensation for this by increasing maternal heart rate and blood pressure. However, there is insufficient evidence to ascertain whether this reduction is significant. As a result, there are differing opinions as to when this should be avoided. At Malvern Physio, we prioritise caution and recommend against lying on your back after 16 weeks to ensure your safety and optimise your well-being. There are a myriad of different exercises that are targeted and challenging which don’t require you to be lying on your back for extended periods.

Know when to stop

Knowing when to stop during exercise is important too. Exercising safely is always the goal, and if you experience any of the following symptoms, you should stop the exercise you are doing and consult your health professional.

  • Chest pain
  • Unexplained shortness of breath
  • Dizziness, feeling faint, headache
  • Muscle weakness
  • Calf pain, swelling or redness
  • Sudden swelling of ankles, hands or face,
  • Vaginal bleeding or amniotic fluid loss
  • Reduced fetal movement
  • Uterine contractions (or abdominal or back pain indicating preterm labour)

If you are new to exercise and worried you may have missed your opportunity, contact our team at Malvern Physio. Exercising during pregnancy under the guidance of a qualified physio can be a great option. They can progress or modify exercises to help support your body as it changes throughout pregnancy. 

Do you know someone who is expecting and believe they could find value in this blog? If so,  please don’t hesitate to share it! We would be delighted for them to join us in nurturing their body as well.

To schedule an appointment with one of our healthcare professionals, please contact our friendly reception staff at 9078-8434 or book online using our booking system, Jane.

Published September 22, 2023


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