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Exercise in Pregnancy

Now, more than ever, women are reaping the benefits of regular exercise. For many women, physical fitness and active recreation has become a way of life, but what happens when a woman becomes pregnant and wants to continue her routine of daily exercise?

  1. Can a Pregnant Woman Continue to Exercise?
  2. How Do You Determine What is a Safe And Healthy Level of Exercise for the Pregnant Woman?
  3. What Precautions Should the Pregnant Woman Take When Exercising?
  4. How Should A Pregnant Woman Start An Exercise Program?
  5. What Are The Effects On The Fetus?
  6. What Are the Benefits of Exercise in Pregnancy?

Can a Pregnant Woman Continue to Exercise?

How Do You Determine What is a Safe And Healthy Level of Exercise for the Pregnant Woman?

As when not pregnant, listen to your body. It will tell you when enough is enough. "No pain, no gain" is not the motto for exercise in pregnancy. There is no reason to limit the duration of exercise or target heart rate in pregnancy, but be aware that one's level of energy and reserves will slowly decline as pregnancy progresses, and there may be a need to alter training accordingly.

What Precautions Should the Pregnant Woman Take When Exercising?

There are some complications of pregnancy that benefit from a sedentary (inactive) lifestyle, and a woman should consult her doctor to make sure exercise is safe for her. Some of those complications are:

Most of the same practices that apply when not pregnant are appropriate for the expectant mother. Because of the increased needs of the developing baby, she should be particularly careful to maintain an adequate diet.

It is normal for energy levels to decrease as pregnancy advances and therefore tolerance for exercise is lowered. Women should be encouraged to alter their routine based on how they feel. Naps are a good thing! This is not the time to push exercise to exhaustion.

To provide adequate blood flow to both baby and mother, avoid activities that require lying flat on your back. There is a large vein (the vena cava) that brings blood back to the heart that can be compressed by the enlarging uterus. This position (lying flat on your back) can:

How Should A Pregnant Woman Start An Exercise Program?

As mentioned, women who are currently exercising and are without pregnancy complications can continue their routine program following the points listed above. Pregnancy is not a time to begin an intense exercise program.

What Are The Effects On The Fetus?

Exercise has the potential to cause uterine contractions or precipitate (hasten) preterm labor in women at risk for this complication.

Most studies show that in the majority of healthy pregnant women without additional risk factors for preterm labor, exercise does not increase either baseline uterine contractions or the incidence of preterm labor or delivery.

During exercise there is a decrease in the blood flow to the uterus and placenta. The result of this decrease is lessened by the physiologic changes in pregnancy:

This highlights the importance of maintaining adequate hydration to preserve the increased blood volume in pregnancy. A decrease in birth weight has been demonstrated in some studies of women who exercise at high intensities during pregnancy.

For the recreational athlete, this is not a concern. There were no short- or long-term deleterious (harmful) effects in those infants who had a reduction in birth weight (10-12 ounces).

What Are the Benefits of Exercise in Pregnancy?

Studies have suggested that women who exercise during pregnancy may have:

Women who exercised reported feeling an enhanced self-image, a reduction in minor discomforts of pregnancy, and fulfillment of their need for exercise.

Exercise in an uncomplicated pregnancy is safe and holds many benefits for the expectant mother without any known risks. Spontaneous miscarriage occurs in about 15-25% of known pregnancies and is rarely, if ever, due to the maternal stress of exercise. Every woman, with the counsel of her obstetrician/gynecologist, can maintain fitness during pregnancy.

Summary Points

  1. Follow a mild to a moderate exercise routine.
  2. Avoid exercise that calls for lying flat on your back.
  3. Modify the intensity according to your level of fatigue and avoid exhaustion
  4. Non-weight-bearing exercise will reduce the chance of injury and has the greatest chance of continuance during pregnancy.
  5. Avoid activities that require excellent balance as the pregnancy progresses.
  6. Maintain hydration (that is, drink plenty of water. Drinks with caffeine or alcohol dehydrate, or remove water from, your body.)
  7. Eat a diet that meets the needs of you and your growing fetus and takes into account the exercise you are doing.
  8. Most of the changes of pregnancy last for 4-6 weeks after delivery.
  9. Consult your obstetrician/gynecologist early in your pregnancy regarding continuing or initiating an exercise program.

For more information:

Go to the Pregnancy health topic, where you can:

Last Reviewed: Apr 23, 2002

Formerly Associate Professor of Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology
Director, Medical Student Education
No longer associated