Fitness for you and your baby

March 19, 2014
Answering some of the most frequent questions about exercise during pregnancy.
Exercise can make your pregnancy easier and more enjoyable, but how do you know what's safe for your baby? eNews answers some of the exercise questions that women ask their maternity care providers.
Is it safe to exercise while I'm pregnant?

Not only is it safe to exercise when you’re pregnant, but a good fitness program can make your pregnancy easier and more enjoyable. Exercise can affect your physical and emotional health, as well as giving your baby a healthy start to life.

According to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada (SOGC), not participating in some form of exercise during a healthy, normal pregnancy can lead to excessive weight gain, muscle loss, a higher risk of gestational diabetes or pregnancy induced hypertension, varicose veins and/or deep vein thrombosis. Not exercising can also contribute to low back pain and poor psychological adjustment to the physical changes of pregnancy.
When should I avoid exercise?

Talk to your maternity care provider about exercising if you have a high risk pregnancy, high blood pressure, poorly controlled diabetes, underlying heart or lung conditions, or issues with the baby (if he or she is small for the date, for example, and bed rest is necessary). If you have had two or more miscarriages, your maternity care provider may also advise you not to exercise until after your first trimester.

Why is exercise good for pregnant women?

Exercise can help you adjust to some of the changes your body undergoes during pregnancy.

The benefits of regular exercise include:

  • Improved posture and reduced back pain
  • Decreased leg cramps
  • Reduced constipation
  • Increased energy
  • Improved overall mood

Fitness from a regular exercise program can also help you during  labour and delivery, plus assist you to recuperate faster after the birth of your baby.

I don't have a regular exercise routine. Should I start now I'm pregnant?

It's best to check with your maternity care provider before you begin any fitness program. In general, if you have not exercised prior to pregnancy, you can begin a low intensity walking program or a prenatal exercise class taught by a qualified instructor. Gradually increases the time you exercise and listen to your body. If you are overly fatigued, don’t exercise or cut back the length of time, intensity, or frequency of your chosen exercise routine.

Is it best to avoid some of my usual exercises at the gym?

If you are already active in the gym, having a session or two with a trainer is a good way to learn how to adapt your routine now that you are pregnant.  For example, always avoid exercising flat on your back after the first trimester – use an incline instead. 

Is yoga safe for pregnant women?

Yoga can be beneficial, providing you work with a yoga instructor with training in pre-natal exercise. However, a research team from the Motherisk program at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children recently recommended that pregnant women avoid practicing hot yoga. The excess heat can put your baby at greater risk of neural tube defects (which impact the baby's spine or brain) or other abnormalities.  Excessive body temperature during pregnancy (from fever, extreme exercise, saunas, hot tubs etc.) is known to impact the developing fetus.

Can I maintain my regular exercise program?

If you were active before getting pregnant, you can maintain that level of activity through most of your pregnancy. But you will need to modify your exercise program.  For example, as your joints are more flexible when you’re pregnant, you may find yourself able to stretch past your pre-pregnancy ability.  It's important to resist this temptation! You will increase the risk of injury if you push yourself beyond your previous level of flexibility or fitness.

Be aware that the exercises you enjoyed before your pregnancy that required balance, such as skiing, won’t be as easy because you’re less steady on your feet.
Also, as your resting heart rate increases when you’re pregnant, it's not a good indication of the intensity of your workout. Use the “talk test” instead.  Can you comfortably carry on a conversation during your workout? If so, you’re exercising at the right intensity.

Since your body temperature is higher during pregnancy, you may have a tendency to overheat. Be conscientious about dressing in layers and staying hydrated when exercising.

Are there some sports that should I avoid?

As your fetus grows larger during the second trimester and is no longer protected by your pelvis, you need to avoid the risk of abdominal trauma. That means no exercises that put your stomach at risk, such as soccer or squash.

Sources and Further Reading

Fit Pregnancy
Fit to Deliver
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada (SOGC)
Motherisk Article on the risk of Pregnancy and Hot Yoga

This article was written by Anne McLaughlin and reviewed by Dr. Karen Nordahl, who practices family medicine and obstetrics at BC Women's. Dr. Nordahl is also co-author of Fit to Deliver: An Innovative Prenatal and Postpartum Fitness Program. Some of the information comes from an earlier eNews article on exercise in pregnancy written by Laurie Keinlen


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