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pregnancy and exercise

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Fetal development

Pregnancy is the process of childbearing and can be divided into three stages: preconception (before pregnancy), antenatal (during pregnancy), and postpartum (after pregnancy). There are specific exercise guidelines for woman at each of these stages of pregnancy.

What is the information for this topic? 

Ideally, it is good for any woman to follow a regular exercise routine throughout her life. For women who are considering pregnancy, being in good physical condition before becoming pregnant is important. Being fit helps a woman's body meet the increasing physical demands of carrying a baby. A well-rounded exercise program should consist of aerobic exercise to strengthen the heart and lungs, and muscle toning exercises such as using weights, sit-ups, and push-ups.


Moderate physical activity is considered safe and extremely helpful for expectant mothers and their babies. During pregnancy, changes occur to a woman's body. These changes include: an increased heart rate at rest, increased circulation and blood volume, decreased blood pressure, increased laxity of joints, a shift in centre of gravity, and others. Exercise during pregnancy helps keep the heart and lungs working well and also strengthens the muscles and joints to make supporting the baby easier and more comfortable.

Antenatal Exercise Precautions

It is important for a woman to discuss physical activity at regular visits with her doctor. Pregnant women who are at high risk may need to limit physical activity. A high risk pregnancy is one in which the expectant mother has a medical problem, such as diabetes or high blood pressure; has any genetic problem; or is under 20 or over 35. In general, a pregnant woman should not get overheated and should not exercise to exhaustion. A woman should STOP exercising and call her doctor if any of the following occur during exercise:
  • bleeding
  • cramping
  • dizziness or feeling faint
  • high blood pressure
  • severe joint pain

Types of Antenatal Exercise

The following four kinds of exercise can be useful during pregnancy:

1. Pregnancy-specific aerobics. Rhythmic and repetitive activities such as walking, bicycling, and swimming are strenuous enough to demand increased oxygen to the muscles, but not so strenuous that oxygen demand exceeds supply.

Pregnancy-specific aerobics:
  • increase the ability to process and utilise oxygen
  • improve blood circulation, which enhances the transportation of oxygen and nutrients to the baby. They also lower the risk of varicose veins, haemorrhoids, and fluid retention.
  • increase muscle tone and strength
  • relieve constipation
  • build endurance and stamina
  • burn kilojoules, which helps manage weight gain during pregnancy
  • decrease fatigue
  • promote improved sleeping
  • promote a feeling of wellbeing and confidence
2. Pregnancy workouts, or exercises designed especially for pregnancy. These exercises are rhythmic, light gymnastic movements that tone and develop muscles and can improve posture.

Pregnancy workouts:
  • tone and develop muscle
  • improve posture
  • relieve backache
  • improve physical and mental well-being
  • prepare a woman's body for the task of childbirth
3. Relaxation techniques.

Relaxation techniques:
  • help conserve energy for when it is needed
  • assist the mind to focus
  • increase body awareness
4. Kegel exercises. To do these exercises, contract the vaginal muscles hard, as if to stop the flow of urine. This should be done 10 to 15 times at least 3 times a day.

Kegel exercises strengthen the muscles that surround the openings of the urethra, vagina, and anus which can become weak because of the constant pressure of pregnancy.

Do's and Don'ts

A good pregnancy exercise program that is built into a woman's daily lifestyle has many benefits.

  • Exercise regularly at least 3 times per week.
  • Avoid bouncy movements that snap muscles like rubber bands.
  • Take a pulse rate during peak activity. Keep target heart rate within limits set by the doctor.
  • Exercise on a wooden floor or heavily carpeted surface to reduce shock and provide sure footing.
  • Rise gradually to avoid dizziness from floor exercises.
  • Drink fluids before, during, and after exercise to prevent dehydration.
  • Get adequate kilojoules to meet both the extra needs of pregnancy and the exercise performed.
  • Consult your doctor if any unusual symptoms occur during exercise.
  • Don't exercise in hot, humid weather or during any illness if a fever is present.
  • Don't exercise strenuously for longer than 15 minutes at a time.
  • Don't raise body temperature to more than 37.5 degrees Celsius.
  • Don't use exercises that require women to hold their breath or bear down.


Daily exercise can help restore muscle tone and return a woman's body to the condition it was before pregnancy, or to an improved condition. Exercise programs should be designed to meet individual needs. Although exercise may seem like an effort, it can actually help new mothers feel less tired. Exercise raises energy level and boosts a woman's general sense of wellbeing. Always check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.

Author: Dr. Karen Wolfe, MBBS, MA
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 21/03/2005
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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