Exercise is a crucial component of healthy living. It builds strength, improves aerobic capacity and of course has the added benefit of releasing feel good endorphins that reduce stress and increase happiness levels. For many Canadians it has become an important part of their weekly routines. It makes sense that many women, once they discover they are pregnant, are concerned about how they can maintain their activity level in a way that is safe for their baby and their bodies.
It was previously believed that exercise while pregnant, particularly in the first trimester, had to be limited (1,2). There was concern that exercise could negatively affect fetal growth due to increasing core body temperatures and shunting of blood away from the fetus to the skeletal muscle of the extremities (1,2). Thankfully, these claims have been proven false! In fact, no exercise during pregnancy has been linked to; higher rates of gestational diabetes, increased weight gain during pregnancy, loss of strength and cardiovascular endurance, increased complaints of low back pain and shortness of breath – just to name a few (3). There has been some evidence that indicates exercise during pregnancy may reduce the rate of caesarian section (4). With fewer caesarian sections, the women who exercised during pregnancy were also able to return to activity faster in the postpartum period (4).
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada and the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology developed the Canadian guidelines for exercise and pregnancy in 2003 (5)(6). A summary of the key recommendations for exercise can be seen below.
- provided there are no complications in the pregnancy, women who were previously active should remain active throughout their pregnancy and non-active women should begin activity in their second trimester
- reasonable goals to maintain aerobic fitness are important, pregnant women should try to refrain from aiming to achieve peak levels of fitness or train for athletic competition
- exercise should be chosen which minimizes the risk for falling
- there is no indication that exercise during a normal healthy pregnancy has an adverse effect on the woman or fetus
- pelvic floor exercises in the postpartum period may reduce urinary leakage in the future
- moderate exercise does not affect the quality or quantity of breast milk in lactating mothers
Exercise prescription and intensity varies depending on the woman’s prior history of activity (5). There are also some sports and activities and are contraindicated for pregnant women including; contact sports, scuba diving and exercise at high altitudes (5). If a woman experiences any of the symptoms below, exercise should be stopped and they should follow up with their care provider immediately (5).
- Excessive shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Painful uterine contractions
- Leakage of amniotic fluid
- Vaginal bleeding
It is always advised to consult with your healthcare practitioner before starting any new exercise plan during your pregnancy (5). There are some cases when exercise is contraindicated for women during their pregnancy so consulting with your primary healthcare provider to confirm whether exercise is safe for you is important (5). The PARmed-X for Pregnancy is a tool that may help your healthcare provider determine whether exercise is right for you. It can be found online, filled out, and brought to your care provider to review and guide you with regards to exercise levels that will be safe for you.
All expectant mothers want to happy and healthy throughout their pregnancy. Exercise, when appropriate, can play an important in maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle throughout your pregnancy. Consult with your primary healthcare provider today to determine what kind of exercise is appropriate for you!
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Exercise during pregnancy and the postnatal period.Washington (DC):ACOG; 1985.
- Shangold MM. Exercise during pregnancy: current state of the art. Can Fam Physician 1989;35:1675–89.
- Wolfe LA, Mottola MF. Validation of guidelines for aerobic exercise in pregnancy. In: Kumbhare DA, Basmajian JV, editors. Decision making and outcomes in sports rehabilitation. New York: Churchill Livingstone; 2000:205–22.
- Price B, Aminii S and Kappeler K. Exercise in Pregnancy: Effect on Fitness and Obstetric Outcomes—A Randomized Trial. American College of Sports Medicine 2012: 2263-2269
- Davies G., Wolfe L., Mottola M., MacKinnon C. Exercise in Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period. Journal of Obstetrics and Gaenecology Canada. June 2003 No.129
- Schmidt S., Chari R. Davenport M. Exercise During Pregnancy: Current Recommendations by Canadian Maternity Health Care Providers. J Obstet Gynaecol Can 2016: 38(2)