Pregnancy Safe Workouts - Exercises to Avoid While Pregnant

Maternity Care

Tammy George

Group of young pregnant mothers exercising at a gym doing a pregnancy safe workout

Exercising while pregnant is important to maintain strength and improve wellbeing, but doctors don’t recommend all forms of exercise. There are some exercises and sports you shouldn’t do for the health of your unborn bub and you. Find out what types of exercise is on the recommended and those you should refrain from while your body is growing a healthy bub.

Benefits of Exercising While Pregnant

Pregnant women with a low-risk pregnancy should aim to do 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, four times per week. Moderate intensity means your heart rate increases and you may sweat, but you can still carry on a conversation. The aim of exercising while pregnant should not be to lose weight but to stay fit and healthy so you’re prepared for the birth, recovery and caring for your new baby.  

This has a long list of health benefits, including:

  • Strength and endurance

  • Keep mum’s energy levels up

  • Helps keep down the weight gain

  • Improve blood circulation

  • Reduce swelling and bloating

  • Help reduce constipation

  • Healthy mental health

  • Reduce stress levels

  • Ease discomfort such as back pain, leg swelling

  • Help with sleep

  • Reduces risk of pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes

Ideal Exercise for Pregnant Women

These forms of exercise are ideal because they’re low impact and low risk while pregnant. 

  • Brisk walking

  • Swimming

  • Prenatal Yoga

  • Pilates

  • Stationary bike riding

  • Low-impact aerobics or water aerobics

Pregnant woman doing yoga in her living room

Exercises to Avoid While Pregnant 

The body undergoes drastic changes while pregnant to accommodate a new life. Some changes that impact exercise include body temperature, joints and ligaments, blood pressure and heart rate, and weight distribution.

The metabolic rate increases during pregnancy, and body temperature rises slightly. Sweat glands are also more active. During the second trimester, your blood pressure can drop, making you more susceptible to dizzy spells.

The hormone relaxin helps prepare the body to give birth by allowing joints and ligaments all over the body to stretch. You may find that you can stretch further while exercising, but be careful not to injure yourself.

These changes plus the need to protect your growing baby affects the type of exercise you can do while pregnant.

Ball and Contact Sports

During the first trimester, the pelvis protects your uterus, so most sports are low-risk compared to the second and third trimesters. By week 12,  your uterus shifts up and out of the pelvis, so the foetus is at greater risk of being injured in ball or contact sports. Being hit in the abdomen by a ball or having another player run into you, can cause early labour and placental abruption. Sports to avoid after 12 weeks include:

  • Badminton

  • Squash

  • Netball

  • Basketball

  • Hockey

  • Soccer

  • Football

Exercise that Requires Good Balance

As your pregnancy advances, your centre of gravity shifts forward with the weight of a growing uterus. The shift in gravity can cause problems with balance.

Pregnant female standing in yoga pose in her lounge room

Unfortunately, many women don’t realise their sense of balance has changed almost overnight. The brain takes time to program itself to consider the additional weight out front, so trips and falls are most common in the second trimester. Staying physically active can help with balance. But avoid exercises and sports that could cause a fall if they require good balance such as:

  • Cycling (move to a stationary bike)

  • Ice Skating

  • Rollerblading

  • Exercise equipment that’s off the ground

Exercise Involving Jumping or Jerking

Jumping causes excessive stress to the cervix and body while pregnant, which can lead to bleeding, contractions and preterm labour. Jerky, bouncing movements are also not recommended as they can affect the uterus, ligaments and joints which are at risk due to increased levels of the relaxin hormone. Avoid the following exercises:  

  • Star Jumps

  • Skipping

  • Volleyball

  • Aerobics or fitness class with jumping

  • Weight lifting

  • Heavy hand weights

  • Horse riding

  • Skiing

  • Gymnastics

  • Boxing

Exercise at High and Low Altitudes

Going for a scuba dive or scaling a mountain are exercises you should avoid while pregnant. Scuba diving can lead to decompression sickness, which occurs when dangerous gas bubbles form in the baby’s body. Any exercise at high altitude can lower the amount of oxygen that reaches the baby. Save the following activities until after you have delivered your baby: 

  • Skydiving

  • Rock climbing

  • Scuba diving

Risky Yoga Poses

Yoga is an ideal exercise for pregnant women because it keeps you strong and flexible. However, there are some yoga positions that should be changed or avoided after the first trimester.

Lying on your back during the second half of your pregnancy isn’t ideal as the weight of the baby compresses the major blood vessels which can restrict blood circulation. Twisting along your midline and bending backwards can place too much pressure on your uterus. In later pregnancy, the size of your belly can make some poses difficult to do so you will want to modify some poses.

Some women choose a prenatal yoga class instead of a regular class while pregnant to ensure the teacher is experienced in pregnancy safe poses.

Close-up shot of pregnant woman meditating at a gym clas

Exercising In High Temperatures

If you’re pregnant during summer or in a tropical climate, be careful about doing exercise when it’s hot. Heat and exercise can be an added stress to a body that’s already working hard. You should be mindful of heat from the time you find out you’re expecting. The first trimester is the riskiest for overheating, as it can lead to birth defects and miscarriage. This is when the baby’s central nervous system and organs are developing, so you don’t want a sudden spike in your body temperature. 

Your body has to work harder to keep you cool so take precautions against overheating throughout your pregnancy as it can lead to heat stroke, heat exhaustion, Braxton Hicks, and fainting. Overheating symptoms include warm skin, headache, dizziness, muscle cramps and nausea.

Hot yoga is a risky exercise while pregnant because the vigorous poses in a heated room are unhealthy for you and your baby. Before you begin any exercise indoors, check that the temperature isn’t too hot and there’s enough air circulation.  

Also using a spa or sauna, even for a short time, can raise your body temperature.  Even backyard pools with a blanket can see the water temperature rise to the high 30s in the middle of summer. Try to take the blanket off well before you swim to allow the water temperature to fall.

If you like to exercise outside and it’s a warm day, try to schedule exercise into your morning before the heat of the day. If you prefer to wait until the sun has set and the temperature cooled, choose a well-lit area to avoid any trip hazards in the dark. Remember to keep sipping cool water throughout exercise.      

Signs You Should Stop All Exercise

While exercising, stay vigilant for any signs that your body is telling you to stop. The following symptoms tell you something may be wrong and to get it checked out by your doctor. 

  • Chest pain or a fast heartbeat

  • Excessive Fatigue

  • Breathlessness

  • Headache

  • Feeling dizzy or faint

  • Muscle weakness, pain or swelling in lower legs (signs of Deep Vein Thrombosis)

  • Contractions

  • Baby’s movements stop

  • Bleeding or leaking fluid

FAQs Pregnant Women Have About Exercise 

It’s understandable pregnant women have questions about exercise. They want to keep themselves healthy and provide the very best start to life for their baby. 

What is the safest exercise while pregnant? 

Low-impact exercise is best while pregnant, such as walking, swimming, low-impact aerobics, water aerobics, Pilates and yoga (safe poses).

Can I do squats while pregnant?

Squats are great for maintaining your posture and strength in the hips, core, glutes and pelvic floor muscles. You can perform squats using your bodyweight, with an exercise ball against a wall or chair squats. Speak to your doctor about doing deep squats, particularly in the last trimester. Remember, your balance won’t be as good as it was pre pregnancy, so use the lounge or a chair to help, if needed.

What exercises are safe in early pregnancy? 

Most forms of exercise are safe in early pregnancy when your bump is hardly showing. During the first trimester, most pregnant women can continue doing the exercise or sport they did pre-pregnancy. However, listen to your body. You don’t want to overdo it during your pregnancy. If you can’t carry on a conversation, reduce the intensity.

Can I do sit-ups while pregnant?

In the early stage of pregnancy, sit-ups are fine but aren’t recommended after 12 weeks for a couple of reasons. Sit-ups require you to spend some time on your back and the weight of the bump puts pressure on the intestines and major blood vessels which can cause a lack of blood flow. Full sit-ups, crunches and double leg lifts can pull on the abdomen, so it’s best to switch to planks which are still working your abdominals and back.    

Can jumping cause miscarriage in early pregnancy? 

In the second and third trimester of pregnancy, there’s a chance of miscarriage from jumping. But there’s no evidence that shows jumping causes miscarriage in the first trimester of pregnancy, so you can continue playing sport or exercising if you have a low-risk preganancy.

What stage should a pregnant woman stop exercising? 

This depends on the type of exercise a pregnant woman is doing. If it’s low-impact exercise like walking, a pregnant woman can continue right through until she gives birth. Some women find it too difficult to continue exercising in their last weeks of pregnancy because of the weight of their uterus, poor balance, aches and pains, low energy and difficulty breathing. Your body is probably telling you to put your feet up and enjoy a rest before your baby arrives!

If you have any concerns about whether your exercise regime is safe to do while pregnant, it’s best to ask your doctor or obstetrician.

When can I exercise again after the birth?

Speak to your doctor about when you can start exercising again. Some women who exercise during pregnancy and have a natural delivery will start exercising within days of the birth. Women who have a c-section or complications during birth are usually advised to wait several weeks to allow their bodies time to heal before resuming exercise. But most women are fine to begin after their six week check-up post birth. 

Just remember to start slow and if you experience any pain or problems while exercising, stop the activity and speak to your doctor before resuming.

Tammy George

Please note: Tammy's blog is general advice only. For further information on this topic please consult your healthcare professional.

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