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Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

How Much? How Often?

Exercise during pregnancy has many benefits, including reducing a woman's risk of complications such as gestational diabetes. Almost any form of exercise is safe when done with caution and not overdone. But many doctors advise against activities such as downhill skiing, rock climbing and other sports that could cause you to fall, hit your abdomen or otherwise injure yourself or your baby. Although swimming (in pools, lakes or the ocean) is safe, scuba diving should be avoided, as the bends (a condition caused by ascending too fast from diving depths) can cause special problems in pregnancy. It is unwise to start a new strenuous exercise routine during pregnancy. The sports and exercises you can do during pregnancy depend on your own health and, to some extent, on how active you were before you became pregnant.

There are a few conditions or complications of pregnancy in which exercise is generally not recommended.

  • Cervical incompetence
  • Preterm labor
  • Preterm rupture of the membranes

Bleeding, especially from a placenta previa (placenta covering the cervix) or placental abruption (separation of the placenta from the uterus), may also lead your doctor to recommend against exercise. High blood pressure that develops during pregnancy (toxemia or preeclampsia) may be treated with bed rest. Finally, some maternal conditions including some diseases of the heart and lungs may make exercise in pregnancy unwise. Your doctor or midwife can help you be sure that new or continued exercise is appropriate and will help select the best and safest forms of exercise.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists encourages sensible patterns of exercise during pregnancy. Following are some guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes on most, if not all, days of the week.
  • Avoid spurts of heavy exercise followed by many days of no activity.
  • Avoid exercise that requires lying on your back after your third month of pregnancy.
  • Avoid long periods of motionless standing.
  • Avoid brisk exercise in hot, humid weather or when you are sick with a fever.
  • If something doesn't feel right while exercising, don't do it.
  • Avoid jerky, bouncy or high-impact motions. Low-impact exercise is best.
  • Wear a bra that fits well and gives lots of support to help protect your breasts. You will likely have to buy larger cup sizes throughout your pregnancy.
  • Wear the proper shoes for the activity to be sure your feet are well cushioned and to give your body good support.
  • Be aware of your changing center of gravity.
  • Avoid deep knee bends, full sit-ups, double leg raises and straight-leg toe touches.
  • Always begin with five minutes of slow walking or stationary cycling with low resistance to warm your muscles.
  • Follow intense exercise with five to 10 minutes of gradually slower activity that ends with gentle stretching in place.
  • Don't exhaust yourself.
  • Get up from the floor slowly and gradually to avoid feeling dizzy or fainting. Once you are standing, walk in place briefly.
  • Drink water often & before, during and after exercise & to be sure your body gets enough fluid.
  • Increase the number of calories to meet the needs of your pregnancy (300 extra calories per day) and exercise program. You should not exercise to lose weight.
  • Stop exercising and consult your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms: pain, vaginal bleeding, dizziness or feeling faint, shortness of breath, irregular or rapid heart beat, difficulty walking, pain in your back or pubic area, or uterine contractions.

Of course, you will recognize that you will tire more easily and tolerate less exertion as your pregnancy progresses. The most important advice one can follow is to listen to your body. If running becomes too tiring, walk.

After delivery, your doctor will advise you when it is safe to return to your pre-pregnancy exercise routine. In general, exercise can be gradually resumed, starting at four to six weeks after delivery. However, some women may require longer periods of recovery.

Last updated July 1, 2009