Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 1998;57(8):1857

See related article on exercise during pregnancy.

Is it safe for me to exercise during pregnancy?

It's probably safe, but you should check with your doctor first. Although some questions have been asked about the effects of exercise on pregnant women, there is no proof that gentle exercise has any bad effects on pregnancy. Studies haven't shown any benefits for the baby, but gentle exercise might help you feel better. If you have no serious medical problems and you have an uncomplicated pregnancy, it's probably safe for you to do some exercising.

How should I start an exercise program?

It's best to check with your doctor before starting any exercise program. You may have a medical condition that would make exercise harmful to you or your baby. If your doctor approves, you can start exercising at a level that does not cause pain, shortness of breath or excessive tiredness. You may then increase your activity slowly. If you feel uncomfortable, short of breath or very tired, you should reduce your exercise level. If you have been exercising already, it's easier to keep exercising during a pregnancy. If you haven't exercised before, you need to start very slowly. Many women find that they need to slow down their level of exercise. This is common.

What types of exercise are best?

The most comfortable exercises are those that don't require your body to bear extra weight. Swimming and stationary cycling can easily be continued throughout pregnancy. Walking and low-impact aerobics are well tolerated. Running appears to be safe, but many women become uncomfortable and have to decrease or stop running in the later stages of pregnancy.

What should I be careful about?

Be careful to avoid activities that increase your risk of falls or injury, such as contact sports or vigorous racquet sports. Even mild injuries to the “tummy” area can be serious when you're pregnant. After the first three months of pregnancy, it's best to avoid exercising while lying on your back, since the weight of the baby may interfere with proper blood circulation. Long periods of standing should also be avoided.

When the weather is hot, exercise in the early morning or late evening to help you avoid getting too hot. If you're exercising indoors, make sure the room has enough ventilation. Consider using a fan to help keep yourself cool. Drink plenty of fluids even if you don't feel thirsty.

Also, make sure that you're eating a well-balanced diet. Normally, pregnancy increases your food requirements by 300 calories a day, even without exercise.

What problems should I tell my doctor about?

Tell your doctor right away if you have any sudden or severe abdominal pain, or vaginal bleeding or spotting, or if you're having contractions that go on for more than 30 minutes after you have stopped exercising. You should also stop exercising and seek medical care if you have chest pain or severe shortness of breath.

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