When to be careful when exercising in pregnancy

For most women, being active in pregnancy is a good thing. In some cases, though, it’s best to talk to your doctor first.

If any of the situations listed below apply to you, it’s important to ask your doctor or midwife for advice about how active you should be during your pregnancy. They’ll also be able to tell you what kind of exercise is okay for you and your baby.

Exercise, pregnancy and…

…health problems

If you have any serious medical conditions or health problems, have a chat about being active during your pregnancy with your GP or specialist. Serious problems include heart or lung disease, epilepsy, diabetes that is not well controlled and anaemia.

…vaginal bleeding

If you have any bleeding from your vagina during your pregnancy, you should see your midwife or doctor as soon as possible. If you have had bleeding after 12 weeks of pregnancy, ask your doctor’s advice about how best to keep active.

…blood pressure problems

If you have problems with your blood pressure, talk to your midwife or doctor about whether you should stay active. It is likely to depend on the severity of your symptoms.

…premature birth

Studies have shown that exercise in itself is not a cause of preterm birth. However, if you have been told you are at risk of going into labour early, talk to your midwife or doctor about how much activity is safe for you and your baby.

…a low-lying placenta (placenta praevia)

Sometimes the placenta is positioned very low in the womb, at times covering part or all of the cervix. If you have a low-lying placenta you are likely to find out at your 20-week ultrasound scan.

In most cases the placenta moves upwards as the womb grows. For some women, however, the placenta may continue to lie in the lower part of the womb after 20 weeks. 

If this is the case for you, talk to your midwife or doctor about how much activity is safe for you and your baby. A placenta in this position is called placenta praevia and may mean you need to take extra care.

…cervical insufficiency (weak cervix or cervical weakness)

The cervix is the ‘neck’ of the womb. When a normal pregnancy reaches full term, the cervix begins to dilate (open) and efface (shorten) to allow the baby out.

Cervical insufficiency (or cervical weakness/incompetent cervix) is the term for when this happens early without labour or contractions in the second trimester. It can lead to your waters breaking and late miscarriage or premature birth.

If you have a weak cervix or have had a cervical stitch, talk to your doctor or midwife about staying active. You may be advised to cut down on exercise.

… symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD)

Some women develop pelvic pain in pregnancy. This is also sometimes called pelvic girdle pain (PGP).  If you have SPD/PGP the amount of exercise you will be able to do will depend on how severe it is and what you’re able to do without pain.

You should avoid activities that make the pain worse. If you enjoy swimming, you may find that you can continue with it but avoid the breast stroke as the kicking movement can make the pain worse.

You could also ask your midwife about wearing a pelvic support belt.

The Association for Chartered Physiotherapists in Women’s Health (ACPWH) advises that you stay as active as possible within your pain limits.

… and diabetes

If you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes or if you develop gestational diabetes, then you should take particular care when exercising.

You should have your blood glucose monitored, eat at regular times, take rest at specific times, and ensure that your baby is carefully monitored.

Keeping cool in pregnancy...

To avoid overheating:

  • Give the sauna and steam room a miss
  • Avoid exercising in very hot temperatures
  • Drink enough water or other fluids
  • Give yourself a few days to get used to the temperature if you’re spending time in a hot climate and you’re not used to it.

More about exercise in pregnancy

Last reviewed on February 1st, 2015. Next review date February 1st, 2018.

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