Article updated on Novembre 2020
This article was written in collaboration with Catherine Germain from Bouger Pour Ma Santé.
Many active mothers can find pregnancy a bit long given that the sports they played before becoming pregnant are now too dangerous for their condition. You should get valuable information about the topic during your prenatal preparation (doctor, nurse, books, prenatal classes, videos) to prevent risks and complications.
There are myths surrounding pregnancy and physical exercise. For example, playing sports increases the risk of miscarriage. Women who have jogged for months or years should stop during pregnancy. Women who are having twins or triplets should not exercise. A new mother who plays sports can see a significant reduction in her milk production. Or you can’t exercise on your back when pregnant. As you can see, we hear all sorts of things, but much of it isn’t true.
In fact, high-intensity team sports and/or sports that can lead to falls or hits to the stomach, such as basketball, hockey, soccer or tennis, should be avoided. I would also add gymnastics, scuba diving, high altitude activities, alpine skiing, skating and mountain biking to the list.
All women who have no pregnancy problem are encouraged to stay active throughout gestation.
Women who have some contraindications to exercise should discuss the advantages and disadvantages of moderate to more intense physical activity with their doctor, depending on their situation.
For those who have absolute contraindications, they can continue with their daily activities, but nothing more.
The contraindications for exercising during pregnancy are:
- repeated miscarriage
- previous premature delivery
- pregnancy hypertension
- pregnancy of twins after 28 weeks
- other possible health problems
Absolute contraindications to exercises during pregnancy are:
- broken membranes
- premature labor
- persistent and unexplained vaginal bleeding
- a placenta previa after 28 weeks of pregnancy
- insufficiency of the cervix
- a pregnancy of triplets and more
- a serious or respiratory cardiac disorder
- or any other particular health problems
If all goes well for you with no restrictions, know that you can meet a kinesiologist. They specialise in exercises that use safe movements and activities which are adapted to and useful for pregnant women. Many programs are offered and varied, and regular sessions will allow you to reach your goals and enjoy your workout.
Official recommendations suggest cardiorespiratory activities mixed with muscle exercises and exercises to improve flexibility throughout pregnancy.
Unless otherwise indicated, as a general rule, pregnant women should do average intensity cardiorespiratory exercises 3-4 times a week for at least 30 minutes per session. Then again, 15 minutes is better than none. It is never too late to start exercising during pregnancy. Women who are more inactive will usually need to take it gradually, increasing the intensity and duration, depending on their tolerance over time.
Here are the healthy guidelines for physical activity during pregnancy without contraindications from the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada (SOGC) and the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP):
- Do 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity each week,
- Physical activity should be spread over at least 3 days and daily activity is encouraged,
- Various aerobic and muscular activities should be practiced by the pregnant woman such as yoga and stretching,
- Do not forget the pelvic floor training (ex: Kegel exercises),
- Pregnant women should stop physical activity if they have:
– Excessive shortness of breath that does not go away with rest
– Severe chest pain
– Regular and painful uterine contractions
– Vaginal bleeding
– Persistent fluid loss which may indicate rupture of the water bag
– Persistent dizziness or weakness that does not go away with rest
Ideally, muscle exercises and stretching should complete your workout to get the best benefits possible. Abdominal exercises should be adapted to your condition to avoid severe diastasis (spreading of the muscles), especially after the first trimester. This can lead to severe back pain. Never do sit-ups. You should work on the stomach’s transversal muscles and the pelvic floor.
Official recommendations suggest cardiorespiratory activities mixed with muscle exercises and exercises to improve flexibility throughout pregnancy, but with lower frequency and intensity in the last weeks. You have to breathe normally during the muscle exercises and avoid holding your breath to prevent increasing blood pressure. This can harm pregnant women. During prenatal meetings I hold one-on-one, or in my online videos, I always tell you this so you can prepare for childbirth. After that, listen to your body!
Here are a few exercises that are generally safe for pregnant women: walking, swimming (pool exercises), dancing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, adapted workouts, golf (while modifying the rotation technique over time due to your growing stomach). Yoga, Pilates and tai-chi are also safe as long as the teacher is aware of the specificities of pregnant women and suggests proper exercises.
Voila! This quick overview of possible exercises and risks during pregnancy should help guide you in your choices when preparing for Childbirth. Don’t forget, for most people; there are more risks doing nothing than remaining active throughout your pregnancy. Get active, and you’ll see – postnatal recovery will be much easier!
Watch these videos:
- The Pelvic Floor (in french)
- Aqua-form and Pregnancy (in french)
- Massages for Pregnant Women (in french)
I also wrote an article about exercises and pregnancy.
The Baby Expert
Kinesiologist and founder
Bouger pour ma santé