University of Iowa Health Science Relations and
Dan Fick, MD
Associate Professor of Family Medicine
First Published: November 2000
Last Revised: September 2003
Peer Review Status: Internally Peer Reviewed
Sherri enjoys working out at her local fitness club, but now that
she is pregnant, she wonders if she should continue the
high-intensity workouts she prefers. She also wonders if she's
exercising too much, and whether exercising will make labor easier.
Exercise is healthy for most expectant mothers, says Dr. Daniel
Fick, associate clinical professor of family practice at the
University of Iowa College of Medicine. But, he cautions, it has not
been proven that exercising during pregnancy will result in an easier
"Before you begin any exercise program, whether or not you're
pregnant, check with your physician. Regular exercise can improve
your sense of well-being, and it will help you get back into shape
following pregnancy. But you shouldn't rely on exercise to make labor
easier," Fick says. Exercise can, however, help your heart and
breathing during the labor process, he adds.
Fick suggests that if a pregnant woman has the flu or a cold, she
should refrain from exercising until she is well. "Certainly a woman
with a chronic condition, such as diabetes, should discuss her
exercise program with her physician, before beginning the program."
Pregnant women should not become overheated and should dress
appropriately for the weather if exercising outdoors. Fick also
suggests the following for women who wish to exercise while pregnant:
- Never exercise to fatigue or exhaustion. Don't begin strenuous
activities during pregnancy.
- Drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious meals.
- Be cautious with activities that might cause trauma to the abdomen, such
as contact sports and some ball sports.
- Avoid activities--like bicycling--that require a sense of
balance. "Your entire sense of balance changes during pregnancy,"
- Avoid doing exercises that entail lying on your back,
especially during the last trimester of pregnancy. The weight of
the baby presses on blood vessels in the mother's abdomen, causing
discomfort and decreases blood flow.
- If you can carry on a conversation while exercising and not
become winded, you are exercising at the appropriate level, he
says. "You don't want to put yourself or your baby at risk during
Following the birth of the baby, it will take time for your body
to return to its previous form, he adds. "The abdominal area is made
of connective tissues in addition to abdominal muscles that have been
stretched by the baby. Getting your abdominal shape and strength back
will take some time," he explains.
Women who nurse their babies and continue to exercise following
birth may want to consider wearing a sports bra that offers good
support, Fick says. During pregnancy and nursing, breast size
increases and exercising can become uncomfortable without proper
If you have questions about exercising while pregnant, talk with