Is it Safe to Exercise in Pregnancy?

By Dr. Panchajanya Paul, MD

Pregnancy is a critical time for the mother and the family. Pregnant females are flooded with advice from friends, family, neighbors and even strangers. The media is full of information, and many of the advices are confusing and contradictory. On top of that, different cultures put different dietary and physical restrictions. Many Indian women are told by their mothers and in laws to restrict their movement during pregnancy. Many women stop doing all physical activities in the hope for a better pregnancy. Even those women exercise and lead a physically active life face the dilemma - whether to continue exercise in pregnancy or not. Many questions arise: "Is exercising safe in pregnancy? Can it hurt the baby? Can it hurt the mother? Yes! No! How long? How much? " All these questions can be perplexing. Similar queries are also faced by female athletes and those involved in any kind of physical labor. For many, the impending arrival of the baby changes life. When one is alone- life seems simple. You reap both the rewards and the risks of your lifestyle. However, the impending arrival of the baby changes the equation. The fetus while in the womb, draws all the nutrition from mother's blood, and any choice made by mother will impact it; either good or bad. Luckily, there is medical research to guide us in many questions during pregnancy. For example, it's a well-established that smoking and drinking alcohol are bad for the fetus.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has examined the question of exercise in pregnancy and has come up with a committee opinion which states that: "... Generally, participation in a wide range of recreational activities appears to be safe during pregnancy; however, each sport should be reviewed individually for its potential risk, and activities with a high risk of falling or those with a high risk of abdominal trauma should be avoided during pregnancy...In the absence of either medical or obstetric complications, 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise a day on most, if not all, days of the week is recommended for pregnant women."

Sagnika Mukherjee Paul- dance performance at her 6th month of pregnancy

Benefits of exercise to the mother: Medical science has also identified many health benefits to exercising pregnant women. Pregnancy poses unique demands and challenges to a women's mind and body. The body is bathed in pregnancy hormones which make physical and mental changes; and it requires time to get used to them. All the reserves that a woman began to accumulate since her first cycle are called to action to meet the increased demands for the mother and the baby. It appears that exercise may help in some of the commonly faced problems in pregnancy like low mood, increased stress, increased blood pressure, back pain, increased blood sugar, constipation, fatigue and insomnia. In addition, exercise also lowers the risk of complications during delivery and may improve the chance of a normal delivery. Many preventive programs encourage regular exercise in pregnancy to reduce the risk of gestational diabetes and caesarian section. Exercise also helps the body following delivery to come back to the pre-pregnant state.
Benefits of exercise to the Baby: Physical exercise is known to boost brain power, probably by increasing blood supply and oxygen to the brain. It also strengthens the heart & lungs, along with the bones & muscles. Studies are showing that when mom is exercising, the benefits of exercise are also transferred to the baby inside her womb. Babies born to pregnant mom who exercised during pregnancy may have higher IQ, and increased athletic potential. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine reported that children of moms who exercised during pregnancy scored higher on tests of language skills and intelligence at age 5 compared with the kids of sedentary moms. Another study showed that 20-year-olds who were exposed to exercise in utero performed better at sports than same age peers whose moms did not exercise during pregnancy. Some studies further suggest babies whose mothers exercised in pregnancy may have a lower risk of developing diabetes and obesity.

In summary, exercise in pregnancy has multiple benefits to both the mother and the baby. However, it should be dealt with caution, and precautions be taken. Don't try anything new and don't try to stretch beyond the pre-pregnancy limits. If you are not used to any particular exercise, pregnancy is not the time to start it. Listen to your body and never put too much stress to neither mind, nor the body. If you have recurrent miscarriages, then go easy with your body. The presence of any medical or obstetric condition may necessitate medical supervision and restricted activity. And always- when in doubt, consult your doctor. Those seeking further details may refer to the ACOG committee opinion:

The author acknowledges: Dr. Ankur Agrawal, MD, who practices Obstetrics & Gynecology in Roswell, New-Mexico, for sharing his expertise on the subject.


Dr. Panchajanya 'Panch' Paul, MD, ABIHM, ABPN, FAPA - is an American Board certified - Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychiatrist. He is a diplomat of the American Board of Integrative and Holistic Medicine, and a Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. He holds an adjunct faculty position at Emory University School of Medicine; University of Georgia, and University of Central Florida School of Medicine. Call 7704541252 or email to schedule an appointment with Dr.Paul at Georgia Behavioral Health Professionals. He is also the author of 2 books- Stress Rescue and Sleep Coaching available at Amazon.