Physical activity for Pregnancy

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Just yesterday (October 18, 2018), new Canadian guidelines were released regarding physical activity throughout pregnancy. The main details are presented below in Q and A format.

Who put together the guidelines?

  • The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology - the leading organization of exercise scientists in Canada.

  • The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada.

  • University of Western Ontario

  • Universite du Quebec a Trois-Rivieres

  • University of Alberta

Is physical activity important for pregnancy?

“Physical activity is now seen as a critical part of a healthy pregnancy.”

“Prenatal physical activity should be considered a front-line therapy for reducing the risk of pregnancy complications, and enhancing maternal physical and mental health.”

How can physical activity potentially help with pregnancy?

It can reduce the risk of:

  • pregnancy-related depression by 25%

  • gestational diabetes

  • high blood pressure

  • preeclampsia by 40%

  • newborn complications

  • caesarean sections

  • instrumental delivery

  • urinary incontinence

  • excessive gestational weight gain

How much physical activity is recommended?

  • At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week

  • Minimum 3 days per week

  • Daily physical activity is encouraged

  • Incorporate a variety of aerobic and resistance training activities

  • Pelvic floor exercises reduce risk of urinary incontinence (inability to control urination)

  • If you get lightheaded, nauseous or feel unwell when exercising flat on the ground. should avoid the supine position.

There may be periods when following the guidelines are not possible due to fatigue and/or discomforts of pregnancy; women are encouraged to do what they can and to return to following the recommendations when they are able.

Are there misconceptions about the dangers of physical activity?

“Physical activity is not associated with miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death, preterm birth, preterm/prelabour rupture of membranes, neonatal hypoglycemia, low birth weight, birth defects, induction of labour, or birth complications.”

However, evidence was not identified regarding the safety or additional benefit of exercising at levels significantly above the recommendations.

Absolute contraindications

People with the following conditions should absolutely not perform exercise:

  • premature labour

  • preeclampsia

  • placenta previa after 28 wks gestation

  • ruptured membranes

  • unexplained persistent vaginal bleeding

  • intrauterine growth restriction

  • high-order multiple pregnancy (eg. triplets)

  • incompetent cervix

  • uncontrolled type 1 diabetes

  • uncontrolled hypertension

  • uncontrolled thyroid disease

  • other serious cardiovascular, respiratory or systemic disorder

Relative contraindications

People with the following conditions should consult with their obstetric care provider prior to participation in physical activity:

  • recurrent pregnancy loss

  • gestational hypertension

  • a history of spontaneous preterm birth

  • mild/moderate cardiovascular or respiratory disease

  • symptomatic anemia

  • malnutrition

  • eating disorder

  • twin pregnancy after the 28th week

  • other significant medical condition

Conclusion

It seems that physical activity is beneficial and safe for pregnancy. However, it is important to consult with your health care provider before engaging in physical activity.

To read the full guidelines, click here

George Cho