Pre-Natal Exercise – growing with your bump!


Pre-Natal Exercise – growing with your bump!


You’ve finally edged past the nausea of the first trimester, and your energy is starting to crawl back into your life. As you begin to feel better, the question is: What can you safely do for exercise? Pregnancy can feel like a confusing assault of do’s and don’ts, and exercise is no different. To make things easier, here are some simple, standard guidelines that are approved by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada (SOGC) for women with uncomplicated pregnancies:

  • Try to maintain good overall health and fitness without training for peak performance or competition; activities should include both aerobic and strength-conditioning exercises
  • Choose activities that minimize the risk of falls or lost balance, such as skiing, horse-back riding or any activities with sudden changes in direction
  • Practice pelvic floor exercises to ease labouring efforts and minimize the risk of incontinence


What to Do?

So what does this mean for the mama-to-be? It means that exercise in moderation, when done in a safe environment, is an excellent healthy lifestyle activity! Pregnancy is a time to focus on maintaining healthy habits and preventing discomfort as your body shifts, grows and prepares for the birth of your baby. As your body moves through these changes, it is important to modify the style and intensity your fitness routine to accommodate your new size, posture and shape.

Walking is hands-down the best activity for expectant moms. Not only is it inexpensive, it’s what our bodies were designed to do! It provides low-impact, full-body movement that strengthens nearly every muscle group and provides vital aerobic conditioning (cardio) as your body adjusts to your ever-growing baby. It is also convenient: no need for an expensive gym membership or treadmill. Just slip on some shoes and head outdoors for a calm escape at any time of the day!

If you feel like you need to work a little harder, keep this in mind: on a scale of 1-20, your perceived exertion should fall between 12-14. That means feeling somewhere between “fairly light” and “somewhat hard”. Any more than that can be considered too strenuous and have adverse effects on your health. If you cannot carry on a conversation, then your intensity is too high! Additionally, you should avoid exercises that place you laying on your back after 12 weeks gestation: for many women, this puts pressure on their inferior vena cava and can lead to dizziness and shortness of breath. You should also be sure to stop immediately if you feel any shortness of breath, contractions, vaginal bleeding or leaking of abdominal fluid and seek advice from your healthcare practitioner.

Pelvic floor conditioning is a concept that is foreign to most people, regardless of pregnancy or even gender! Your pelvic floor is the hammock of muscles that lines the inside of your pelvis. It helps to stabilize the pelvis, and thus the entire spine, lower body and ribcage! Much like the arches of your feet, your pelvic floor becomes more and more collapsed with the added weight and pressure of your growing baby until it can no longer function properly. That is when you notice that dreaded pee accident when you sneeze! A strong pelvic floor will not only aid in labour and delivery, but it will prevent incontinence in the postpartum period and beyond.

Many women are often told to “squeeze” when we do those dreaded Kegels, but this can be very ineffective for such an important muscle group. Instead, the next time you are sitting up tall in a chair, think of lifting your pelvic floor off the seat of the floor, like an elevator rising up towards your baby. It is a much different sensation than squeezing, and a much more effective exercise when you consider that your pelvic floor is being pressed down on with increasing weight and pressure for 9 months. Practice holding that pelvic floor lift for 1 second at a time, then 5 seconds, and eventually 10 or more! It is the most important muscle you will ever train.

What about prenatal fitness classes?

In the past 5 years, dozens of prenatal classes have popped up across Canada in response to our growing population. Unfortunately, not all classes are created equal. When choosing a class, be sure to ask the instructor about their background. A good instructor will combine education and experience working with many prenatal and postnatal clients. Look for someone with a minimum 2-year post-secondary education in health and fitness, as well as national/provincial affiliations such as CSEP (the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology). Additionally, they should hold continuing education certifications in prenatal fitness, have worked with many pregnant and postpartum women, and have a sound understanding of the anatomical and physiological changes that occur during pregnancy.

The pre- and postnatal body is very malleable and deserves specialized attention. Don’t be swayed by instructors with experience only – treat your health and physical wellness the same as any other aspect of your health and expect proper experience and accreditation from your providers. You will go a long way in preventing injury and discomfort now and in the future by ensuring that you have a quality instructor who is educated and trained to work with you during this important stage in your life! Don’t be afraid to ask for the best.


Regardless of what you do for exercise during pregnancy, remember this: pregnancy is a time to change and grow. Keep health as your focus, not performance. Enjoy the changes you are experiencing on a daily basis and take time to marvel at the wonders your physical body is capable of!



SOGC Pregnancy Exercise Guidelines:

Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology:


Meaghan Dickert, CSEP-CPT, is a prenatal and postnatal fitness specialist and a bit of a pelvic floor nerd. She provides independent counseling on pelvic floor and core reconditioning for new moms in the Edmonton area and online. You can reach her any time by emailing, and she will be happy to answer your questions!


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