Female Forum

Assistant Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Neurology Washington University School of Medicine

The Pregnant Athlete
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The Pregnant Athlete

Can I continue to participate in sports while I’m pregnant?
Most healthy women with an uncomplicated pregnancy are encouraged to stay physically active during pregnancy. Studies have shown that women who exercise regularly during pregnancy have shorter labor, fewer cesarean sections and less fetal distress. Most importantly, women report an overall feeling of well being compared to those that do not exercise regularly.

A study of elite athletes who continued their sport and work outs while pregnant found no increased risk of complications and concluded that it was safe for fit, well-conditioned women who have been training at a high level prior to pregnancy to continue to exercise at a high level during pregnancy as long as the pregnancy is uncomplicated.

Pregnancy is not the time to seek a new level of fitness. Instead, maintenance of pre-conception activity level is recommended.

How hard can I train?
Among the many physiologic changes that occur in pregnancy is the increase in blood volume, increase in cardiac output and decreased resistance to blood flow. These adaptations ensure the fetus receives adequate blood supply and oxygenation during exercise.

The optimal level of training is very dependent on the mother’s pre-conception fitness level. It is important to listen to cues from your body and not push yourself to exhaustion. Maintaining proper hydration and controlling your body temperature are important factors to safe workouts. Adequate caloric intake is essential. A typical pregnancy requires 300 more calories a day. This number should increase depending on the intensity and duration of workouts to guard against a negative caloric balance. As your pregnancy progresses, your level of energy and reserves will slowly decline and altering training accordingly is necessary.


Will I be at increased risk for injury?
Studies have shown no increased risk of injury or complications in women who exercise and in fact show a decrease. Biomechanically, pregnancy changes a women’s center of gravity and decreases their core stability. These changes along with the effects of hormones that relax ligaments can put pregnant women at increased risk of back problems including sacroiliac joint dysfunction and sciatica, ACL injuries, and ankle sprains. Exercising can counteract that risk.

Pregnant and lactating women are encouraged to increase their intake of calcium and vitamin D to guard against a decrease in bone mineral density during pregnancy which could put them at risk for a fracture or stress fracture. The current recommendation for calcium intake is 1500mg of calcium a day and 800IU of vitamin D a day.

Will exercise cause contractions?
Exercise has the potential to cause uterine contractions or preterm labor in women at risk for this complication. Most studies show that in the majority of healthy pregnant women without additional risk factors for preterm labor, exercise does not increase either baseline uterine contractions or the incidence of preterm labor or delivery.

Exercise in an uncomplicated pregnancy is safe and holds many benefits for the expectant mother without any known risks. Consulting your obstetrician early in your pregnancy regarding continuing or initiating an exercise program is highly recommended.