Most pregnant women should be able to play some sports at some level throughout most of their pregnancy. Your doctor may advise you to avoid playing sports if you have a pregnancy-related medical condition like pre-eclampsia, or if you are carrying a high-risk pregnancy such as multiple fetuses. It is important to avoid getting overheated during pregnancy.
Pregnancy is a natural condition and unless you have complications, it should be possible to enjoy your sport at some level throughout most of your pregnancy.
Before you decide whether to continue playing your chosen sport throughout pregnancy, think about:
- Your health and the risk status of your pregnancy
- Your stage of pregnancy
- The type of sport you play
- The degree of exertion required during play
- The risk of overheating during play
- The risk of injury during play.
Your health and the risk status of your pregnancy
In some cases your doctor or obstetrician may advise you to avoid playing sports if you have a pregnancy-related medical condition like pre-eclampsia, or if you are carrying a high-risk pregnancy such as multiple fetuses. You may be asked to try low-impact exercises, such as walking or swimming, as alternatives.
Risks in playing sport during pregnancy
Generally, the baby is cushioned in the amniotic sac. However, a hard blow to your belly could damage the placenta and affect the baby’s blood and oxygen supply.
During the first trimester, the baby is small enough to be protected by your pelvic bones. As your pregnancy progresses, the growing baby is no longer shielded by your pelvis, which puts it at direct risk if you fall or heavily contact another player.
Changes during pregnancy
There are many changes during pregnancy that may affect your sporting performance:
- Increase in body weight – as your body shape changes, your centre of gravity moves forward, increasing the curvature of your spine. These changes can alter balance and coordination. The increase in body size can also make some activities uncomfortable (for example, jogging), particularly in the last trimester.
- Loosening of all ligaments – during pregnancy, your joints will gradually loosen up ready for birth. This creates an increased risk of injury. Take care with contact sports and any sport that involves jumping, frequent changes of direction and excessive stretching.
- Increase in resting heart rate – pregnancy increases your resting heart rate, so pre-pregnancy heart rate targets are not reliable. With a healthy pregnancy, you can monitor the intensity of exercise by your exertion symptoms. You should stop when you are tired. Don’t exercise until you’re exhausted.
- Decrease in blood pressure – as the placenta grows, you develop more blood vessels. This causes your blood pressure to drop. From about the fourth month, try to avoid rapid changes of position. This includes changing from lying to standing and vice versa. This will help to avoid dizzy spells. Never stop suddenly, because it takes your heart longer to adjust and a sudden stop in movement may make you feel dizzy or faint. After the fourth month, avoid any leg exercises while lying on your back, because the weight of the fetus can reduce the return of blood to your heart.
Type of sport and pregnancy
Whether or not it is safe for you to participate in sport during your pregnancy depends a lot on the type of sport you play. General recommendations include:
- Non-contact sport – this is any sport that doesn’t involve the possibility of contact with another player, such as swimming, walking and jogging. In most cases, it is safe for pregnant women to play non-contact sports during the entire pregnancy, as long as you consult closely with your doctor or obstetrician and don’t over-exert yourself.
- Minimal contact sports – this is sport that involves minimal contact, such as racquet sports and netball. These sports are considered safe during the first trimester (first three months) with the possibility of continuing into the second trimester depending on the circumstances (such as the level of competition, fitness of the mother and state of the pregnancy). Consult closely with your doctor or obstetrician if you wish to continue playing into your second trimester.
- Contact and collision sports – such as soccer and basketball, are considered safe only in the first trimester.
- Lifting and straining – exercises that involve straining, such as lifting heavy weights, are also potentially dangerous (particularly in the later stages of pregnancy) and are not recommended.
Sports to avoid during pregnancy
Some sports or activities should be avoided during pregnancy. They include:
- Scuba diving
- Water skiing
- Martial arts
The risk of overheating during play
It is important to avoid getting overheated during pregnancy. Avoid exercising in hot or humid weather and in areas with poor ventilation. General suggestions include:
- Don’t play sports on hot or humid days.
- Avoid playing sports when you are ill or have a fever.
- Make sure you drink plenty of water before, during and after sport.
- Wear lightweight clothing.
- Interchange with other players as often as possible so you get plenty of rest breaks.
The risk of injury during play
When you are pregnant, the changes going on in your body can make you more likely to injure yourself. For example:
- Hormones, such as relaxin, soften ligaments, which increases your risk of joint injuries.
- The extra weight places additional strain on joints and muscles.
- Your growing belly affects your balance by pushing your centre of gravity forward.
Benefits of exercise during pregnancy
There are numerous benefits for women who exercise during pregnancy. These include:
- Better weight control
- Improved mood
- Maintenance of fitness levels.
Pregnant women, sport and legal issues
It is illegal to discriminate against a woman who plays sport on the grounds of pregnancy or potential pregnancy. For example, a female athlete could have grounds to sue if she wasn’t selected for the team because of her pregnancy.
For further information on these complex legal issues, consult with your lawyer, the Australian Sports Commission or Sports Medicine Australia.
Danger signs when exercising during pregnancy
If you experience any of the following symptoms during or after exercise, you should stop and contact your doctor immediately:
- High heart rate
- Dizziness or faintness
- Bleeding or amniotic fluid leakage
- Shortness of breath
- Back or pelvic pain
- Decreased fetal movements
- Severe and rapid swelling of your face, hands or ankles.
Pre-exercise screening is used to identify people with medical conditions that may put them at a higher risk of a experiencing a health problem during physical activity. It is a filter or ‘safety net’ to help decide if the potential benefits of exercise outweigh the risks for you. Print a copy of the pre-exercise screening tool and discuss it with your doctor or exercise professional.
Where to get help
- Your doctor
- Women and Sport Unit, Australian Sports Commission Tel. (02) 6214 1809
- Sports Medicine Australia Tel. (03) 9674 8777
Things to remember
- Pregnancy is a natural condition rather than an illness. Unless you have complications, it should be possible to enjoy your sport at some level throughout most of your pregnancy.
- It is important to discuss the issues with your doctor and sporting organisation before you make a decision.
- If you have a medical condition such as pre-eclampsia, or if you are carrying a high-risk pregnancy such as multiple fetuses, your doctor may advise you to avoid playing sports altogether.
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Last reviewed: December 2013
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