Exercise in the Perinatal Period

In the perinatal period we may be prone to higher-than-normal levels of anxiety and depression. This can change how we feel about ourselves and lead to agitation, feeling stuck in brain fog, low motivation, and difficulty planning forward. This can make taking care of our bodies difficult. 

If we can manage to get even a little more exercise, it can significantly alter our mental state by improving the quality of our sleep, increasing our mood/serotonin levels, and boosting motivation and self-esteem. 

Exercise during pregnancy 

pregnant jogging

In the past, exercise during pregnancy was met with an attitude of caution. 

Clinical research has now now updated the way we think, showing that exercise during pregnancy is both safe and beneficial, and can significantly increase health outcomes for mum and bub. In fact, spending too much time standing or sitting in the same position is considered a higher risk activity. 

Research shows that being active during pregnancy creates a significant reduction in the odds of developing gestational diabetes, hypertension, and maternal depression, lower back pain/ pelvic pain and incontinence, among others, and these benefits exist without an increased risk of preterm delivery or miscarriage. 

Australian guidelines suggest that if you and your baby are healthy, you can aim for up to 5 hours of moderate intensity, and up to 2.5 hours of vigorous intensity physical activity per week, as well as light resistance training twice a week.This could include brisk walking, stationary cycling, swimming, dancing, etc. 

As your pregnancy progresses, you might want to avoid activities that have a high risk of falling or collision or require heavy lifting. As always, stay well hydrated and avoid any activity that gives you pain or discomfort. If your pregnancy involves complications, seek advice from your health professional. 

Exercise after birth 

After birth, a gradual return to your pre-pregnancy activity levels is generally safe after your postnatal health check at 6 weeks, but depends on your personal situation. Always discuss any doubts with your health professional. 

So, we know moving our bodies more through the day, and avoiding long periods of sitting or standing still, is generally the best thing for us. The challenge is how do we make room for exercise, around attending to other’s needs, or how do we get out of our anxious depressive funk to make it happen? 

A few tips to help you break through inertia: 

pregnant woman underwater view

  1. Start small. Even 5 or 10 minutes of exercise will boost your mood and give your body a taste of those natural mood boosting endorphins, so you begin to crave more. 
  2. Set simple easy to achieve goals to begin with. For you that might mean starting with a gentle stretch on your living room floor while watching a show, a yoga class or an online guided meditation. 
  3. It might progress to a quick walk around the block between chores to give you that fresh air and perspective your brain craves. 
  4. Choose activities that come naturally to you and don’t seem like a chore. 
  5. Include a friend if you can, meet them for a coffee/ walk. Combining exercise with social connection can save time and keep you on track with fitness goals. 
  6. Plan ahead if possible. Things will always come up, but if you have it booked in your daily schedule, exercise is more likely to happen. Choose a time of day where your energy is at its highest.  
  7. Think about how you can incorporate exercise with your baby, for example a pram walking group, find a gym with a creche, mum and bubs yoga, aqua classes, etc.  
  8. Make your exercise goals achievable and enjoyable. Be patient with yourself, your goals will depend on your personal situation, your birth recovery and your base level of fitness. 


If you’ve worried about the function of your pelvic floor after birth, and the impact of exercise, it’s worth finding a physiotherapist to guide you with strengthening exercises and consulting with your doctor before any strenuous exercise. 

Further information: 



The Pelvic Health Podcast, with guest Dr Margie Davenport. 


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