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Pregnancy exercise dos and don’ts

Pregnant woman preparing to exerciseKeeping fit and healthy while you are pregnant is important.

If you already exercised before falling pregnant, you are generally safe to continue your routine, with some modifications as you progress through your pregnancy.

You should consult your doctor when you fall pregnant as to what exercises are OK for you to do.

Here are some dos and don’ts of pregnancy exercise for you to keep in mind when exercising through your pregnancy trimesters.

Pregnancy exercise dos and don’ts

What you should DO:

  • Maintain regular exercise—20-30 minutes a day, three times a week. Each pregnancy is different and pregnancy is a time of constant change, so remember to modify your routine to suit your changing body.
  • Rest when you can—the first trimester can be a very tiring time for a mum-to-be, as a lot of your energy is used for your body changes and baby development. If you don’t feel like exercising, take your body’s hint and have a rest day.
  • Keep cool—your core body temperature needs to stay at a normal range, especially in the first trimester, otherwise it can affect your baby’s development.
  • Wear comfy, supportive shoes! Your balance will be changing (getting worse) and being comfortable is a luxury you might not have for much of your pregnancy.
  • Reassess your exercise routine as you progress through the trimesters—your capabilities will change as your move through each trimester, so make sure you do exercises that are right for your body at those times.
  • Wear a good supportive cotton bra while exercising to prevent overstretching and injury to the breast tissue and ligaments.
  • Maintain a nutritious food intake (have an extra 1200 to 2000 kilojoules, or 500 calories, per day) and keep well hydrated (you should be drinking at least 2 litres of water a day).
  • Maintain your pelvic floor work that your physio, doctor or midwife has shown you.
  • Keep an eye on your exertion rate and slow down when you’re feeling out of breath and unable to talk. Take the talk test. During moderate intensity exercise (good)—you can talk but can’t sing. During vigorous intensity exercise (avoid) you find it hard to talk. Read up on the rate of perceived exertion (RPE).

Exercises to go for:

  • Walking—this has to be the easiest form of exercise you can do. You can integrate a walk in with your daily routine—walk to the shops, walk to the park with any older kids, walk anywhere you need to go! Just get a good pair of walking shoes to support your feet.
  • Light weights—strengthening your muscles is a good idea, as you will need to be strong for when your bump gets bigger and it takes more effort to get around, and also for when the baby is born— you’ll be doing lots of carrying, holding, and picking up/putting down that you’ll need strength for!
  • Pilates and yoga are great for keeping fit and flexible. Just keep in mind that your body changes a lot during pregnancy, so certain moves and exercises may not be suitable for you.
  • Cycling. Keeping up aerobic fitness is always important, pregnant or not, but cycling is good for pregnancy because it works your aerobic fitness without causing high impact on your joints. You can do this on a stationary bike at the gym, or moving on a bicycle—just be wary of falling off a moving bike.
  • Swimming is another low-impact, high-aerobic exercise that is great for pregnancy. It may be best to avoid breaststroke though, as your pelvis loosens when you’re pregnant and can make the movements hard. Freestyle is probably best.
  • Aqua-fitness. Exercises classes in the water are great for pregnancy too. You get the added bonus of water resistance to get you stronger, as well as taking some of your weight away by being in the water. It’ll keep you cool too!

What you should NOT DO:

  • Exercise in hot, humid environments—especially during the first trimester as this is the time of greatest risk to the developing baby. It is best to avoid saunas and steam baths as these increase your core body temperature and can affect your unborn baby.
  • Exercises that involve lying on your back after the first trimester (after 13 weeks). This can limit the blood flow to your baby and lower body.
  • Avoid strain like lifting heavy objects. Or if you absolutely MUST lift things (like a toddler), brace your deep abdominal muscles and make sure you don’t hold your breath.
  • Reduce the time you are wearing high heels! Not only will they become increasingly uncomfortable, they can cut off blood flow to your (swelling) feet, aggravate back pain, and your centre of gravity will change so you may not be able to walk so well.

Exercises to avoid:

  • Exercises or sports that falling down is a risk eg. horse riding, skiing, rock climbing.
  • Your abdominal muscles are designed to stretch through pregnancy to support your growing bump. Conventional abdominal workouts, like crunches, may not be suitable. Consult your physiotherapist or exercise professional on the best alternatives to maintain abdominal muscle strength.
  • Deep, wide squats, lunges, jumping, or activities where you need to change direction quickly. Due to hormonal changes in your body and the extra pressure on your pelvis, these types of exercises may cause strain or injury. So just go gently and slowly.
  • Sports or exercises where you are at risk of being hit in the stomach.
  • Scuba diving or sky diving
  • Exercises or sports where you might be hit eg. hockey, cricket
  • Contact or collision sports—such as soccer or martial arts
READ: Check out our Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy Exercise for everything you need to know.

Things to look out for while exercising

  • In your pregnancy, your blood sugar levels can change rapidly and some women can feel lightheaded and faint. Eat low glycaemic carbohydrates about an hour or two before you exercise e.g. an apple, or a banana. If you feel faint or dizzy, slow down or stop exercising and reach for a carbohydrate snack.
  • Warm up and cool down slowly—this is key to making sure your muscles don’t ache after your exercise.
  • Stretch gently—you’re more flexible in some areas than normal, so don’t overdo it

You should stop exercising and consult your doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • Vaginal spotting or bleeding
  • Joint pain
  • Headache, blurred vision or visual changes
  • Dizziness
  • Faintness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Breathlessness
  • Low backache
  • Sudden escape of fluid from the vagina
  • Changes in baby’s movements

– this article was collated with information from Monica Rich

The content in this article should be used as a guide only. If you experience any health-related concerns you should contact your local healthcare provider or nearest emergency department.

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