Being fit and healthy during pregnancy is important and of enormous benefit to you and your baby.
So what are the benefits of exercising when you’re pregnant? How much exercise should you do? And are there any exercises you should avoid while pregnant?
In general, you can continue with whatever exercise you did before you fell pregnant (with some exceptions, listed below) and with some modifications as you progress through your pregnancy.
We’ve compiled this ultimate guide to exercising while pregnant but you should always consult your health care provider for tips on what is right for your specific situation.
Benefits of exercising while pregnant
There are many benefits to exercising while pregnant, and it is important to keep fit and active during your pregnancy. Here are some ways exercise helps you:
- improves energy
- boosts endorphin levels (helps you feel good!)
- prepares you for the demands of labour and birth
- strengthens back and core so you can support your changing body
- improves your sleep
- gives you the energy to deal with the demands of life with a newborn.
When shouldn’t you exercise in pregnancy?
The majority of women will be fine to exercise throughout their pregnancy – but there are a few conditions and reasons to limit exercise or cut it out altogether.
It is advised you don’t exercise if you have:
- heart disease that affects the way blood travels around your body, such as abnormally high blood pressure (pulmonary hypertension)
- lung disease, such as severe asthma or chronic bronchitis
- cervical cerclage/cervical weakness
- a risk for preterm labour, such as a multiple pregnancy or previous premmie baby
- any bleeding
- placenta previa (low-lying placenta)
- pre-eclampsia, and other syndromes that affect your blood pressure
- low iron
Being very overweight, underweight, or a heavy smoker can also affect how you exercise during your pregnancy. It is vitally important that you seek advice from your health care practitioner before you start/continue to exercise while pregnant.
Dos and don’ts of pregnancy exercise
There are some dos and some don’ts to keep in mind when you’re exercising while pregnant. Always be guided by your pre-pregnancy exercise ability and fitness levels and always consult with your health care provider.
If you were running, cycling or swimming before pregnancy then you, generally, can continue doing so. If you were doing light weight training (submaximal) to strengthen muscles you should be able to continue.
However, there are some sports that you should NOT continue doing while pregnant as they pose a direct risk to your child.
The following are considered unsafe while pregnant:
- Scuba diving or sky diving
- Contact and collision sports such as soccer, martial arts
- Sports with hard balls or sticks such as hockey or cricket
- Sports where a fall could be a consequence – e.g. horse riding, rock climbing, skiing
- Sports where you need to balance — water skiing, gymnastics
If you are a bit of a sports pro, you might want to read more in-depth information on the Sports Medicine Australia website.
If you did very little exercise before you were pregnant then try to introduce some into your life — you’ll reap the benefits now and forever. But you must talk to your health care provider first and start slowly.
Here are some good exercises to start with:
- low-impact aerobics
- swimming and aqua-aerobics
Precautions and advice for exercise:
- Avoid sit-ups or crunches
- Avoid over-heating – try not to exercise in the heat of the day and stay well-hydrated
- Wear a supportive bra
- Do not exercise on your back for long (specifically in the later stages of pregnancy)
- Watch your posture – always maintain correct form and posture during exercise
- Avoid heavy weights, especially if you’re not used to them and if you don’t know proper lifting techniques.
- Avoid excessive bouncing – eg. star jumps, high-impact aerobics,
- Avoid excessive breaststroke while swimming at the end of your pregnancy – this puts stress on the pelvic joints
- Stop any exercise which causes unusual pain – pain that could indicate a complication of pregnancy.
Exercise, and how your body changes in pregnancy
Your body goes through a huge number of changes when you fall pregnant, and it is important to remember you can’t always do same things as you would normally do while exercising.
Among other things, your joints and ligaments are more sensitive to stress, and your balance changes as your size and shape change. Your heart rate and blood pressure also change somewhat, so this should always be in your mind while exercising.
Pregnancy exercise – a trimester guide
While your body is changing, your exercise routine should reflect that. There are different things happening in your different trimesters, and this will affect what exercises you’re able to do in each trimester.
For example, your morning sickness and fatigue in the first trimester can make it hard to work up the energy to exercise, and your bigger bump and more weight to carry can affect the types of exercise you can do in the second and third trimesters.
The importance of pelvic floor exercises
The muscles of the pelvic floor are extremely important for the support of the internal organs as well as bladder and bowel function. The muscles can become strained and weakened during pregnancy and childbirth, leading to pelvic floor dysfunction and continence problems (amongst others). It is recommended you include pelvic floor exercises in your routine.
When to stop exercise
Stop exercise immediately and seek medical advice if any of the following is experienced during or after exercise:
- Elevated heart rate (outside of the norm)
- Uterine contractions
- Vaginal bleeding
- Amniotic fluid leakage
- Nausea or vomiting
- Shortness of breath (outside of the norm)
- Back or pelvic pain
- Decreased foetal movements
- Sudden swelling of ankles, hands and face
Pregnancy exercise classes
As your pregnancy progresses, it can be more fun, and safer, to go to lessons specifically for pregnant women. Classes can be very sociable and allow you to share experiences with others in similar circumstances.
Good pregnancy exercise classes concentrate on instructing in good posture to help prevent back pain and other common pregnancy complaints. Most classes will incorporate pelvic floor exercises. Some classes are straightforward exercise classes while others incorporate antenatal education too, including breathing exercises and tips for labour and birth. Some maternity hospitals also offer pregnancy exercise classes for their maternity patients only – please ask at your maternity facility about the availability of classes.
So get in contact with your health care provider, set up an exercise routine that’s best for you, and keep fit while you’re pregnant!