Exercising during pregnancy has numerous benefits and the evidence is clear that all pregnant women (without contraindications) should engage in some form of appropriate exercise right up until they give birth. With pregnancy, comes an amazing journey of changes to your body and careful regular exercise can help your body cope with these changes. It can also help you to feel physically and mentally prepared for pregnancy, labour and the postnatal period. There is also evidence to suggest exercise during pregnancy optimises fetal health and minimises many complications which can occur during pregnancy and birth.
Other benefits of regular exercise during pregnancy include:
- Improved sleep
- Reduction in back / pelvic pain
- Reduced anxiety and stress
- Improved weight control
- Reduced fatigue during labour
- Faster recovery after the birth
- Improved heart & lung fitness and muscular strength & tone
Ideal forms of exercise include Low impact aerobics such as walking, swimming and stationary bike cycling, water aerobics and pregnancy group exercise classes.
The recommended guidelines for exercising during pregnancy are to participate in at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity daily or at least 150 mins over at least 3 days.
The ‘talk test’ is a reliable way of gauging the correct intensity. This means that you should be puffing or have an increased heart and breathing rate but still be able to talk easily.
If you did not participate in regular exercise prior to being pregnant then you can begin an exercise such as walking or low resistance weights after consulting with your health care provider.
If you were physically active before you were pregnant, you should be able to continue your activity in moderation if it is a safe form of activity.
Exercise forms that are considered unsafe during pregnancy include:
- Heavy weight lifting
- Contact sports
- Exercise that require breath holding or changes in pressure or altitude (e.g scuba diving, mountain climbing)
- Activities that involve a risk of falling (e.g horse riding, road cycling, gymnastics and rock climbing
- High impact, bouncing or jerky movements
Pregnant women should also be cautious exercising on their back after 16 weeks, avoid any positions or movements that cause pain or discomfort and ensure they do not overheat.
Exercise is also not recommended if you are feeling unwell or experiencing any:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Regular contractions or fluid leakage
- Excessive shortness of breath (particularly before exercising)
- Chest pain or palpitations
- Severe headaches
- Light headedness or feeling dizzy
- Calf pain or swelling
If you experience any of these symptoms it is important to let your doctor or midwife know and check when it is safe for you to begin exercise again.
There are also certain pregnancy complications or conditions where exercise may be contraindicated and this should be discussed with your obstetrician. Some examples are
- History of miscarriage or premature labour
- Threatened premature labour with this pregnancy
- Placenta praevia
- Small / slow growth rates / reduced foetal movements
- Uncontrolled Type 1 diabetes
- Uncontrolled high or low blood pressure
- Serious heart lung, kidney or thyroid problems
- Acute infection or infectious disease
Exercising in water has the wonderful benefit of taking the load off your joints and body. This can reduce pain levels which may be experienced during movements otherwise performed on land. The pressure of the water can also improve venous blood flow which can reduce swelling. It can also help to promote relaxation and improve sleep. Exercising at a moderate intensity in warmer pools must be no hotter than 32degrees to ensure there is no risk of overheating which may be harmful to the baby.
- Warm up and Cool downs are important. A good exercise routine during pregnancy should involve a good warm up and cool down with lots of gentle stretches and a combination of cardio, upper limb and lower limb resistance, pelvic floor and abdominal strengthening and relaxation exercises.
- Be mindful of your abdominals and pelvic floor. An appointment with a Women’s Health Physiotherapist can help you know whether you are contracting and relaxing your pelvic floor muscles correctly, at the right time and what loads they can handle during pregnancy. Avoiding loads which create a ‘doming’ effect or herniation of the abdominal contents through the ‘linea alba’ or centre line will help to minimise any further stretching or weakening of this area and improve recovery rates after pregnancy. Exercises which help the abdominal and pelvic floor muscles to stay strong but ensure they are not overworking can be prescribed. The pelvic floor muscles will perform better during labour and birth and recover more quickly if they are not overloaded with high impact or excessive intra-abdominal pressures during pregnancy. A Women’s Health Physiotherapist can help you to understand the many important functions of these muscles and why it’s important to exercise them properly throughout pregnancy.
- Listen to your body- during pregnancy your body and how you feel can change dramatically every day as the baby goes through growth spurts, moves into different positions and your hormones, iron levels, blood pressure and many other factors can vary. Tailor your exercise to what feels right for you on that day and remember if you are feeling unwell or have any other abnormal symptoms, have a rest day and seek medical advice if you are unsure of anything.
- Seek advice from a Physiotherapist if you are experiencing any back, hip or pelvic pain which is impacting your ability to exercise well. Pelvic girdle pain can often be managed by simply reducing single leg exercises or stride length when walking. See our blog on pain during pregnancy for more information.
- Stay hydrated and take care not to over heat. Also make sure you have eaten enough prior to exercising as sugar levels can fluctuate rapidly.
- Stretch often but not into pain or excessive range
If you would like more information on safe exercises during pregnancy, please make an appointment with our Women’s Health Physio, Sophie. We also run Antenatal Exercise Sessions, please call reception for more information.