Exercise during pregnancy: What you need to know
Despite what you might think, exercise during pregnancy can be totally safe.
In fact, keeping active is recommended by doctors as it can improve your health and the health of your baby.
Exercise releases endorphins, which can really help boost the mood. There’s also some evidence to suggest that active women are less likely to experience problems later on in their pregnancy.
Regular exercise can help bring down your blood pressure, reduce the risk of diabetes and lower the likelihood of getting pre-eclampsia, among lots of other benefits.
Of course, if you have a health condition or are in any doubt about exercising, speak to your doctor or midwife before doing any exercise.
If you’re usually an active person and enjoy exercising, it’s fine to carry on with your normal exercise routine for as long as you feel comfortable. It’s important that you don’t overexert yourself, though. As a general rule, you should still be able to hold a conversation as you exercise, without getting breathless.
If you attend an aerobics class or gym session, for instance, remember to inform the instructor of your condition before you start, as they’ll be able to adapt some of the moves for you.
If you weren’t a particularly active person before you became pregnant, now is not the time to suddenly take up vigorous exercise. However, it’s a good time to pick up some gentle activity – just 10 minutes a day can have real benefits, and you can gradually build that up if you feel able to.
Recommended exercise during pregnancy
- Walking – it’s free, you don’t need special equipment and you can incorporate it easily into your daily life.
- Running – it’s fine to continue running if you’re already an experienced runner. However, it’s not a good idea to take up running now if you’ve not really done it before.
- Swimming – swimming is one of the safest activities you can do while pregnant. It can ease swelling, provide relief from sciatic pain and improve circulation. It’s best to avoid doing backstroke during the latter stages of pregnancy as it can press on your blood vessels.
- Yoga and Pilates – these activities are great for reducing stress, helping you focus on breathing techniques and strengthening some key muscles in your body. Just make sure you tell the instructor that you’re pregnant if you do a class, and don’t like flat on your back if you’re more than 16 weeks pregnant.
- Dancing or aerobics – cardiovascular activities like these can be great fun and the moves can be easily adapted to suit your fitness level and condition. You can attend a class or just stick on your favourite tunes and dance like no one’s watching!
- Pelvic floor exercises – your midwife will advise you to do these regularly during your pregnancy, and it’s a good idea to keep them up even after you’ve given birth. It’s a way to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, which come under strain during pregnancy and childbirth. Weak pelvic floor muscles can mean you wee a little when you cough or sneeze. But strengthening them helps to reduce incontinence, and doing these exercises regularly can prevent problems later on.
How to do pelvic floor exercises
Pelvic floor exercises can be done in any position – standing, sitting or lying down. Simply clench your bottom as if you’re trying to stop yourself from passing wind or doing a poo. At the same time, draw in your vagina, as if you’re trying to stop yourself from weeing. Do these exercises quickly at first – tightening and releasing immediately. Then, slow it down, tensing your muscles for as long as you can before releasing them slowly. It’s a good idea to do 3 sets of 10 clenches each day.
Exercises to avoid during pregnancy
Exercise during pregnancy can be extremely beneficial and help you stay healthy but there are also a few activities to avoid.
Don’t take part in any contact sports where there’s a risk of being hit, such as kickboxing, rugby and judo. If you’re hit in the stomach, it could cause damage to your baby.
Scuba diving should be avoided while you’re pregnant because your baby isn’t protected against decompression sickness and gas embolism (gas bubbles in the bloodstream). Don’t exercise at heights of more than 2,500m above sea level, as both you and your baby could suffer from altitude sickness.
Activities where there’s a risk of falling – like horse riding, skiing and cycling – should be done with caution, as falling can injure your baby. That’s not to say you can’t take part in these activities. Cycling, for instance, is a great low-impact aerobic exercise. However, as your bump grows, your sense of balance can alter, making it easier to fall off.
Exercise during pregnancy: our top tips
- Always warm up and down before and after exercising
- Drink plenty of water throughout
- Try to avoid exercising in hot weather
- Aim to do 30 minutes of gentle exercise each day, but don’t exercise for more than 45 minutes at a time
- Don’t lie on your back if you’re more than 16 weeks pregnant
- Whatever your fitness level, don’t overdo it – it’s vital to listen to your body
- If you have any unusual symptoms while exercising, stop and contact your doctor or midwife as soon as possible