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Tips on exercise during pregnancy

Exercise is great for your health and wellbeing – especially when you are pregnant. It’s safe and healthy for you to exercise during pregnancy and staying active has considerable benefits for you and your baby.

Before you give tiredness or discomfort as a reason to skip that workout session while you’re pregnant, take note that exercise actually helps to prevent or reduce backache, pelvic pain, swollen feet, cramps, headaches and constipation. Regular exercise during pregnancy can also increase your energy levels. So, ironically, if you’re feeling too tired to exercise, exercise might be precisely what you need.

The benefits don’t end there.

Exercise during pregnancy helps both you and bub

Staying fit during pregnancy can help prepare your body for the physical demands of labour and also help to ensure a fast recovery after your bub is born. Moreover, studies have shown that women who did moderate-intensity exercise regularly throughout their pregnancy were less likely to have a difficult labour leading to emergency caesarean section. There is also evidence that regular exercise during pregnancy can lower your risk of complications such as pre-eclampsia and pregnancy-induced hypertension.

Your baby benefits too. Exercise improves circulation, increasing blood flow to the placenta, which is great for your baby’s growth and development.

And when it comes to feeling good mentally while you are pregnant, exercise plays an important role. In addition to helping you sleep better and manage insomnia, regular exercise during pregnancy can help to relieve stress and reduce the risk of anxiety and depression.

An added benefit of working out while pregnant is that it will help you maintain a healthy weight, which has short- and long-term health benefits for you and your baby (find out more about the importance of healthy pregnancy weight gain here).

Stay fit and active, but don’t overdo it

While you are pregnant, aim for ‘moderate intensity’ exercise. What exactly counts as moderate? The aim is to be challenged but not breathless – a good gauge is that you should be able to keep up a conversation, but being puffed is fine. Also apply moderation to the length and frequency of your workout sessions. Aim to be active for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week and, to avoid overdoing it, keep it to less than an hour per day. Always drink plenty of water to stay hydrated while you are exercising.

Women who have a high-risk pregnancy or complications may need to adapt their exercise regime and should speak to their doctor for advice specific to their situation. Women with a low-risk, uncomplicated pregnancy should try for a mix of aerobic and strengthening exercises.

As your body changes throughout your pregnancy, you’ll need to adapt the types of exercise you do.

Get into good exercise habits

In your first 12 weeks, the amount of exercise you should do depends on your pre-pregnancy routine. Women who had a good exercise routine prior to becoming pregnant can keep going with that (for more information on the benefits of exercising to prepare for pregnancy, click here). Recent research has shown that runners can continue this type of exercise during pregnancy (moderately, of course), but for those new to running, pregnancy is not the time to start.

If you’re beginning to exercise while you’re pregnant, start gently and build up your fitness. Try to make a realistic routine you can stick to. A good first step is 30–40 minutes of brisk walking, making sure that you’re hot and puffed after. Yoga and Pilates are excellent exercises to improve strength and are particularly good at reducing the chance of pelvic and back pain later in the pregnancy.

While most types of exercise are fine in these early stages of pregnancy, you should avoid hot conditions (e.g. hot yoga) and avoid contact sports to protect your bump.

Adapt your exercise routine to suit your pregnancy

In the second trimester, your growing bump may mean certain exercises become more difficult and should be avoided (e.g. crunches and sit-ups). Your blood pressure also drops in this trimester, so avoid rapid changes of position to prevent dizzy spells. And remember to always do a slow, controlled cool-down.

Your centre of gravity shifts as your bump grows throughout your pregnancy, making it more likely that you could fall or lose your balance. For this reason, it’s a good idea to stick to exercises where you are more stable (e.g. brisk walking, swimming or using a spin bike).

Another reason to aim for more stable exercises is that ligaments loosen during pregnancy, which increases your risk of joint injuries. Avoid activities where you need to change direction quickly or jump around (e.g. netball and basketball). Always stretch in a slow and controlled manner.

To build strength, do exercises that use light weights, your body weight or elasticised resistance bands with moderate intensity. Don’t use heavy weights or perform activities that make you strain or hold your breath while you are pregnant.

Keep it up in your final trimester

Staying active gets a little trickier as you near the end of your pregnancy. With added weight and swollen feet, it may be harder to motivate yourself to keep going. But don’t stop now! One of the best options at this point is gentle swimming – you can get your cardio done while feeling light as a feather. Other good options include walking, cycling and rowing at the gym.

After 26 weeks, you shouldn’t lie on your back for longer than a few minutes as your growing uterus disrupts blow flow in this position. Adapt exercises to a sitting or standing posture.

There are plenty of exercise classes specifically designed for pregnant women, where the poses or activities are modified to suit pregnancy. Group classes can be a great way to keep motivated to exercise. Take a look here for some examples.

Always listen to your body

While it’s very important that you exercise while you’re pregnant, it’s even more important that you listen to your body and don’t force it. If you experience any of these warning signs or if something doesn’t feel right, stop immediately and seek medical advice:

  • Dizziness, faintness or headache
  • Chest pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Unexplained shortness of breath
  • Calf pain, swelling or redness
  • Sudden swelling of your face, hands or ankles
  • Vaginal bleeding or loss of amniotic fluid
  • Decreased movement of your baby
  • Uterine contractions or pain in the lower back, pelvic area or abdomen.

Strengthen your pelvic floor muscles

My last piece of advice will help you prevent or manage urinary incontinence. The weight of the growing baby puts excessive strain on your pelvic floor muscles, and when those muscles are weak it can cause incontinence and other problems. Performing pelvic floor strengthening exercises before and during pregnancy will strengthen these muscles and can help avoid future problems. You’ll be grateful for your efforts in the future.

Make your exercise routine work for you

Good luck with your exercise goals and remember, moderation is key. If you have any questions or concerns about how to exercise during pregnancy, feel free to raise these with me at your next antenatal appointment or, as always, you’re welcome to call my rooms on (03) 9418 8299 between appointments for advice.

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