Exercise during Pregnancy

Even If you are not a keen exerciser, pregnancy is a great time to start for you and your baby. As long as you don't push yourself too hard and you listen to your body, exercise during pregnancy can be easy, fun and beneficial. By focusing carefully on the type of workout and conditioning you do, you can better prepare your body for every stage of the pregnancy and childbirth experience.

Before beginning any physical exercise program during pregnancy, you should consult your doctor or midwife to be sure you do not have any health issues that may put your pregnancy at risk.

How should I exercise?

Don't overexert yourself and aim for a moderate intensity. If you weren't very active before your pregnancy, then build up your routine rather than suddenly taking up strenuous exercise. If you become breathless or feel faint when you workout then you're probably exercising too strenuously. Be extra aware of your body and adjust your routine over time.

For women who are used to regular, vigorous exercise and have a high level of fitness, there is no evidence that indicates that vigorous exercise during pregnancy is harmful, as long as you monitor your body and slow down when necessary. You may need to reduce the intensity of your workout as your pregnancy gets further along. If you have any doubt, speak with your maternity team.

How long should I exercise for?

Some form of physical activity on most days of the week, for at least 30 minutes at a time, is a good aim. For less active women, begin with 15 to 20 minutes and slowly build towards a 30-minute session. While no evidence exists to put a maximum exercise length during pregnancy, you are not advised to exercise for longer than 60 minutes per session, unless the intensity is relatively light.

General considerations for exercise during pregnancy:

  • Ease yourself in - Warm up gradually and include a slow and sustained cool-down with each session

  • Get adequate hydration - Always drink water before, during, and after exercise.

  • Focus on exercises that strengthen the pelvic floor muscles - This helps to lower the chance of stress incontinence after pregnancy. Avoid activities that add extra load to the pelvic floor such as jumping or bouncing.

  • Stay active - Minimise the amount of time spent in prolonged seated positions and break up long periods of sitting as much as possible.

  • Get the right kit – Choose a maternity bra that provides enough support and wear loose-fitting clothing. Wear athletic shoes that fit properly, which is particularly important as feet may swell during pregnancy.

  • Be careful not to lie flat on your back for long periods - Especially after 16 weeks, as the weight of your uterus puts pressure on your main blood vessel and you can feel faint or dizzy.

Exercise to avoid

  • Don't take part in activities where there is a risk of falling (i.e. horseriding, skiing), or where there is a risk of being hit (i.e. certain team sport games) especially contact / combat sports where impact could cause trauma to the abdomen (i.e kickboxing or judo).

  • Be cautious with weight-bearing exercise and activities involving regular changes in direction (i.e. court sports).

  • Avoid scuba diving because the foetus will not be protected against decompression sickness and gas embolism, caused by gas bubbles in your bloodstream.

Focus on your environment

  • Limit exercising in high temperatures and humidity - Increased blood flow and higher metabolic rate mean that you will be warmer during pregnancy and the chances of overheating are larger.

  • Refrain from exercise over 2,500m above sea level - Allow your body to slowly and fully acclimate at these heights as altitude sickness is a real risk to you and your baby.

Strengthening exercises

It is important that you strengthen your muscles, especially your abdominals and your pelvic floor, to help you support the extra weight of pregnancy. These exercises will also strengthen your joints, improve circulation, reduce backache, and improve your general wellbeing.

Aim to do strengthening exercises twice a week, on non-consecutive days. Do 1 - 2 sets of 12 - 15 repetitions for each exercise. Work out at a ‘moderate’ intensity with slow and steady movements and proper breathing technique. Cover the main muscle groups and focus on making your muscles work while moving your back carefully.

Avoid lifting heavy weights and activities that involve straining or holding your breath. Be careful not to exercise while lying flat on the back after the first trimester and do walking lunges to prevent injury to the pelvic connective tissue.

Warning signs to stop exercise and seek medical attention:

  • Chest pain

  • Unexplained shortness or loss of breath

  • Dizziness, feeling faint or headaches

  • Muscle weakness

  • Sudden swelling of the ankles, hands or face

  • Calf pain, redness or swelling

  • Vaginal bleeding or amniotic fluid loss

  • Decreased fetal movement

  • Uterine contractions or pain in the lower back, pelvic area or abdomen (potentially indicating preterm labour).