Can You Exercise While Pregnant? What kind of exercise is safe during pregnancy? These are a questions many expectant mothers ask most often. Exercising while pregnant can help you to cope better during your pregnancy and your labour, as well as being a proven stress reliever. Yoga exercise for pregnant women is considered to be one of the most adequate and safe exercising while pregnant. But there are also many more benefits to keeping yourself fighting fit during these nine months. During pregnancy your body is developing so it is important to adapt or begin a fitness regime that accommodates these changes. This might mean tweaking your existing programme or swapping it for an activity that is more appropriate during pregnancy. Before deciding on a form of exercise, take account of how your body will change during pregnancy. Issues to be aware of include your changing body shape, weight gain, hormonal changes, increased joint laxity, tiredness, a decrease in balance, or even a propensity for clumsiness. All these factors will influence your choice.
The Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy
Exercise for pregnant women, in general, can help to maintain cardiovascular fitness, posture, flexibility, muscle strength, balance, body awareness and co-ordination. As a result, stress and the occurrence of back/pelvic or other pains may be reduced and relaxation and breathing control promoted. Exercise during pregnancy can also improve physical wellbeing and can offer the means to meet other mums-to-be at the same stage of pregnancy. Exercising during pregnancy and the antenatal period may also play a role in managing gestational diabetes (accompanied by medication and a healthy diet) and in assisting postnatal recovery.
When to Start Exercising?
Listen to your body and trust your instincts. If you are tired or suffering from morning sickness then wait until a time you feel like exercising. If you are feeling fine in the first trimester and have been exercising pre-pregnancy, then, in accordance with your midwife or doctor’s advice, you can follow a similar exercise regime during pregnancy, while bearing in mind the guidelines below. Many pregnancy exercise classes encourage women to join from 16 to 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Safe Exercise During Pregnancy
Approximately 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise a day on most, if not all, days of the week is recommended for pregnant women in the absence of medical or obstetric complications. Moderate exercise intensity can be defined as being able to exercise and talk at the same time; for example, walking and holding a conversation.
Walking, swimming or cycling are good cardiovascular exercises during pregnancy. Guidelines suggest 20 minutes, three times a week, progressing to 20 to 30 minutes daily. Make sure to start off slowly and increase time gradually, particularly if you have not been doing any exercise prior to becoming pregnant. You will most likely need to slow down again in the later weeks of pregnancy. Follow the guidelines for heart rate, nutritional intake and body heat.
This is not necessarily the time to decide to join a gym. However, if you are already a member, you could continue with some cardiovascular work such as on the treadmill or bike. Gentle arm weights can also be used. Consult a fitness instructor on the suitability of equipment for pregnant women. Lower weights with an increased number of repetitions are advised. Higher impact exercise while pregnant, such as aerobics or step classes, are not advised due to the increase in joint laxity. Stop exercising if you are feeling unwell, in pain, or are very short of breath.
Pilates, yoga or aqua classes are great for meeting other mums-to-be. Pick a class with a particular focus on pregnancy, as they will have been modified to particular stages of pregnancy and appropriate positions. Pregnancy classes will also focus on breathing control, relaxation techniques and posture, all of which are important at this time. For further details of local classes, contact your antenatal department and always check that your instructor is qualified to take pregnancy classes.
Making Exercise Work for You
If you are already a very active person and enjoy a regular exercise routine, you may continue with this as long as you listen to your body and follow the safe exercise guidelines. Other forms of exercise such as golf, gentle tennis, hill walking or dancing can be continued well into your second trimester as long as you are feeling good. Any queries should be discussed with your doctor or midwife. Competitive exercise during pregnancy that can involve risk of impact or falling, such as basketball, horse riding or skiing, should be discontinued to avoid risk to both mum and baby. Pregnancy is a time to maintain fitness levels, not necessarily to try to increase them. Enjoy your exercise and use it as time for you and your growing baby.
Try to fit exercise sessions or classes into your weekly schedule. However, if classes or the gym are not for you, there are other ways to exercise as part of your daily routine. If possible, a daily walk to work or at lunch would help with your cardiovascular fitness and taking the stairs instead of the lift can strengthen the leg muscles. Gentle housework can also keep the body flexible and moving. Do be aware of your posture when doing housework – bend from the knees and keep your feet and your face in the same direction to avoid twisting and turning.
An active way to work the pelvic muscles and relieve lower back strain is to sit on a large exercise ball. These are often called ‘Swiss’, ‘physio’ or ‘birthing’ balls. Sitting on the ball while relaxing, watching television or working at a desk can help movement and strength in the back and pelvis. A suitably sized ball should allow your hips and knees to rest at approximately 90 degrees (too high or too low may irritate your back or pelvis). Ask your physiotherapist for advice on size or suitability for you.
Exercising after the birth of your baby will depend on your antenatal exercise levels, your type of delivery, and how you and your baby are feeding and sleeping. Try to attend a postnatal advice class in the maternity hospital if you can. As a general rule, after six weeks is a good time to start gentle exercise. Up until this time, you can walk as much as you feel up to, progressing your distance or pace gradually. After six weeks, you may be able to join yoga, Pilates, a low-level class or start some gym work. Higher-level exercise or contact sports should be progressed into gradually over three to five months, as it takes this time for the hormone levels to reduce and joints to stabilise.
Each woman, body, baby and exercise is different. It is important to be aware of the signals from your body and your baby while exercising and stop immediately if you are uncomfortable or a movement does not feel right. Discuss modifications with your instructor, if necessary.