I often get asked if it is safe to exercise during pregnancy. And the answer is… if you are healthy and your pregnancy is free of complications then definitely yes! If you suffer from cervical insufficiency, placenta previa (after 26 weeks of pregnancy), pre-eclampsia or severe anaemia you must not exercise. If you have a history of heart or lung disease or if you are carrying twins or triplets then you must speak to you GP before starting any exercise.
Exercise does not harm your baby or increase your risk of miscarriage. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gyneacologists recommend 30 minutes or more of moderate intensity exercise a day. Moderate intensity means you are working to raise your heart rate and feel a little sweaty, but you should be able to maintain a conversation. If you are struggling to talk you are working too hard and if you could sing a song you are not working hard enough!
Exercising during pregnancy has a number of benefits, including:
- reducing back and pelvic pain
- easing constipation
- maintaining strength and fitness to enable an active labour
- promotes healthy weight gain
- helps decrease your risk of pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes
- promotes good sleep and reduces tiredness
- decreases the likelihood of complications with labour
- helps to improve your mood and wellbeing
If you are already active or participate in a sport before pregnancy then, after checking with a doctor, you can continue this exercise for as long as you are comfortable. You will probably find that you will need to reduce the intensity of the exercise as your pregnancy progresses. If you are new to exercise, then start slowly and build up as your body can manage. Begin with as little as 5 minutes a day and build up by 5 minutes a week until you achieve the recommended 30 minutes.
There are a few warning signs that you should stop exercising and seek medical advice. These are:
- Bleeding from the vagina
- Chest pain
- Regularly feeling dizzy or faint
- Shortness of breath at rest
- Calf pain, swelling and redness
- Regular headaches that you did not experience before pregnancy
- Painful contractions of the uterus that are becoming regular
- Fluid leaking from the vagina
- Your baby not moving as much as normal
Important point to remember
- Always warm up and cool down to prevent an injury
- Stay hydrated- signs of dehydration are a feeling of thirst, dizziness, racing heart rate and dark urine with reduced volume
- Avoid becoming too hot especially in the first trimester. Do not exercise outside in midday sun, wear loose fitting clothes and drink plenty of water
- After 12 weeks we recommend you do not lie flat on your back to exercise. This position causes the uterus to press on one of your large blood vessels that returns blood to the heart so can make you feel dizzy or faint. You can prop yourself up on some cushions or use a wedge to lean against.
- Wear a supportive sports bra to prevent strain in your upper back and shoulders
- Try to do a mix of exercises including cardio exercises (e.g. swimming, brisk walking, static cycling), strengthening exercises and stretches
- Do your pelvic floor exercises 3 times a day
- If you attend a class, make sure the instructor knows you are pregnant and ensure they are appropriately trained in ante-natal exercise.
- Listen to your body. In the first trimester and nearer the end of your pregnancy you may feel tired or be suffering with morning sickness. Although exercise can help with these symptoms you may need to be flexible with your exercise routine.
- Don’t do exercises where you could easily loose your balance or fall. Avoid activities such as horse riding, skiing, skating or road cycling after your first trimester where your changing posture may cause you to become unbalanced.
- Avoid activities that may cause injury from contact such as hockey, netball or football