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Exercise During Pregnancy.

Many pregnant women feel they would like to exercise, or continue to exercise during pregnancy. However, because of the many changes occurring in their own bodies, and the added concern of looking after the welfare of their developing baby, it is not uncommon for pregnant women to feel unsure about the type and amount of exercise they can do during pregnancy.

The good news is that if you’ve been cleared to exercise and you participated in physical activity before you were pregnant, current guidelines recommend that you do at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most, if not all days.

Why should I exercise during my pregnancy?

Exercise during your pregnancy is known to offer many benefits. These include:

  • Relief of joint aches and pains, including pelvic girdle and low back pain
  • Improving posture awareness, muscle tone and flexibility
  • Maintaining fitness and healthy weight gain during your pregnancy
  • Helping you cope with the physical demands of pregnancy and labour
  • Decreasing stress and anxiety
  • Improving sleep and a feeling of general well-being
  • Helping to manage gestational diabetes

What type of exercise is appropriate during pregnancy?

This is partly dependent on how active you were before your pregnancy, and what type of exercise your body is accustomed to doing. It is always best to seek advice from your health care professional.

  • If you were a regular exerciser or elite athlete before pregnancy, you may well be able to continue with your current exercise for some time, or make slight modifications to it as required
  • If you were more sedentary prior to pregnancy, you should start an exercise program more gradually and under guidance

Exercise intensity should be monitored to ensure you are working at an appropriate level. Heart rate alone is not a reliable indicator, as your resting heart rate is higher in pregnancy than usual. A moderate perceived level of exertion on the Borg scale and the ‘talk test’ are good ways to monitor exercise intensity. Your physiotherapist can give you more information about this.

You should always seek advice from your obstetric health care professional or Physiotherapist, as there are some pre-existing or pregnancy-related conditions which may prohibit or limit your exercise capacity during pregnancy.

You should also look to engage in a few different types of exercise during pregnancy:

  • Cardio-vascular exercise: 20-30 minutes of cardio-vascular exercise on most days is recommended during pregnancy. Suitable exercises include walking, riding a stationary bike and swimming.
  • Pilates or Yoga: these are gentle forms of exercise involving posture awareness, core control, general strengthening and flexibility. A pregnancy-specific class is ideal, as some regular Pilates or yoga exercises may not be suitable past 16 weeks
  • Pelvic floor muscle exercises: should be performed by all women during pregnancy to help prevent or treat incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse
  • Weight training: can be safely performed during pregnancy. You may need to reduce the level of weights as you get to the later stages of pregnancy, and modify some exercises as your belly gets bigger. If you have never done any (or much) weight training before, then start gently and seek supervision
  • High intensity and high impact exercises: these should be reserved for those already well-accustomed to this sort of exercise, and under medical supervision. Always watch out for signs of trouble

Signs of trouble

You should look out for certain warning signs with exercise during pregnancy, and stop and seek advice if these occur.

  • Vaginal bleeding, regular contractions or leakage of amniotic fluid: these may be signs labour has commenced!
  • Sudden increase in swelling in the feet, hands and face, maybe accompanied by a headache or feeling generally unwell: can be a sign of pre-eclampsia and should be investigated as soon as possible
  • Feeling unwell before or during exercise: if you already have a headache, chest pain, are short of breath or feel dizzy before exercise, it is not a good idea to add the extra load of a workout to your body. These symptoms during exercise are also warning signs to stop
  • Calf pain or swelling: should be investigated for possible deep vein thrombosis
  • Pelvic floor trouble: leakage, heaviness or urgency are all signs of pelvic floor dysfunction. Make sure you seek advice from a health professional if this occurs

You should avoid exercising lying on your back after 16 weeks of pregnancy.

What types of exercise should I avoid during pregnancy?

Whilst we encourage women to be active in their pregnancy, certain forms of exercise are not advised.

  • Any sport or activity involving contact or a risk of falling, due to the potential damage to mother and baby. These include horse riding, rugby, basketball and gymnastics
  • Scuba diving: due to the potential risk to the developing baby
  • “Hot” yoga or Pilates, or exercising in very hot or humid weather: as your body is already running a little hotter than usual, and over-heating can put you at risk of fainting, and may risk the developing baby as well
  • High intensity and high impact activities: may be unsuitable for some due to joint pains or pelvic floor dysfunction. High intensity exercise for longer than 45 minutes at a time may also deplete your energy stores

Getting Advice

Your GP, Midwife, Obstetrician or Physiotherapist can help you determine what exercise is appropriate for you, and what type of exercise should be safe for you to undertake.

While everyone is unique and may require different approaches to exercise during pregnancy, these health professionals can help you understand your own situation.

Find out more about the exercise options we provide for pregnancy here, and the treatment options we provide for pregnancy here.

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