Many women assume that they will have to stop all physical activity the moment they fall pregnant. But, this isn’t so – in most cases, exercise is safe during pregnancy. When you do regular exercise over the course of your pregnancy it has advantages for both you and your baby. If you have always been an active woman before you fell pregnant, you may wish to continue with your exercise routine, but you should discuss it with your doctor first so they can help you adapt it over the course of your pregnancy to accommodate your body’s changes. Confirm with your doctor / gynaecologist that the type and duration of exercise you are doing is right for you and your growing baby. More than likely, your healthcare provider may tell you to remain active, as long as it is comfortable for you, and there are no other health conditions to suggest that you shouldn’t. (1-3)
Why exercise is good for you* (1-4)
- Reduces back pain
- Eases constipation, bloating and swelling
- Promotes healthy weight gain during your pregnancy
- Improves general fitness and energy levels
- Strengthens heart and blood vessels
- Helps you lose weight after baby is born
- Improves your mood, posture and sleep
- Promotes muscle tone, strength and endurance
What to keep in mind* (1-4)
First things first – Always speak to your doctor before starting or continuing with any type of exercise programme and remember that the advice in this article does not replace that of your healthcare provider.
- Safety first – safe exercises to do include walking, swimming, water workouts, yoga or pilates. You can also consider doing other types of exercises like pelvic floor exercises (Kegel exercises) [link to external page], pelvic tilts and squats
- Easy does it. When you start your daily exercise, remember to warm-up and when done to cool down. Because of the growing baby and extra weight you are carrying, your muscles will work harder than before, so take it easy, you are not training for a marathon!
- Half an hour is all it takes. Aim for a 30-minute work-out at least five times a week. Start slowly and work your way up to doing the exercise for longer, e.g. start with a 10-minute walk and see if you can increase it to 30 minutes by the end of the week or month, whichever time limit you have set for yourself.
- Stay off your back – as your pregnancy progresses, avoid exercises where you have to lie flat on your back as this may result in the heavy womb to press against your back, leading to back pain
- It’s a balancing act. The loosening of your joints late in your pregnancy, may make you more likely to lose your balance and fall, so avoid exercises or activities that will increase a risk injury, like judo, kickboxing and scuba diving, skiing, mountain climbing and horseback riding
- Don’t overheat. During exercise your body will warm up, increasing your body core temperature, which in turn will affect your baby’s body temperature. Extreme heat is not good for your baby, so make sure your body temperature stays below 38°C
- Keep hydrated. Take in enough fluids – especially water – when exercising, to keep your body temperature down and blood volume up.
When not to exercise in pregnancy (3)
You may wish to have an active pregnancy, but certain medical conditions will put a stop to that. If your doctor diagnoses you with any of these medical conditions, it is recommended that you do not do exercise:
- Some forms of heart and lung disease
- Preeclampsia or high blood pressure that develops for the first time during pregnancy
- Cervical problems
- Vaginal bleeding
- Placenta problems
- Preterm labour during your current pregnancy
- A multiple pregnancy at risk of preterm labour
- Premature rupture of the membranes
- Severe anaemia
Also, if any of the following happens to you, while or before you exercise, it is very important to speak to your doctor before continuing any exercise: (2,3)
- Feeling dizzy or faint
- Shortness of breath before starting exercise
- Chest pain
- Muscle weakness
- Calf pain or swelling
- Regular, painful contractions of the uterus
- Fluid leaking from the vagina
Still, the benefits of regular exercise over the course of your pregnancy still outweighs the risks involved. (5) If you engage in regular exercise you will feel better, look better and cope better with your pregnancy.
What to avoid when exercising during pregnancy: (1-4)
- High-impact exercises
- Activities where injury to the abdomen is likely
- Activities where falling is more likely
- Activities with jarring motions, contact sports or rapid changes in direction
- Activities that require extensive jumping, hopping, skipping, or bouncing
- Bouncing while stretching
- Waist twisting movements while standing
- Intense bursts of exercise followed by long periods of no activity
- Exercising in hot, humid weather
- Do not hold your breath for an extended period of time
- Do not exercise to the point of exhaustion
Keep doing what you did before you fell pregnant, and continue doing it, as long as it is safe for you, your growing belly and your baby. (1)
For more information on exercise during pregnancy click on the links below:
- Slide Show: Pregnancy Exercises
- How to: Kegel Exercises
- Slide Show: Exercise during pregnancy
- Safe Pregnancy Exercises
- Pregnancy exercises for the first trimester.
- Pregnancy exercises for the second trimester.
- Pregnancy exercises for the third trimester.
* PLEASE NOTE: None of the information provided in this article supersedes the advice of your doctor or obstetrician. You should always consult with your doctor or obstetrician before starting any form of exercise during your pregnancy.
References: 1.American Pregnancy Association. Exercise During Pregnancy: Safety, Benefits & Guidelines. [online] [cited 2017 Oct 5]. Available from: URL: http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/exercise-during-pregnancy/. 2.The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Women’s Health Care Physicians. Frequently Asked Questions: Exercise During Pregnancy. [online] [cited 2017 Oct 6]. Available from: URL: https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Exercise-During-Pregnancy. 3. Mayo Clinic. Pregnancy and exercise: Baby, let’s move! [online] 2016 Jun [cited 2017 Oct 6]. Available from: URL: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/pregnancy-and-exercise/art-20046896?p=1. 4. NHS Choices: Exercise in pregnancy: Pregnancy and baby guide. [online] 2017 Jan[cited 2017 Oct 6]. Available from: URL: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/pregnancy-exercise.aspx. 5.Rahl R. Benefits and risks of physical activity for pregnant women. An excerpt from Physical Activity and Health Guidelines: Recommendations for Various Ages, Fitness Levels, and Conditions form 57 Authoritative Sources. Human Kinetics. [online] [cited 2015 Mar 10]. Available from: URL: http://www.humankinetics.com/excerpts/excerpts/benefits-and-risks-ofphysical-activity-for-pregnant-women.