Exercising Safely During Pregnancy

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What and how to exercise during pregnancy?

It’s a frequently asked question. I think because until it happens to you, you never really worry to find out.  And then suddenly, you’re actually pregnant and it can be difficult to find the relevant information.

If you’re used to being active and get pregnant, it can be hard to know what’s safe to do and what’s not.  There’s lots of conflicting information out there and by the time you’ve seen a doctor, a couple of midwives, your Aunty and a well-meaning friend who’s friend gave birth to octuplets just because she did a spin class at eight weeks you can be forgiven for being confused.

So.  Here are some facts.  To my mind the most important ones.  So you can make your mind up for yourself.

If you want to carry on exercising throughout your pregnancy you are absolutely fine to do so. Exercising throughout your pregnancy has many benefits for you and for your baby.  Including:

  • Improved circulation (can minimize risk of varicose veins and piles)
  • Improved mental wellbeing
  • Fitness maintenance (helpful for those marathon labours)
  • Muscle conditioning (again helpful for labour and birth)
  • Pelvic floor conditioning (helpful for pushing and for regaining condition post-birth)
  • Returning to pre-pregnancy weight, post pregnancy
  • Improved relaxation and sleep
  • Optimal baby positioning for birth
  • Transference of endorphins to baby
  • Some studies have also shown that benefits to baby include improved intrauterine growth (Riemann & Hansend 1998); improved foetal brain development (Clapp 1998); and reduction in foetal distress in labour (Henrikssen & Larsen 1999)
What exercise can you do during pregnancy?
Remember the talk test

Any low-impact aerobic exercise like walking and swimming is safe.  Ensure you always work to a medium intensity, you should still be able to hold a conversation comfortably.

Avoid anything that makes you hold your breath or brace.

NOTE:  Because of heart rate fluctuations during pregnancy, your heart rate isn’t always a useful assessment of how hard you’re working.  That’s why the talk test is preferred over using a heart rate monitor.


Get steady

Avoid anything that makes you unstable. So from the second trimester onwards consider taking all exercises to a stable base (two feet or two knees on the floor).  This is due to the hormonal changes in your body which could make your pelvis unstable.  You should also consider putting on your pants, tights and socks either sitting down or leaning against a wall.


20-30 minutes is all you need

You may feel like you want to do more (although it’s unlikely) but 20 minutes is a great length of time to exercise when you’re pregnant.



You’re no longer exercising to get in shape and any calories used during exercise need to be replaced.


Stay cool and keep drinking

This is especially important during the first trimester when your body struggles to maintain a steady temperature.  Always wear comfortable clothes that enable your body to stay cool during exercise and drink plenty of water.


Find a group

Exercising in a group, such as a pregnancy specific class not only gives you peace of mind that you are in safe hands but also exercising with company means that if anything should happen, you’re not alone.


Dos and Don’ts
  • Don’t exercise to exhaustion. Always stop when you start to lose form or feel a little tired (or even before then).
  • Don’t lie on your back for long periods of time.  Some studies have shown that exercising on your back can cause you to have a mild drop in blood flow returning to your heart.  There is no evidence to suggest that this affects your unborn baby but if at all in doubt, find a different way to do it.
  • Don’t over-stretch. Now is not the time to start Bikram yoga. Your body is full of ligament relaxing relaxin, so stretches of no more than 30 seconds are safest during pregnancy.
  • Do wear a well fitting sports bra, especially if you intend to do something a little more active than meditation.
  • Do enjoy yourself.  This is about helping your body to cope with the new demands being pregnant places on it and an opportunity to really look after yourself.  If you’re forcing it and would rather be at home on the sofa, you’re allowed!
  • Do seek medical attention from a doctor or midwife if you are at all unsure about something.

There are some conditions which require medical supervision while undertaking exercise in pregnancy.  Most of these are conditions you would be well aware of or will have discussed with your doctor or consultant (like heart disease or being very overweight) but there are a few things to watch out for:

  • Persistent bleeding in 2nd and 3rd trimester;
  • Placenta previa after 26 weeks;
  • Waters breaking early (or going into labour early); and
  • Anaemia.

Warning signs to stop exercise immediately are:

  • Excessive breathing difficulties;
  • Chest pain;
  • Dizziness;
  • Rapid heartbeat;
  • Painful contractions or labour;
  • Leaking of amniotic fluid;
  • Bleeding;
  • Excessive fatigue/exhaustion;
  • Abdominal pain;
    Pelvic pain;
  • Reduced foetal movement;
  • Headache;
  • Muscle weakness;
  • Calf pain;
  • Swelling in hands/feet;
  • Severe nausea or vomiting;
  • Extreme temperatures; and
  • Incompetent cervix.

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