Exercising in pregnancy
During pregnancy expectant mothers can understandably worried about exercising. Doing gentle exercise through pregnancy has been shown to be beneficial for mum and baby, and here we have put together some advice and tips to guide mum’s to be.
Exercise has been shown to have benefits for pregnant women and can reduce the risk of gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. It has also been shown to prevent low back pain, which is common in pregnancy and can affect up to 60% of pregnant women. There are certain circumstances in pregnancy where exercise may not be advisable, so make sure you check with your obstetrician or midwife before you start any new exercise.
What exercise is safe in pregnancy?
If you are new to exercise, build up gently to 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily. The types of exercise recommended are gentle exercise such as:
- Stationary cycling
- Modified yoga or Pilates
- Low impact aerobics
Remember when exercising that you should be able to speak in full sentences and make sure that you drink plenty of water. During pregnancy the guidance from the POGP (the pelvic, obstetric, gynaecology physiotherapy association) recommends mild to moderate exercise. The American Collage of Obstetricians advise that If you have exercised prior to becoming pregnant, you can continue with your current exercise regime, but you may need to make some adaptations, especially as your pregnancy progresses.
Exercise to avoid are:
- High intensity exercise
- Activities where you might fall eg cycling
- Activities such as hot yoga
- Activities where you are lying flat on your back. Remember after 16 weeks you should not lie flat but should be propped up. If you notice any dizziness, change your position immediately and speak to your healthcare team.
During pregnancy your body changes to adapt for your growing baby and these changes will affect your ability to exercise. There is more blood pumping around your body, this will cause your heart rate to be increased and may affect your blood pressure. Your body also requires more oxygen. Your baby bump grows and pushes your diaphragm up, as a result you may find yourself feeling out of breath more quickly. Exercise intensity needs to be adjusted as a result.
Joints and muscles go through changes in pregnancy. Hormones make your joints more flexible to accommodate the growth of your baby and to prepare your body for birth, and some women can be more prone to experience low back pain and pelvic girdle pain. Exercise has been shown to be beneficial to prevent and treat these but remember to listen to your body and do exercises which are comfortable. See the pictures below for some examples of simple exercises. Remember to stop exercising if you have any pain and seek advice from your midwife, obstetrician or specialist physiotherapist.
A few things to be aware of, stop exercising and seek advice from your obstetric team if you experience any of the following:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Regular painful contractions
- Increased discharge/fluid leaking
- Breathlessness prior to exercise
- Dizziness or muscle weakness which affects your balance
- Chest pain
- Calf pain/swelling
Tips for exercising in pregnancy
- If you have pelvic girdle pain opt for exercises where you aren’t balancing on one leg and seek guidance on the types of exercise you should do.
- Listen to your body and reduce exercise intensity as you feel you need to, exercise at a pace which is comfortable for you (remember speaking in full sentences).
- Exercising in water can be more comfortable for some women
- Remember to do your pelvic floor exercises (see our blog on the pelvic floor for tips)
A few gentle exercises to get you started
Some thoughts from our yummy mummy to be, Vicky
Vicky, one of our Specialist Orthopaedic Physiotherapists was very active prior to her pregnancy, regularly swimming, cycling and running, as well as teaching Pilates. Vicky tells us how she has had to adapt her exercise during her pregnancy.
“In the first trimester I soon realised that my exercise had to take a back seat as nausea and fatigue meant all I could manage was to get through my working day and London commute. On good days I managed some yoga in my front room but I worried that I was loosing my general fitness. However, between 12 and 15 weeks my energy began to return and I started enjoying 30 minute walks in the park and short swimming sessions. It was after 15 weeks I found my energy really increased so I could get back into more of a routine. I increased my swimming to 45 minutes and brisk walks to 60 minutes and began exercises using resistance bands and light weights. Now in my third trimester I am having to adapt again as I find I fatigue more quickly and get short of breath doing routine tasks that I usually take for granted. I continue to enjoy my swimming and walking but shorter sessions and I now try other simple ways of fitting exercise into my days, like taking the stairs at work. And finally, I have had to modify my yoga and Pilates exercises to accommodate my increasing bump!”
My top tips for exercising during pregnancy would be:
- Listen to your body and self assess how you feel each day because you need to ensure you get a good balance between rest and activity
- Ask a physiotherapist for advice on modifying your usual exercises or for help with new exercises
- You can see a physiotherapist if you experience low back pain or pelvic pain for assessment and treatment at any stage during your pregnancy