Pregnancy Exercise Guide

How can exercise help me?

Regular exercise can help you to cope with the physical and mental demands of being pregnant, and prepare you for the rigours of labour. All those pregnancy niggles, such as back ache, constipation and fatigue, will be easier to keep at bay, too.

Maintaining a healthy level of fitness is all part of staying well during pregnancy. We know that exercise can help prevent problems such as pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes. Exercise can improve your general

mood and self-image, and you may find that a workout during the day helps you to sleep better at night.

You'll find it easier to control your weight gain if you exercise. This benefit continues after your baby is born, making it easier for you to get back into shape.

Which forms of exercise are best for pregnant women?

The best types of exercise during pregnancy:

  • get your heart pumping
  • keep you supple
  • manage weight gain
  • prepare your muscles for the work of labour and birth
  • do not cause undue physical stress for you or your baby

Walking, jogging, swimming, aquanatal classes, and cycling on an exercise bike are all considered good, safe forms of exercise, as long as you don't overdo them.  Yoga and Pilates are also ideal, as long as you find a registered, qualified teacher who is experienced in dealing with pregnant women.

Which sports are not recommended?

Sports where you might have a hard fall or be thrown off-balance are not a good idea. These include horse-riding, skiing, gymnastics and waterskiing.  Diving is also unsafe during pregnancy.  Ball sports such as football, tennis and squash are also risky, because you may be hit in the stomach.

Most doctors and midwives recommend giving up cycling on the road after the second trimester. Even if you're an experienced cyclist, there's a danger you'll fall or be knocked off your bike. You can, however, use an exercise bike throughout pregnancy.

If I've never exercised before, what precautions should I take?

As long as you get the go-ahead from your midwife or doctor, you can engage in mild to moderate exercise up to three times a week. Pregnancy is not the right time to begin any new vigorous regimes if you are not used to them.

Stick to low-impact activities such as walking or swimming, and keep workout sessions short.  You could join an antenatal exercise class, so you know that all the movements are safe for you.

How hard can I exercise now that I'm pregnant?

While you're pregnant, try to achieve a good level of fitness, rather than going for peak fitness.  As a rule, you should be able to hold a normal conversation while you're exercising.

Aim to exercise for about 30 minutes, three times a week.  Exercising too often, say, five or more times a week, may do more harm than good.  It may make you more likely to give birth to a small or low birth weight baby.

If you used to do high intensity workouts before you became pregnant, it's best to ease off now.  High impact workouts may put too much stress on your joints and pelvic floor muscles.

You can gradually build yourself back up to to your old regime after you have had your baby.

A useful way of telling how hard you are working is to use something called the Borg scale. This scale measures how hard you feel you are working when you exercise (perceived exertion).

At one end of this scale six is very, very light, and at the other 20 is very, very hard. You should be thinking about exercising at a range of between 12 and 14 (more than fairly light but less than hard).

You shouldn't exercise to exhaustion. Listen to your body and stop if you feel tired or that you've done too much.  Some women like to monitor their heart rate while exercising.  However, don't rely on this alone, as heart rates in pregnancy can vary widely.

Stop exercising immediately if you have any of the following:

  • chest, leg joint or tummy pain
  • dizziness or faintness
  • shortness of breath
  • vaginal bleeding
  • difficulty walking
  • contractions

It's also a good idea to stay aware of your baby's movements.  If they appear to slow down or stop, have a rest.  Do bear in mind, though, that your baby is often most quiet when you're exercising.  If things don't feel right or you are at all unsure, it's always best to err on the side of caution and see your doctor or midwife.

Should I change my routine as my pregnancy progresses?

Yes.  Even if you were very active before your pregnancy, you'll probably want to scale down your exercise routine as your baby grows.  During the first trimester it's especially important that you don't overheat.

After the first trimester, you'll also need to skip any exercises that involve you lying flat on your back or standing in one place for long periods.  Both can reduce blood flow to your baby.

Are there any reasons why I shouldn't exercise?

Some women need to take extra care when exercising. You should talk to your doctor before exercising if:

    • You have had a premature baby or a threatened miscarriage before.
    • You have very low iron levels in your blood (severe anaemia).
    • Your baby has been small for dates during this pregnancy.
    • You have high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia.
    • You are very overweight or underweight.
    • You have any joint or muscle problems.
    • You have any heart or lung problems.
    • You are expecting twins.
    • You have diabetes

You should not exercise at all if:

    • You have gone into premature labour or had a threatened miscarriage during your current pregnancy.
    • You have a low-lying placenta (placenta praevia) after you are 26 weeks pregnant.
    • You have cervical weakness (also called cervical incompetence).
    • You are pregnant with three or more babies.
    • You have serious heart or lung disease.
    • You have persistent vaginal bleeding.
    • You have very high blood pressure.

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