It wasn’t that long ago that women were discouraged from exercise during pregnancy. Pregnancy was almost seen as an ailment that required lots of rest (which is partly true!) and minimal exertion or exercise of any kind. Thank goodness those ideas are now incredibly outdated!
Pregnancy is a natural and normal process that our bodies were designed for. While of course there are a few considerations to keep in mind when it comes to exercising during pregnancy, in most cases it is seen as being more detrimental to your health and your baby’s health not to do regular exercise.
I know this is a topic that many Mummas-to-be have so many questions on, so I’ve created a Birth Beat guide to exercise during pregnancy to break down some of the key considerations and precautions.
What are the benefits of exercise during pregnancy?
Just like exercise at any other time, exercise during pregnancy is great for your cardiovascular and heart health, strength, mobility and mental wellbeing. That extra-kick of feel-good endorphins can work wonders to boost your overall mood and energy levels, which is always a good thing but especially so during pregnancy!
While you’re pregnant you don’t need to be aiming for peak fitness. Despite what is often portrayed on social media, the goal here shouldn’t be about how you look but more so about your overall health and well being as you prepare for childbirth and parenthood beyond.
Some of the key benefits of regular exercise during pregnancy include:
- Prevention of excessive weight gain
- Shorter and less complicated labours
- Greater overall psychological health and well being, reducing risk of depression and anxiety
- Decreased chance of needing to have an unplanned Cesarean-section
- Reduced back ache and pelvic pain
- Relief from swollen legs and feet
- Relief and prevention of constipation
- Increased blood flow and circulation to your entire body but importantly, to your baby!
When can’t you exercise during pregnancy?
If you’re fit and active prior to becoming pregnant and you have a healthy, uncomplicated pregnancy, then you can and should continue to exercise. It’s always a good idea to check with your GP, midwife or obstetrician if you have any questions but they will ask you about your general fitness and activity levels as well.
As your pregnancy progresses you will have to adjust your exercise routine as you’ll likely be feeling extra tired, short of breath and of course moving differently to accommodate that gorgeous bump! Remember, no one knows your body better than you do so if something doesn’t feel right, stop.
If you haven’t exercised regularly prior to becoming pregnant that doesn’t mean it’s too late to start. The most important thing to remember in this instance is to go easy to start with. Any regular movement is better than nothing at all. Start small with a gentle half hour walk or swim a few times a week and gradually build up the frequency and duration if it feels comfortable.
Pregnancy specific yoga and stretching can be particularly beneficial, even if you’ve never tried something similar before. There are several yoga moves and certain stretches that aren’t suitable for pregnant women so make sure you always check with a qualified instructor – our Ultimate Online Prenatal Program has an entire module dedicated to pregnancy safe yoga and stretching as well as guided relaxation.
There are several complications whereby your healthcare provider may advise against exercise or suggest a very specific set of exercises for you. Some of these include; being pregnant with multiples, high blood pressure, heart disease, pre-eclampsia and risk of premature labour. If you have any questions or doubts, always check with your healthcare provider.
Additionally, if you ever experience any of the following symptoms during or after exercise, consult your healthcare provider immediately:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Headache, feeling faint or dizziness
- Contractions or pain in the lower back, pelvic area or abdomen
- Decreased foetal movement
- Vaginal bleeding or amniotic fluid loss
- Sudden onset of swelling of the ankles, hands and face
- Pain, swelling or redness in the calf
What do you need to be mindful of when it comes to exercise during pregnancy?
Pregnancy is a time of rapid and constant physical change; there is so much that your body needs to adjust and account for as you grow a tiny human! As such, it’s only natural that there will be some unique considerations when it comes to exercise during this time. Here a few things to keep in mind:
- Increased body weight and change in body weight distribution – if you’re within the healthy weight range before becoming pregnant, you can expect to gain approximately 11-16kg in a normal healthy pregnancy. This increase in body weight will naturally increase the loading on your joints. As your pregnancy progresses you may find that some weight-bearing exercises become more and more uncomfortable. You’ll also notice that your centre of gravity changes as your bump grows which can affect your balance.
- Relaxin hormone – during pregnancy your body releases a hormone known as relaxin which helps your ligaments to relax and stretch to accommodate the bump and also to prepare for childbirth. This can make you more prone to injury and over-stretching.
- Blood pressure – some women may experience high blood pressure during pregnancy, while many may experience low blood pressure due to the increased blood volume. Low blood pressure can increase the risk of dizziness or fainting, especially while exercising.
- Heart rate – your resting heart rate will generally increase while pregnant, so you need to be mindful of your max heart rate while exercising. Your max heart rate while pregnant will depend on several factors including your age, but it will always be less than your normal max heart rate. It’s wise to work with a fitness professional who specialises in pregnancy fitness so that they can advise you on your specific numbers.
- Be aware of overheating – this is particularly important during the first trimester but all throughout your pregnancy. Overheating can affect the development of the foetus so it’s important to stay as cool as possible; essentially avoid that red-faced, sweaty type of exercise! Think moderate exertion not extreme.
- Growing uterus – the weight of your expanding uterus can put pressure on a major blood vessel that returns blood to your heart. After 12 weeks, avoid any exercises that involve laying on your back for prolonged periods, such as bench press.
- Developing baby – it probably goes without saying but now is not the time to take-up skiing, horse riding, rock climbing or rugby! Even though baby is well protected inside your womb, it’s best to minimise the risk of falling and contact injuries wherever possible.
- Weakened pelvic floor – growing a baby, placenta and all the additional weight you gain throughout pregnancy puts a great pressure on your pelvic floor. Some exercises such as jumping, skipping and running can put extra pressure on that area. Be aware that even though it may feel OK at the time, there is a chance that you’re still weakening your pelvic floor with those movements. Try and incorporate lots of pelvic floor strengthening exercises; your physio, qualified yoga or Pilates instructor can show you specific movements for this. There is also an entire Prenatal Yoga, Stretching and Mediation Module in our Birth Beat Ultimate Prenatal Program which has been developed by our prenatal yoga expert, Deb Young.
What types of exercises are great for pregnancy?
We all know that we’re more likely to exercise if it’s an activity that we enjoy, the same goes for pregnancy. Don’t feel like you must go to the fancy pregnancy aqua-aerobics class if you hate swimming! Do what is comfortable, makes you feel good and that you enjoy, and you’ll be far more likely to stick to it.
If you’re looking for some pregnancy-safe suggestions, here are some great exercises for you to consider:
- Jogging (probably best if you’re already a regular runner)
- Swimming and aqua-aerobics
- Cycling (on a stationary bike if your new to it)
- Light and controlled weights-based workouts
- Pregnancy-specific exercise classes – lots of gyms, community groups and private providers offer these now.
Types of exercises that you should avoid while pregnant include: high contact sports, sudden jerking movements, twisting and turning through the mid-section and exercising for more than 45 minutes at a time.
The evidence is clear – exercise during pregnancy is beneficial for you and your baby! Make the most of this time to nurture your mind, body and spirit as you prepare to become a mother. The stronger, fitter and healthier you are now, the better you’ll be prepared for childbirth and all the weeks, months and years to come as a parent!
Happy exercising Mummas!