Everything you need to know about exercise in pregnancy

exercise in pregnancy blog

This should cover all the questions I'm normally asked about exercise and pregnancy, but if you have any questions I haven't covered please ask below!

For most women, exercising during pregnancy will be of great benefit.  You should always seek the advice of your healthcare provider first, especially if you have a higher risk pregnancy or an underlying health issue.  They will then advise you on the type of exercise that is suitable for you.

All the published guidelines and benefits are based on moderate aerobic activity, such as:

  • swimming and water workouts
  • walking
  • indoor cycling
  • low impact aerobics
  • Pilates and yoga
  • strengthening exercises

Benefits of exercise during pregnancy for you

  • reduces the risk of pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes
  • reduces back ache
  • reduces bloating, swelling and constipation
  • helps to maintain a healthy weight gain
  • improves sleep
  • maintains or improves fitness and strength
  • reduces stress and anxiety
  • increases feeling of wellbeing

Benefits of exercise for baby

  • healthy weight gain
  • healthier and stronger hearts
  • may aid brain development
  • better blood flow
  • healthy immune system
  • soothes - counteracts effects of stress

The current UK guidelines

  • you can continue with your regular exercise if it is comfortable to do so
  • you're fine to start an exercise programme if you're a beginner, but ease into it
  • aim for 150 minutes of exercise a week (moderate intensity)
  • two strength training sessions per week
  • adapt your workout as you progress through your pregnancy
  • listen to your body (details below)

Exercises to avoid in your first trimester

One of the things I get asked most regularly is when is it the best time to start exercising - is it ok to exercise in your first trimester?

The truth is that many women don't realise they're pregnant and carry on as normal in their first weeks of pregnancy with no issues.  Others have morning sickness, fatigue and/or light-headedness and don't feel up to much.  Others just prefer to wait until after their 12 weeks scan.

There is no evidence that exercise causes miscarriage. 

But there are a lot of changes going on in your body, even though you may not look pregnant yet. Give yourself permission to rest and use this time to start to tune in to how your body feels during and after exercise.  That will always be your best guide

So most exercises will be fine to continue as normal, but if you do any of the following workouts, it's advisable to switch to something else instead

  • exercises with a risk of falling eg horse-riding, roller/ice skating, gymnastics, aerial arts, outdoor cycling, skiing
  • exercises that risk trauma to your bump eg martial arts, boxing, team sports
  • exercises that risk dehydration eg hot yoga and hot Pilates
  • deep sea diving - free diving or scuba diving
  • altitude training

If you do any breath training where breath holding is used eg Hypopressives, Wim Hof, then these are no longer advisable (although you can still do the poses in Hypopressives and work on slow breathing, both of which are still very helpful)

Avoid working out when you have a temperature

Exercises to avoid in your second trimester

Many women start to feel better and have more energy as they hit the second trimester.  This is the perfect time to start exercising if you haven't yet.

The uterus now moves out of your pelvis and you begin to show, so there are a few adaptations you need to make

  • no lying on your stomach
  • no direct work on your abdominals after 12 weeks eg crunches, sit ups,double leg lifts, hanging lifts
  • avoid lying flat on your back to exercise after 20 weeks

Exercises to avoid in your third trimester

As you head into your third trimester you may need to take into consideration how your back is feeling and whether you're getting any pelvic girdle pain. This doesn't mean you have to stop exercising - you just need to modify what you do.

  • you may find you tire quicker so shorter workouts are advisable.  This is also the time to reduce exercise intensity.
  • your posture may change because of the weight of baby and your balance may be a little off.  Make sure you have support available to use whenever you need it
  • you are likely to have diastasis recti - where your stomach muscles have drawn apart to accomodate baby.  If you see any doming - like a little triangle at the top of your stomach - try to avoid that movement.  Normally it is when you are reclining

What about running?

Are you allowed to run in pregnancy?

Yes - if you were already running you're fine to continue

When should you stop?

Whenever it feels uncomfortable

Will it affect my pelvic floor?

Any impact exercise is going to increase the strain on the pelvic floor, which is already supporting baby.  It may be that your pelvic floor is strong enough for that.  But if you start to get leaking or back pain these could be a sign to stop or to reduce the amount of time you spend running.  You could also try running on a softer surface

When should a pregnant mum stop exercising?

Ideally never!!!  The benefits of exercise keeps going throughout your pregnancy and staying active in labour is also key, so if you can keep moving!

What you will want to do is modify your exercise to how you are feeling - no matter what trimester you're in.

  • exhausted by the end of a workout then it is probably too strenuous for now. 
  • leaking urine
  • back pain

Modify by shortening the workout, using less resistance, using a smaller range of movement

If you have pelvic girdle pain exercise is still worth doing - a lot of pelvic girdle pain is from stress and immobility.  So keeping moving is essential, you just want to do the right moves that help and don't hurt.  You can read more here

There are definite reasons to stop exercising.  If you experience any of these symptoms get checked out

  • vaginal bleeding
  • regular painful contractions
  • leaking amniotic fluid
  • calf pain, redness or swelling
  • chest pain or difficulty breathing
  • dizziness or headache
  • vomiting
  • muscle weakness
  • swelling of face, hands and feet

The best exercises for pregnancy and labour

I am not an athlete so my goals when exercising is to feel well, move comfortable and stay strong

If I were an athlete, I would be using the principle of Specificity - using targeted exercises that prepare for the event ahead. 

We want to use that goal in pregnancy too - so the best exercises are those that prepare us for labour.  We want strength, stamina, pelvic floor prep, birthing movements and relaxation techniques.

You can learn some of these in my free course - the 5 most beneficial exercises for pregnant women. These will help you stay comfortable in pregnancy and prepare for labour.  You can find out more and sign up here

If you want to go further, I'd love for you to join my safe online pregnancy classes  - workout at home, meet other mums-to-be and be confident you're doing exercises to keep you strong and prepare you for labour and the postnatal period!

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