Exercise during pregnancy is one of the most controversial topics expecting mums will come across. Many pregnant women will get funny looks if they announce they are even thinking of continuing their old exercise routine and instead they are told ‘not to be silly’, to hang up their trainers and take a load off for 9 months (maybe a year if you factor in the postpartum period).
Is exercise during pregnancy bad for you?
Can this traditional concept of exercise during pregnancy really be correct? In recent years a lot of research has said no, with medical practitioners not only allowing but even encouraging mums-to-be with normal pregnancies to exercise regularly.
Expectant mums have agreed with this and more and more women are choosing to stay active throughout their pregnancies. A wealth of new work-out routines and exercise schemes tailored for pregnant mothers are coming onto the market to help them.
But that doesn’t mean that exercise routines shouldn’t be adjusted. Together with this great movement towards healthier mums-to-be, it’s also important to remember to first consult your doctor before working out to get the all clear, to exercise safely (see our tips for exercising during pregnancy safely) and to choose exercise routines that are appropriate for your body and for each stage in your pregnancy.
Potential benefits of exercising during pregnancy for mums-to-be:
I think all pregnant women could use a bit more sleep! Research has found that women who exercise regularly fall asleep more easily and wake up feeling more relaxed.
The endorphins released by the brain when we exercise helps us to feel happy and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
At a time when hormones are flooding our bodies, it’s easy to get wound up and stressed about a myriad of different things.
Too much of the stress hormone cortisol can affect the baby in the womb, so if exercise can help you feel calm and relaxed, it will be good for you and good for baby.
Makes you strong
Exercise strengthens the muscles, which help your body to carry the additional weight of the baby, placenta, and amniotic fluid as the pregnancy progresses.
Some studies have shown that exercise can help you to have a smoother labour and reduce the chances of needing an emergency Caesarian section.
Quicker postpartum recovery
Exercise during pregnancy helps your body to recover quicker after birth and also helps you to get back to your pre-baby weight faster.
Potential benefits of exercise during pregnancy for babies:
Research has shown that on average babies of mums who exercise have higher results in intelligence tests. This seems to indicate that exercise during pregnancy may boost brain functionality!
Studies indicate that babies of mums who exercise during pregnancy are born at healthier weights, survive the stress of labour better and recover quicker.
Research has even found that babies of mums who exercise during pregnancy tend to sleep through the night earlier and have less chances of getting colic.
Pregnancy exercise: Lunges
Make sure your front knee stays level above your ankle and drop the back knee. Add some dumbbells to increase the workout!
So is exercise during pregnancy considered safe?
In the case of a normal pregnancy without complications, pregnant women are generally encouraged to continue their normal exercise or daily activity for as long as they feel comfortable. If you are one of the many women with complications in pregnancy, then take the advice of your doctor as to what activities you can safely do.
With an otherwise normal pregnancy, it’s a good idea to be sensible about the exercise you choose to do (now is not the time to start training for marathons!). You can take a look at our Tips for exercising during pregnancy safely.
Check with your doctor before beginning or continuing any workout routine, and be sensitive to your body, so that you don’t get too fatigued, or push yourself too far. The NHS advises that as a rule of thumb you should be able to hold a conversation during your work out when pregnant.
When you find exercise appropriate for you, it can be a great release during pregnancy. It can help build up your strength, keep you fit and be something that you enjoy and look forward to.
Pregnancy exercise: Step-ups
Use a staircase or a low step. Do these on their own or as part of an antenatal step routine. Step-ups are great for cardio and for balance.
How often should I exercise?
Some medical professionals advise pregnant women to exercise for 30 minutes a day, either every day or several times a week, in order to keep fit and active.
Many mums-to-be feel too tired or unwell to do exercise every day and that’s fine too.
Others prefer to avoid targeted ‘exercise sessions’ and instead prefer to incorporate more general movement into their everyday routine. This could be done by walking more instead of driving or taking the bus, or climbing the stairs instead of taking the lift.
The important thing is to stay active and keep it regular. Even two 20 minute work-outs a week, will give you health benefits.
Pregnancy exercise: Squats
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Squat down by pushing your knees to the side while moving hips back. Squats are great practice for labour as well as strengthening the glutes and core.
What should I be careful of?
For those who are used to super-intensive regular work-outs, it can be hard to tone these down while pregnant. While exercise and movement is beneficial to you and to baby, it’s also important not to overdo it.
Try and remember that toning down or changing your exercise routine is only temporary. It might also mean that you end up trying and loving a completely new type of work out (like antenatal pilates) which is more suitable for pregnancy, and which you would never have discovered before.
Although you will probably have to give up the marathon runs or sprints, there are so many other ways to get a good work-out that support your body during pregnancy.
It’s a matter of adjusting your usual exercise routine to something that works for you and finding joy in it.
What exercise should I do?
Lower intensity exercises such as walking, swimming and antenatal yoga are generally recommended as great workouts during pregnancy in the absence of any other complications.
Gentle but muscle toning, they get the blood pumping while also being manageable for the body. Swimming in particular can help you feel more comfortable towards the end of the pregnancy, when you’re feeling heavy and immobile.
Getting into the water and feeling that little bit lighter and freer can give you a lot of relief.
What about the higher intensity workouts?
Some of these may need to be adapted during pregnancy. You can adapt a workout by changing the balance between these three elements:
Intensity is the factor which puts your body under a lot of strain. During pregnancy it’s a good idea to reduce the ‘intensity’ but at the same time increase the ‘duration’ and the ‘frequency’ with which you work out.
Are you used to fast running? Why don’t you power walk twice the distance instead to get your workout? Your fitness will be maintained as well as your muscle build-up.
You can always adapt the speed of the power walking depending on what feels best for you at each stage of the pregnancy. Other workouts, like using the cross trainer, and some aerobic workouts, may be able to be continued as they are. Always check with your doctor before exercising, and listen to your body and what feels comfortable.
Exercises recommended during pregnancy:
- Power walking
- Antenatal Yoga
- Antenatal Pilates
- Pelvic floor exercises. Sit or lie down and imagine you are trying to stop a stream of pee. Tighten the muscles and hold for the count of 10.
- Weights. Try and keep these the same weights (or lighter) that you lifted before pregnancy rather than increasing them.
- Cross trainer. Check with your doctor what intensity you should be working out at. You should be able to hold a conversation while doing your work out.
- Antenatal exercise groups. These are a great way to find safe workouts, find motivation and meet other expecting mums
- At home pregnancy workouts from specialised antenatal trainers
- Everyday Activity. Exercise doesn’t need to be formal. Just walking more, climbing stairs and doing housework can make a difference to your fitness level and keep you energised.
Exercises to avoid completely during pregnancy:
- Contact sports. Any sport where there is a risk of your being hit or hurt is best avoided. Kickboxing or squash, are examples of ones to put on hold for now.
- Sports with a risk of falling. Horse-riding, skiing, snowboarding are all examples of sports where you are moving at high speeds and may suffer from falls. If you were to fall it could have serious implications for your baby so it’s best to pause those for your pregnancy.
- Exercising while lying on your back. This is particularly important later in pregnancy as the uterus gets heavier with a growing baby, placenta and amniotic fluid. The main risk is that when you lie on your back this weight may press down on a major vein, the vena cava, and restrict blood flow. For that reason, it’s best to exercise on your side when doing floor exercises.
- Scuba diving. The baby has no protection against decompression sickness so it is not recommended to scuba dive
- High altitude. Exercising during pregnancy at heights of over 2,500 meters altitude is not recommended. It’s also a good idea to check with your doctor before you travel to destinations with high altitude.
Enjoy workouts that are right for you
As always use your instinct and be sensible. If an exercise doesn’t feel right for you, if you are getting pains or feeling faint during or after it…then don’t do it!
It’s not worth the risk and there’s no shame in not being able to do certain workouts. Just because your friend can jog around the park 3 times while heavily pregnant, doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea for you to do the same.
Find exercises that you enjoy and that feel good for you.
There are so many out there from professional antenatal trainers, that work and tone your body gently and keep your fitness and strength up.
And you can enjoy taking care of yourself and having that special ‘me-time’ during your workouts.