Written by Paula Jones Last updated: September 12, 2007
Keeping healthy while you are pregnant is of primary importance for both you and your baby and taking some form of exercise will go a long way to keeping you fit. Exercise tones your muscles ready for the strain of labour but also encourages a general feeling of well‐being…
A guide to exercising and staying fit while you’re pregnant…
Why exercise can be helpful
Keeping healthy while you are pregnant is of primary importance for both you and your baby and taking some form of exercise will go a long way to keeping you fit.
There are a number of forms of exercise that are suitable when you are pregnant but whatever you do, check it out with your doctor or midwife first. Exercise tones your muscles ready for the strain of labour but also encourages a general feeling of well‐being. You will feel more alive and positive and the action will stimulate your baby. Exercise can also be helpful in coping with a number of minor ailments that are experienced throughout pregnancy. For example, many women find that they have trouble sleeping, which is often caused by not having enough exercise during the day. You do not need to go for a five‐mile jog to help you sleep but some light exercise, such as walking the dog will help. Exercise does not have to be strenuous to promote sleep, but a light tiredness can be enough to combat the feeling of being unable to get comfortable. Exercise can also help women feel as though they are in control of some of the symptoms of pregnancy.
Starting a new exercise programme
While there are a great many benefits to exercising during pregnancy, care should be taken if a new programme is to be started from scratch. Begin by checking with your GP that there are no reasons why some kind of exercise should not go ahead, and whether a particular set of movements should be encouraged or avoided?Once the all clear has been given, you can choose the type of exercise you would like to begin (see the section below).
Continuing an existing exercise programme
If you have been exercising regularly before becoming pregnant, there is no reason why you should not continue with a more gentle form of the established programme. Once your pregnancy has been confirmed, check with your GP to make sure that the exercise you have previously been doing is safe for your individual condition. If he or she is happy with the type of exercise you have been doing, then just reduce the duration and intensity of the exercise during pregnancy. If your GP recommends that you change the type of exercise that you undertake, try changing to one of the exercise forms below.
Which form of exercise?
There are a variety of forms of exercise that are suitable for pregnant women. They are generally gentle, simple exercises that do not put undue stress on the body, or the growing baby.
Yoga is an excellent form of exercise, as it is gentle and relaxing. The movements in yoga improve suppleness and help you to focus on specific muscle groups. As well as having relaxing properties, these exercises increase awareness of the way the body moves, and the functions that each muscle performs. This is beneficial for labour, as the relaxation techniques learned in yoga classes can be transferred. The focus on breathing promoted in yoga is also of benefit to women during labour, as heightened awareness of the way breathing can be used to relax is beneficial. Yoga can either be practiced in a classroom or at home with one of the videos available on the market. Home exercising with yoga is reasonably safe, provided the routine is followed closely and danger signs are looked out for. Attending a yoga class is a positive way of exercising during pregnancy, as the instructor will be able to offer advice and specialist care. There is also the opportunity to meet and socialise with other women.
The main benefit of swimming is that the exercise is done in water, which supports the joints and helps reduce the likelihood of injury. Swimming is good for stamina and toning the body and promotes a feeling of general well being. It is important to swim in a heated pool during pregnancy and not to push yourself too hard. It is important to rest frequently, and to take the exercise at your own pace. This can be quite simple with swimming, as it is often an activity done alone or as a couple. This way there is no feeling of peer pressure or having to keep up with others.
Many pools and health centres run special aqua‐aerobics classes for pregnant women, and these are a good form of exercise. Exercising in water supports the joints, so little impact is suffered. The increased buoyancy offered by exercising in water allows a higher level of movement to be achieved without risking damage or injury. Classes designed for pregnant women are likely to be of a lower impact than a standard class, and will use either lighter weights or no weights at all. There is likely to be a focus on breathing and keeping the movements small and controlled. These classes also offer a good place to meet other women, form friendships and find support. Many women find exercising in water very relaxing, and find they are able to work out for longer periods, due to the support provided by the water. However, exercise in water still causes perspiration, and it is important to recognise that fluids are lost and need to be replaced during or after exercising.
This is one of the best forms of exercise during pregnancy, as the necessary equipment is readily available and very cheap. While no special clothes are necessary for walking, it is important not to become too hot or too cold. Loose comfortable clothing should be worn, preferably in layers so that items can be removed or added with ease. Trainers with a reasonable amount of support should also be worn. Walking should be taken at a gentle pace, and liquids taken at regular intervals if the weather is warm. Walking may become uncomfortable in the later stages of pregnancy.
Gentle cycling, whether static or road cycling is a good form of exercise for pregnant women, as it can be taken gently at your own individual pace. As for any type of exercise, wear loose, comfortable clothing and soft shoes. Do not allow yourself to become out of breath or push too hard; steep inclines should be avoided. Balance can be affected in the later stages of pregnancy, and this may make road cycling difficult. Do not be tempted to try to cycle outside if your balance is affected, as falling from a bike could harm your baby.
Lifting weights during pregnancy is a slightly controversial issue. While the benefits in helping to prevent osteoporosis are not denied, it is debatable as to whether pregnant women should lift weights at all. It is certainly not advisable for anyone to begin lifting weights for the first time during pregnancy, but women who have previously exercised in this way should be able to continue, as long as the weight lifted and the number of repetitions is reduced. Those used to lifting weights should reduce the load by 15%, and should do more reps with lighter weights rather than vice versa. As with any form of exercise it is worth consulting your GP on this matter especially as practitioners have different opinions on this issue.
One of the most important exercises to be done during pregnancy are pelvic floor exercises. The pelvic floor is made up of muscles and tissues suspended from the pelvic bone, forming a funnel shaped support for the bowel, bladder and uterus. While women of all ages are encouraged to exercise these muscles, hormones released during pregnancy cause an amount of relaxation in the pelvic floor and so it is doubly important to keep these muscles toned at this time. The exercises that will help keep the pelvic floor toned are usually explained during antenatal classes, and are not difficult to practice. If you are not sure where your pelvic floor muscles are, they are the muscles that are used when you try to stop the flow of urine. Once you are used to isolating these muscles, practice tensing and releasing them 25 times or more each day. Hold the muscles for as long as possible each time. This duration will increase with practice, as will the number of repetitions possible. These exercises can be done just about anywhere, while sitting at a desk, cleaning your teeth or standing in a queue at the bank.
Home or away?
Many activities can be practised in the home or at a class or group. There are benefits to both, and the choice of activity is really down to the individual. If you know of a class that you would like to go to, and can afford the fees, then you will be safe exercising under supervision. If, however, budget is an issue, there is no reason why you shouldn’t walk or cycle in safety, as long as you look out for any danger signs as detailed below.
Provided it is undertaken in a sensible way, exercising during pregnancy should be perfectly safe. However there are some signs that indicate there may be problems.
If any of these symptoms are experienced while exercising, you should stop and rest immediately: severe breathlessness, dizziness or disorientation, shortness of breath, cramping in the abdomen or lower back, loss of blood or fluid from the vagina. While exercising during pregnancy it is important to take notice of the way your body feels, and the signals it is giving you. If you are feeling tired, or experiencing discomfort in any area, stop exercising and rest. Any pain experienced during exercise should be taken seriously and acted upon; stop the movement immediately and consult your GP, midwife or other caregiver as soon as possible.
Exercises to avoid
It is highly recommended that sit/curl-ups should not be attempted during pregnancy, as these can put undue stress on the muscles of the abdomen. These muscles separate to allow the uterus to enlarge, and may not be able to deal with the strain that this type of exercise can inflict.
There is debate as to whether jogging is safe during pregnancy. There is no doubt that jogging can place strain on the joints, and can also jar the back and pelvis. Women who have jogged seriously before becoming pregnant may be happy to continue, provided they have a pregnancy with no complications and their GP is happy with this course of action. It is probably not a good idea to begin jogging while pregnant, as the body will not be used to the stresses and strains that this form of exercise can give.
It is generally accepted that contact sports should be avoided during pregnancy, as the risk of accident is too high. Also, some sports and activities that can be found at holiday resorts, such as water skiing, should also be avoided.
Special care should be taken with flexibility and stretching exercises, as the ligaments are looser than normal. Overstretched ligaments will not totally recover, and could cause problems later on. Long or sharp stretches should not be performed, as they can be dangerous, although gentle stretches to relieve soreness or stiffness can be performed.
During late pregnancy, any exercises lying on the back should be avoided. This is because this position can stop blood flowing freely to the foetus.
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Confetti has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis, advice and treatment of medical conditions or before starting or continuing a fitness programme whilst pregnant.