Keeping fit and healthy in pregnancy will make it easier for you to adapt to your changing shape and weight gain. It also helps with preparing you for labour and your recovery after you have had your baby.
Exercise is not dangerous for your baby and can help with your emotional and mental-wellbeing. Regular, gentle exercise can help you sleep better and reduce pregnancy related aches and pains and evidence shows that active women are less likely to experience problems in later pregnancy and labour.
If you have been active before pregnancy – with sport, running, yoga, dancing – you can keep going with it for as long as you feel comfortable. You may find you tire more easily, so listen to your body and pace yourself.
If you haven’t been very active before pregnancy – start off your pregnancy by becoming more active. Daily, gentle walking is a great place to begin, the more active you are , the better you will feel.
Top tips for exercising in pregnancy
Do not exhaust yourself. You may need to slow down as your pregnancy progresses or if your maternity team advises you to. If in doubt, consult your maternity team.
As a general rule, you should be able to hold a conversation as you exercise when pregnant. If you become breathless as you talk, then you’re probably exercising too strenuously.
If you were not active before you got pregnant, do not suddenly take up strenuous exercise. If you start an aerobic exercise programme (such as running, swimming, cycling or aerobics classes), tell the instructor that you’re pregnant and begin with no more than 15 minutes of continuous exercise, 3 times a week. Increase this gradually to daily 30-minute sessions.
Remember that exercise does not have to be strenuous to be beneficial.
Exercise tips when you’re pregnant:
- Always warm up before exercising, and cool down afterwards
- Try to keep active on a daily basis – 30 minutes of walking each day can be enough, but if you cannot manage that, any amount is better than nothing
- Avoid any strenuous exercise in hot weather
- Drink plenty of water and other fluids
- If you go to exercise classes, make sure your teacher is properly qualified and knows that you’re pregnant, as well as how many weeks pregnant you are
- You might like to try swimming as water aids in supporting your increased weight. Some local swimming pools provide aqua-natal classes with qualified instructors.
- Exercises that have a risk of falling, such as horse riding, downhill skiing, ice hockey, gymnastics and cycling, should only be done with caution as falls carry a risk of damage to your baby
Exercises to avoid in pregnancy
- Do not lie flat on your back for long periods, particularly after 16 weeks, because the weight of your bump presses on the main blood vessel bringing blood back to your heart and this can make you feel faint
- Do not take part in contact sports where there’s a risk of being hit, such as kickboxing, judo or squash
- Do not go scuba diving, because the baby has no protection against decompression sickness and gas embolism (gas bubbles in the bloodstream)
- Do not exercise at heights over 2,500m above sea level – this is because you and your baby are at risk of altitude sickness
Exercises for a fitter pregnancy
If you are pregnant, try to fit the exercises listed in this section into your daily routine.
- Start in a box position (on all 4s) with knees under hips, hands under shoulders, with fingers facing forward and abdominals lifted to keep your back straight
- Pull in your stomach muscles and raise your back up towards the ceiling, curling your trunk and allowing your head to relax gently forward. Do not let your elbows lock
- Hold for a few seconds then slowly return to the box position
- Take care not to hollow your back: it should always return to a straight/neutral position
- Do this slowly and rhythmically 10 times, making your muscles work hard and moving your back carefully
- Only move your back as far as you can comfortably
Pelvic tilt exercises
- Stand with your shoulders and bottom against a wall
- Keep your knees soft
- Pull your tummy button towards your spine, so that your back flattens against the wall: hold for 4 seconds then release
- Repeat up to 10 times
Pelvic floor exercises
- Close up your bottom, as if you’re trying to stop yourself going to the toilet
- At the same time, draw in your vagina as if you’re gripping a tampon, and your urethra as if to stop the flow of urine
- At first, do this exercise quickly, tightening and releasing the muscles immediately
- Then do it slowly, holding the contractions for as long as you can before you relax: try to count to 10
- Try to do 3 sets of 8 squeezes every day: to help you remember, you could do a set at each meal
These types of exercises will strengthen your muscles to help you carry the extra weight of pregnancy. They’ll also make your joints stronger, improve circulation, ease backache, and generally help you feel well.