Contrary to popular belief, exercising during pregnancy won’t pose a risk to your baby. In fact, medical professionals across the board encourage expectant mothers to keep up their daily exercise routine for as long as they’re comfortable doing so (in fact some forms of exercise can be enjoyed right up until your due date!).
Depending on how your pregnancy is going, exercise may be the last thing you feel like doing, and it might feel tempting to abandon your already established routine as your body changes. While it’s important to allow yourself rest when you need it, research has shown that exercise during pregnancy can actually help alleviate pregnancy symptoms, such as back pain, poor sleep and constipation.
Why is exercise beneficial during pregnancy?
Exercise can improve your strength, balance, posture and flexibility, all of which contribute to a more resilient body that will be better able to cope with childbirth and make a strong recovery afterwards.
Even just a short movement session can improve your mood right away, and a regular exercise routine will improve your mental and physical wellbeing overall, making you better able to cope with the journey of new motherhood.
What sort of exercise can I do?
Any low impact activities such as walking, yoga and Pilates are a great place to start, but find something you enjoy and that makes you feel good, as this will be the most sustainable throughout your pregnancy and after. Specific antenatal classes are a great idea, or try a one-on-one session with a qualified Physiotherapist or movement coach.
When exercising, aim to reach moderate intensity - this means your heart rate increases, but you can still hold a conversation. While it’s great to move your body, we recommend keeping any overly strenuous activities (such as anything that leaves you gasping for breath) for after pregnancy.
You should also avoid any exercises with a risk of falling or knocking your bump (such as horse riding or kickboxing), and take care not to let yourself get too hot. And of course, always check in with your obstetrician first - they’ll be able to advise you if your pregnancy has any contraindications to exercising, or if there are any activities that you should avoid.
What if I’m new to exercise?
If you haven’t exercised before, not to worry - this is a great time to start some gentle movement! Bear in mind, though, that this isn’t the best time to take up anything too strenuous. Be gentle, start slow, and gradually increase the time that you’re exercising for. As a general rule, we recommend starting out with no more than 15 minutes of continuous exercise, three times a week.
What if I exercise already?
Great! For the most part it’s safe to continue with any activities that you were doing consistently before your pregnancy (although make sure you get the all-clear from your obstetrician beforehand).
Aim to maintain your current fitness level, rather than increase it.
Can I exercise in the third trimester?
The same guidelines apply as above, but you may find that your body is a lot heavier and your balance has changed. It’s really important to listen to your body here; now might be a good time to take your workouts down a notch and explore more gentle forms of movement, such as swimming or yoga.
Exercises to include
Pelvic floor muscles are put under strain during pregnancy and labour, so exercises that strengthen these muscles will support you in the long term and help to prevent stress incontinence. Strengthening abdominal muscles will also help to relieve backache as the weight in the front of your body increases, and may help prevent abdominal separation.
If you’re struggling with these or would like some tips on making these exercises work for your body, checking in with an expert like a qualified Physiotherapist can help to tailor a routine specifically for you.