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Five questions about exercise during pregnancy

Being pregnant is an amazing time in your life. Knowing that you’re going to have a baby can bring a huge amount of joy. However, you may be feeling concerned about the changes you need to make to your current lifestyle. One of these concerns is commonly ‘should I or shouldn’t I exercise?’

Claire Fitzpatrick and Georgina Parker, Senior Musculoskeletal Physiotherapists at Bupa, separate the myths from the facts and answer our five big questions.

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  • 1. I’ve never exercised before. Now that I’m pregnant, is it a good idea for me to begin an exercise programme? I’ve never exercised before. Now that I’m pregnant, is it a good idea for me to begin an exercise programme?

    Georgina: “If you didn’t exercise before you became pregnant, check with your doctor first to get the go ahead. If you’re all ready to go, start gently for 10 minutes or so. If this feels comfortable and you’re not getting any pain or unusual symptoms, gradually build up to 30 minutes a day. If you feel dizzy, breathless or start getting pain or any vaginal bleeding then stop and see your doctor or midwife. Always remember the rule that you should be able to have a conversation whilst exercising.”

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • 2. Is it okay for me to do vigorous exercise during my pregnancy? Is it okay for me to do vigorous exercise during my pregnancy?

    Claire: “There’s lots of evidence to suggest that the more active and fit you are during your pregnancy, the better it is for your baby. It will also be easier for you to adapt to your changing shape and weight gain.

    “When you’re pregnant, it’s a good idea to monitor your heart rate when you work out. While there’s no set limit to how high your heart rate should go, don’t exercise to extreme breathlessness or do exercise until you’re exhausted. As a rule, you should still be able to hold a conversation.

    “When you exercise, listen to how your body feels, drink fluids and exercise indoors in the summer. You’re core temperature shouldn’t climb above 39°C, so if you start to feel too hot, lessen the intensity of your activity by a few notches. If you’re concerned at all, speak to your doctor, midwife or a women’s health physiotherapist.”

  • 3. I currently run regularly. Will I still be able to if I’m pregnant? I currently run regularly. Will I still be able to if I’m pregnant?

    Claire: “If you were a regular runner before becoming pregnant, then yes, you can run while you’re pregnant. However, it’s not a good idea to take up running during your pregnancy.

    “Going for a run is an easy and efficient way to work your heart and body. Your aim should be to maintain your current level of fitness rather than achieve peak fitness. It’s important to stop if you begin to feel too tired and during your third trimester, wind down the distance, time and intensity. At this point, you may prefer to try something more gentle like swimming, walking or prenatal Pilates.

    “It’s fine to continue running for as long as you feel comfortable. You’ll find that as your bump gets bigger, your balance may be affected, putting you at risk of falls so be extra careful.

    “During pregnancy, your body produces a hormone called relaxin, which can loosen your joints and make you more prone to injury. Therefore, you might want to take it a little bit easier to reduce your chance of getting injured.

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  • 4. What are the warning signs that I should stop exercising? What are the warning signs that I should stop exercising?

    Georgina: “There are a few warning signs to look out for when you’re exercising during your pregnancy. If you have any chest, stomach, leg or joint pain stop exercising immediately and see your doctor. The same applies if you feel dizzy, short of breath, faint, have vaginal bleeding or lose fluid from your vagina.

    “If you’re having difficulty walking because of joint and muscle pain, have a chat with your midwife or physiotherapist for help and advice. Be aware of your baby’s movements – they often reduce during exercise. However, if you notice a prolonged period of reduced movements, which aren’t normal for you, get a check up as soon as you can.”

  • 5. Is it safe for me to do abdominal (tummy muscle) exercises while I’m pregnant? Is it safe for me to do abdominal (tummy muscle) exercises while I’m pregnant?

    Claire: “Pregnancy isn’t really the time to try and increase the tone of your abdominal muscles. It’s a good time, however, to try and maintain the tone that you achieved pre-pregnancy.

    “It’s not a good idea to do any exercises flat on your back (such as sit ups or crunches) after your first trimester. Lying in this position can restrict the flow of blood returning to your heart and make you feel sick or dizzy. Plus, you don’t want to put too much pressure on your already stretching abdominals.

    “I would recommend attending a specific prenatal exercise class taken by a qualified professional such as a women’s health physiotherapist. That way, they can ensure the workout you’re completing is safe for your stage of pregnancy.”

  • Resources Resources

    Further information

    Sources

    • Exercise in pregnancy. Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. www.rcog.org.uk , published January 2006
    • Exercise in pregnancy and the postpartum period. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada. www.sogc.org, published June 2003
    • Exercise during pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. www.acog.org, accessed 21 November 2013
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