What are the benefits of exercise during pregnancy?
During pregnancy your body undergoes lots of changes. You might experience some unpleasant symptoms as your pregnancy progresses and your baby grows. The good news is that regular exercise can help to relieve some of these pregnancy-related symptoms. It may help to:
- improve your sleep
- help with constipation
- boost your mood
- reduce your risk of high blood pressure and gestational diabetes
What kind of exercises are safe during pregnancy?
If you exercised regularly before becoming pregnant, you should be fine to carry on with your usual activities. But, if you feel unwell at any time while exercising, stop and take a break.
If you haven’t been active for a while, or are thinking of doing something new, start slowly and build up gradually. It’s a good idea to speak to your midwife or GP before starting any new exercise regime. Always listen to your body and stop if you feel any pain or discomfort.
Below are some different types of activity that are safe to continue with during pregnancy.
- Aerobic exercise such as brisk walking. Aerobic exercises raise your heart rate and make you slightly breathless, which can help to improve your fitness.
- Strength training involves moving your muscles against some kind of resistance, such as weights or your own body weight.
- Swimming and aqua aerobics are good forms of exercise to do when you’re pregnant as the water helps to support your weight.
- Yoga is another good option and can help to reduce stress and anxiety during pregnancy. It’s best to choose classes specifically for pregnancy so that the movements included are safe.
It’s also important to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles by performing exercises known as ‘kegels.’ Your pelvic floor muscles support your bladder, bowel, and womb and help them to work properly. Keeping them strong can help to reduce the risk of urinary incontinence (passing pee without meaning to).
What exercises should be avoided in pregnancy?
You should avoid the following activities and exercises while pregnant.
- Contact sports, like rugby. This is because you’re more at risk of your baby bump being knocked or injured.
- Activities that have a high risk of falls, such as horse riding and skiing.
- Exercises or movements that involve lying on your back. This is because the weight of your baby could press on blood vessels, reducing blood flow to them in the womb.
- Scuba diving isn’t safe during pregnancy.
You may also choose to avoid road cycling while pregnant in case you fall from your bike.
Is it safe to exercise in each trimester?
It’s safe to exercise throughout your pregnancy but you may need to adapt your routine as your pregnancy progresses and your bump grows.
Exercise in early pregnancy can be challenging as this is when you’re most likely to feel sick (known as morning sickness). You might also feel very tired. Listen to your body, but if you feel able to exercise then you should.
If your exercise routine involves lots of high intensity exercise, you might want to reduce the intensity. It’s also important to avoid dehydration, so make sure you drink enough water.
During pregnancy your body produces a hormone called relaxin that makes your ligaments and tendons soften. This can increase your risk of injury because your joints become looser. Reduce your risk of injury by warming up and cooling down, and don’t make sudden changes in direction during exercise.
How soon can I exercise after giving birth?
If you had a healthy pregnancy and didn’t have any problems giving birth, it’s fine to do gentle exercise such as walking when you feel able to.
It’s important not to do too much too soon. You should wait until your six-to-eight-week check-up after giving birth before doing any strenuous exercise. If you’ve had a caesarean birth, you may need to wait longer to fully recover. You can still go for walks and do pelvic floor exercises during this time.
Speak to your midwife or GP for more information on staying active while pregnant.