Why exercise in pregnancy is good
Being active during pregnancy is good for you and your baby.
Regular physical activity can help you feel physically and emotionally better during pregnancy.
For example, physical activity can:
- improve your fitness
- help you sleep better
- help you gain weight at a healthy rate
- improve your mood and emotional wellbeing
- boost your energy levels
- reduce constipation
- help you manage stress.
Physical activity during pregnancy might reduce the chance of pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia and too much weight gain. If you do have gestational diabetes, regular exercise might also help you manage your blood sugar levels.
Regular pelvic floor exercises can help prevent urinary problems like incontinence during pregnancy and after birth.
Exercise in pregnancy: what to aim for
It’s safe for you to exercise during pregnancy if you’re healthy and have an uncomplicated pregnancy.
At least 2½ hours of moderate exercise a week is recommended during pregnancy. To get this amount of exercise, you could try exercising for at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.
If you did regular, moderate exercise before pregnancy, you can continue doing this during pregnancy.
If you didn’t regularly exercise before pregnancy, you can build up to 2½ hours of moderate exercise a week. It’s safest to start with light exercise and build up to moderate exercise at a pace that’s comfortable for you.
If you’re finding it hard to reach the recommended 2½ hours of exercise a week, it might help to do physical activity in short sessions throughout the day. And remember that any physical activity is better than none at all.
If you’re showing signs of health problems in your pregnancy or you have a medical condition like anaemia, a heart disease or lung disease, talk with your doctor or midwife. They’ll tell you whether it’s OK to exercise during pregnancy.
Safe and comfortable pregnancy exercises
If you can, it’s good to have a mix of aerobic exercise and strength training, because these work different parts of your body.
Walking is one of the best and safest forms of aerobic exercise. It exercises your whole body, and you can walk anytime, anywhere. Walking can make it easier to fit exercise into your day, because it can be part of your daily routine. For example, you can walk to the train station, shops or post office.
Aerobic exercises that support your body weight might be more comfortable for you, especially in late pregnancy. This includes stationary cycling, swimming and pregnancy aqua aerobics. Water-based exercises can also help to relieve pregnancy aches and pains because the water supports your whole body.
Many other aerobic exercises are safe to do if you regularly exercised this way before pregnancy. They can include jogging or running and low-impact exercise classes.
Strength and flexibility training is safe during pregnancy, as long as you avoid lying flat on your back. This kind of training includes pregnancy yoga or pilates with a qualified instructor.
If you did strength training using free weights or weight machines before pregnancy, it’s usually safe to continue with this too.
It’s a good idea to ask your doctor or midwife before trying a new exercise while pregnant. And if you’re doing a new exercise class, make sure you’re working with a qualified fitness instructor. Let the instructor know you’re pregnant, so they can modify your workout for pregnancy.
Exercises and physical activities to avoid in pregnancy
Pregnancy changes your weight, centre of gravity, joint stability, circulation and breathing. Some of these changes happen early in pregnancy although they might not be obvious until later in pregnancy. Changes like these can make some exercises unsafe for you or your baby.
It’s usually best to avoid physical activities with:
- high impact to your joints from jumping or sudden changes in direction and position – for example, tennis, basketball or netball
- a risk of getting hit in the stomach – for example, soccer, hockey, football, softball, basketball, boxing or other contact sports
- a high risk of falling – for example, cycling, skiing, horseback riding and some forms of gymnastics
- heavy weights
- big changes in pressure – for example, scuba diving and skydiving.
Overheating in pregnancy
Overheating in pregnancy can be dangerous for your baby.
This means it’s best to avoid physical activities that put you at risk of overheating, like hot yoga or hot pilates. You should also avoid places like spas or saunas.
You can also reduce your risk of overheating by avoiding exercising:
- in the heat of the day
- with a fever or when unwell
- at an intense level.
To keep cool during exercise, it’s a good idea to drink plenty of water and wear light, loose-fitting clothing.
Avoid lying on your back during exercise. Lying on your back can reduce the blood flow to you and your baby and make you feel dizzy or breathless.
When to stop exercise during pregnancy
Stop exercising and contact your doctor or midwife immediately if you experience:
- vaginal bleeding or you think your waters have broken
- a change in your baby’s usual movement pattern
- regular and painful contractions
- sudden or severe shortness of breath
- dizziness or a headache
- blurred vision
- loss of balance
- pain, especially in your back, chest, stomach or pelvic area
- sudden swelling of the face, hands or ankles
- calf swelling or pain.
If you feel unwell, nauseous or out of breath while exercising, stop to recover and take it a bit easier next time. If you’re worried, talk to your doctor or midwife.