The importance of staying active during pregnancy
Taking care of yourself and your growing baby is the priority during any pregnancy.
However, there’s an understandable temptation to view this as a green light to let exercise take a back seat for 9 months. The good news is that you can, and should, take things easier than usual – but this doesn’t mean stopping moving altogether. The health benefits of physical exercise are just as important as they were before you were pregnant. In fact, they could be considered more so, as any movement workout you do will now benefit your baby as well as yourself.
Why should you stay active?
The NHS stress the importance of keeping active during pregnancy as the more fit and active you are, the easier it will be for you to adapt to your changing shape and weight gain.1 Regular exercise can also help reduce the likelihood of developing varicose veins, swelling in your ankles, feet and hands and may also help with back pain.2
Is exercise during pregnancy safe?
Exercise is not unsafe for your baby, but there are some exercises that are best to avoid – specifically those that carry a greater risk of falling; horse riding, skiing, cycling and gymnastics to name a few. It’s also advisable to avoid any contact sports that carry a risk of the baby being hit, such as martial arts or ball sports like tennis and squash. Going scuba diving is not advisable as your baby has no protection against decompression sickness. Finally, avoid anything that involves laying on your back for long periods once you pass 16-weeks. This is because the weight of your baby pressing on the main blood vessel that brings blood back to your heart can make you feel faint or even pass out. Yoga and Pilates are fine to do but be sure to tell your instructor that you are pregnant so that they can avoid putting you in positions that would make you uncomfortable or dizzy.
There are a few other precautions that are advisable to take too. Carrying the extra weight of a baby around will make you feel hotter more quickly, so it’s important to keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water and other fluids.
What exercises are best during pregnancy?
Many exercises are perfectly safe during pregnancy – from the early stages right up until your due date. But, this is a time to listen to your body and while you can keep up your normal movement workout of choice, you should stop if you no longer feel comfortable. As your body shape changes, some exercises may feel more comfortable to complete than others and come with benefits specific to pregnancy:
Swimming in particular is a great option as the water will support the extra weight you are carrying. Some swimming pools even have prenatal classes especially for pregnant women, so if swimming is something you are interested in, it is worth contacting your local pool to see if this is something they offer.
Stomach strengthening exercises can support the abdominal muscles that can cause backache, which is a particular problem in many pregnancies. A simple exercise you can try at home is to start on all fours with your knees under your hips and hands under your shoulders, then pull in your stomach muscles while raising your back towards the ceiling and allowing your head to relax forward. Do this slowly about ten times to make your stomach muscles work harder.
Pelvic floor exercises help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, which come under increased strain during pregnancy. If these muscles are weak, it can lead to stress incontinence when you cough, sneeze or strain and while it can be an embarrassing topic, it’s a common one that affects many women both during and beyond their pregnancy. To exercise your pelvic floor muscles, close up your bottom as if trying to prevent yourself going to the toilet and draw in your vagina in a gripping motion. Try to hold this position for as long as you can and then relax and repeat ten times, a couple of times each day.
A final word of caution
Exercise during pregnancy can be perfectly safe but as with most things, there are always exceptions. If you are suffering from certain conditions including heart or lung disease, persistent vaginal bleeding, preeclampsia or high blood pressure, or if you are anaemic, at risk of preterm labour or experiencing a multiple pregnancy, be sure to speak to your doctor before beginning any movement workout, just to be on the safe side.