Exercise During Pregnancy

It is important to stay active during your pregnancy, but at a safe level. This page will give you some tips and guidance.

Is exercise safe when you are pregnant?

 

What exercises can I do when pregnant?

Exercising with SPD/PGP

Pelvic Floor Exercises

What are the benefits of exercising during pregnancy?

Is exercise safe when you are pregnant?

Absolutely! Exercise has not been shown to cause miscarriage. If your pregnancy is uncomplicated, it is safer to exercise than not.

 

If you have any medical concerns in pregnancy, talk to your doctor or midwife before you exercise. They can advise you on the levels of activity that are safe for you and your baby.

It is natural to worry about miscarriage, especially in the early days of pregnancy and if you have miscarried before. However, there is no evidence to suggest that exercise causes miscarriage.

In fact, exercising during pregnancy has lots of benefits. For example, women who stay active during pregnancy have a lower risk of gestational diabetes and high blood pressure.

If you are concerned about your baby being shaken around as you exercise, don’t worry – this isn’t the case. Your baby is secure inside your womb. However, if it helps with your anxiety levels, go for low impact exercises like walking and gentle swims.

There are a few things to be aware of:

  • Be careful if you are doing exercises where you could lose your balance, such as cycling, horse riding or skiing.

  • Avoid contact sports where there is a risk of being hit, such as kickboxing, football, judo or squash (though if you’re in a team you can still continue to do any non-contact training).

  • Don’t exercise at high altitudes without acclimatising.

  • Do not scuba dive when pregnant. Nitrogen gas bubbles can pass across the placenta and your unborn baby has no protection against decompression sickness.

  • Don’t exercise for more than 45 minutes at a time.

  • While yoga, Pilates and aerobic exercise classes are great in pregnancy, make sure your teacher is trained to instruct pregnant women. For example, they should advise you to avoid some exercises or positions, such as lying on your back after 16 weeks.

  • If you have any unusual symptoms, stop exercising and contact your doctor or midwife immediately.

  • Don’t let yourself get too hot – drink lots of water, don’t over-exercise (see below) and don’t exercise in a very hot, humid climate without giving your body a few days to get used to it.

  • Don’t do exercises in which you lie flat on your back after 16 weeks.

  • Avoid pushing yourself too hard as this can make you overheat, which is not good for your baby. You should aim to work hard enough so that you breathe more deeply and your heart beats faster, but not so hard that you can’t pass the talk test. You should be able to hold a conversation without gasping for breath.

  • If you’re doing an exercise class or working out in the gym, tell the teacher or gym instructor you’re pregnant and ask their advice about checking your heart rate.

If you take care with these points you can safely continue to stay fit through your pregnancy and beyond.

If you did not exercise before getting pregnant, it is safe and healthy to start now. Start with 15 minutes of exercise 3 times a week and increase it gradually to 30-minute sessions 4 days a week or every day.

Exercise doesn’t have to mean planned sessions – there are some ideas here for everyday activity that can help boost your health and that of your baby.

What exercise can I do when pregnant?

If you exercised before you became pregnant, you can continue doing the same exercise now. The aim should be to keep your current level of fitness rather than trying to reach peak fitness.

You can exercise during your pregnancy even if you have not been active before. Good exercises for pregnancy include:​

Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercise is any activity that makes your heart beat faster. This includes brisk walking, swimming and various classes that you do to music.

If you’re new to aerobic exercise, start off slowly and gradually build up to a maximum of four half-hour sessions a week. 

Cycling

Cycling is a great low-impact aerobic exercise. However, as your bump grows, your balance will change, which could mean you are more likely to fall off.

If you’re used to cycling, you should be safe to carry on, but if you begin to feel less stable than usual it may be best to stay off your bike or switch to a stationary bike until after your baby is born.

Using a stationary exercise bike in the gym or as part of a group session is fine.

Pilates

The aim of Pilates is to improve balance, strength, flexibility and posture. It could help your body cope with carrying the extra weight of your growing baby, as well as preparing you for childbirth and recovering afterwards.

Read more about Pilates in pregnancy.

Running

If you were a runner or jogger before you got pregnant, it’s safe and healthy to continue during your pregnancy as long as you feel okay. Your baby will not be harmed by the impact or the movement. Running is a great aerobic workout.

Read more about running in pregnancy.

Strength Training

Strength training exercises are exercises that make your muscles stronger. They include swimming, working with weights, walking uphill and digging the garden.

It’s a good way to keep your muscles toned during pregnancy.

Read more about strength training in pregnancy.

Swimming/Aquanatal

Exercising in water supports your bump and won’t strain your back. It’s a great way to get your heart rate up without putting extra stress on your joints and ligaments.

Aquanatal classes are popular and can be a fun way to meet other mums-to-be. 

However, you may need to avoid breast stroke because it can cause back pain if your spine is not aligned correctly. It can also be uncomfortable for women with symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD)/pelvic girdle pain (PGP).

More about exercising with SPD/PGP

Walking

Walking is a great basis for pregnancy fitness and you can do it for the whole nine months if you feel comfortable. Walking is free and it’s available on your doorstep. If you’re not used to exercising, walking is a great place to start.

Read more about walking in pregnancy.

Yoga

Yoga is an activity that focuses on mental and physical wellbeing. It uses a series of body positions (called postures) and breathing exercises. Pregnancy yoga uses relaxation and breathing techniques with postures that are adapted for pregnancy.

Read more about yoga in pregnancy.

Exercising at Home

If you can’t get out or you’re short of time, there are plenty of exercises you can do at home or at work that you can fit around your daily activities.

Look for pregnancy workout DVDs. You could always look at ways that you can be more active around the house – putting extra energy into the housework or gardening, for example.

There are some great accounts on Instagram with ideas for home exercises during pregnancy. Check out some links on our Instagram page.

If you work, can you use your commute to exercise by getting off the bus or train a stop early and walking the rest of the way?

Pelvic Floor Exercises

Pregnancy and birth weaken your pelvic floor muscles. These muscles are located in your pelvis and go from your pubic bone at the front to the base of your spine at the back. They are shaped like a hammock and protect your bowels, womb and bladder.

Your pelvic floor muscles support these organs when you jump, sneeze or cough, lift heavy things, and push your baby out in the second stage of labour.

When you’re pregnant you should make sure you exercise the muscles of your pelvic floor. By keeping them strong you can help decrease the risk of becoming incontinent (when wee leaks out accidentally). It will also help you ease your baby out during labour, and recover faster after the birth.

You can exercise them at any time of day, wherever you are, without anybody knowing you’re doing the exercises.

How to find your pelvic floor muscles

You can find out where the pelvic floor muscles are and how you control them next time you go to the toilet. As you wee, try to stop the flow briefly. The muscles you use to do this are your pelvic floor muscles.

Don’t do this more than once, though. It’s not good for your bladder to stop mid-wee and doing it regularly may lead to a urinary tract infection (UTI).

How do I exercise my pelvic floor muscles?

Once you’ve found your pelvic floor muscles, try stopping an imaginary wee rather than a real one. Once you can locate them like this, you can exercise them any time you like by tightening and lifting.

To tighten and lift your pelvic floor muscles, imagine doing the following at the same time:

  • squeezing your bottom as if stopping a poo

  • squeezing to stop the flow of wee

  • squeezing as though you’re gripping a tampon in your vagina.

You can do pelvic floor exercises anywhere you like. Nobody will know what you’re doing - as long as you don’t raise your eyebrows each time you squeeze.

You can exercise on the bus, while you’re on the phone or waiting in the supermarket queue. Try to exercise your pelvic floor during an everyday activity, like brushing your teeth, to help you remember to do it. 

Slow squeeze pelvic floor exercise

This exercise will help support the organs in your pelvis and your growing baby.

You may not be able to hold this squeeze for long at first, but keep building up the time and make sure you always release it slowly.

  • Slowly tighten your pelvic floor, lifting the muscles inwards and upwards.

  • Continue lifting up through your pelvis and into your tummy.

  • Try to hold it for 4 seconds, then release slowly.

  • If you find you struggle to hold the squeeze for this long and there’s nothing left to release, try holding it for less time at first and working up to 4 seconds.

  • Gradually increase the length of the hold. Make sure you always have some of the squeeze left to release and that you’re able to release slowly at the end of the exercise.

Quick squeeze pelvic floor exercises

This exercise will help make you less likely to wet yourself!

  • Tighten and lift your pelvic floor in one quick contraction, squeezing the muscles inwards and upwards.

  • Pause before releasing slowly.

  • Relax fully at the end.

  • Try to perform each repetition with the same speed and strength as the first.

Remember to breathe normally when you’re doing your pelvic floor exercises.

How often should I do my pelvic floor exercises?

Once you get used to doing them, start off with 5 squeezes 5 times a day. Increase this to 10 squeezes 5 times a day if you can. Try to do a mixture of slow and quick squeezes.

Where can I find pregnancy exercise classes?

It’s not always easy to find a suitable session or instructor while you are pregnant, so here are some tips on how to find one:

  1. Ask your midwife, GP or the receptionist at your surgery or antenatal clinic.

  2. Join Facebook groups or online forums specifically for mums in your local area and ask for recommendations about local classes or instructors.

  3. Ask the instructors at your usual class or gym if they can refer you to someone.

  4. Contact your local council or leisure centre and ask about local services. Even if you can’t see anything on their website, give them a call and they might know somewhere nearby that offers sessions.

  5. Look for posters in local maternity/baby stores or at community centres, and ask other pregnant women or mums you bump into.

  6. Many instructors are members of the Register of Exercise Professionals, and you can search for those who are qualified to teach pregnant women.

  7. Always make sure you tell your instructor about your pregnancy, including any complications or medical conditions.

If you join a general class rather than a pregnancy-specific class, ask the instructor if they are able to advise you on any exercises that you shouldn’t do or ways to adapt exercises for you. If they aren’t able to do this, you should look for a different session.

What are the benefits of exercising during pregnancy?

  • helps you sleep better

  • reduces your likelihood of suffering from the common complaints of pregnancy, such as varicose veins, swollen feet and tiredness.

  • reduces your anxiety levels and boosts your mood.

Read our exclusive blog from Olympian Michelle Griffith-Robinson about why she feels exercise during pregnancy is so important. 

Source: NHS, Tommy's

Information accurate at the time of publication.

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