Exercise and Pregnancy

Pregnancy exercise


Exercise is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle and can be particularly beneficial during and after pregnancy. Significant changes in the cardiac, respiratory, hormonal and musculoskeletal systems during pregnancy, mean that many pregnant women can experience shortness of breath, fatigue, lower back pain, pelvic joint change, separation of the abdominal muscles and urinary continence.

With safe and targeted exercises, women can minimise postural changes, reduce the risk of new injuries, build strength safely, improve recovery post-pregnancy, safely manage any injuries, gain health benefits and maintain mobility, of course in addition to reducing stress levels and fatigue.

Clinical Practice Guidelines for Exercise during pregnancy

There are several general guidelines to exercise during pregnancy, which should be considered during pregnancy:

Consult a healthcare professional

Seek medical advice before starting any exercise during pregnancy. Your healthcare provider will consider your medical history, current condition, and any potential risks to determine what exercises are safe for you.

Maintain moderate exercise intensity

It is important to undertake moderate intensity physical activity, and not to undertake intense exercise or strenuous exercises during pregnancy. Heavy strength training is best avoided, and allow longer breaks or lower the number of reps.

In pregnancy, even at rest, the body is already working harder than normal. Excessive or vigorous exercise can cause a diversion of uterine blood from to the working muscles, causing less blood and oxygen to the baby.

Consider low impact aerobics or light strength training, as this places minimal stress on the pregnant body, and the increased risk of pregnancy complications. It is important to avoid contact sports as abdominal trauma may occur causing harm to the baby.

Keep cool and avoid hot/humid conditions

This is important as the baby is not able to regulate temperature itself. Pregnancy increases your body temperature, so be mindful of overheating. Exercise in well-ventilated areas, wear lightweight clothing, and avoid hot and humid environments. If you feel too hot or dizzy, take a break and cool down.

waterStay hydrated

It’s important to stay well-hydrated throughout your pregnancy. Aim to drink around eight glasses of water per day, but individual needs may vary. Carry a water bottle with you to remind yourself to drink regularly. If you’re physically active or in a hot climate, you may need to increase your water intake. Sweating and increased activity can lead to additional fluid loss.

Warm up and cool down

Warm-up and cool-down exercises are essential components of any exercise routine, including during pregnancy. They help prepare your body for physical activity and promote a safe transition into and out of exercise. During pregnancy this will also help to minimise cramps and blood pooling in the legs

Avoid laying on your stomach

Lying flat on your stomach can put pressure on the uterus and the growing baby, causing discomfort and potentially reducing blood flow to the placenta. However, early on in pregnancy when the uterus is still small, lying on your stomach may not pose a risk.

Stop if feeling unwell

Pay attention to how your body feels during exercise. It’s important to avoid overexertion and modify your routine as your pregnancy progresses. If you experience dizziness, shortness of breath, pain, or any other discomfort, stop exercising and consult your healthcare provider.

Continue pelvic floor activation and strengthening

Strengthening your core muscles and pelvic floor is particularly important during pregnancy and can help with labor and postpartum recovery. However, avoid exercises that involve lying flat on your back after the first trimester, as it can put pressure on a major vein and reduce blood flow to the baby.

Modify program and exercise set up based on trimester of pregnancy

As your pregnancy progresses, your body will undergo various changes. It’s important to listen to your body and modify your exercise routine accordingly. Pay attention to any discomfort, pain, or shortness of breath, and adjust your intensity, duration, or type of exercise as necessary.

Benefits of exercise in pregnancy

Exercise is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle and can be particularly beneficial during and after pregnancy. It is wonderful to see healthy pregnant women exercising outdoors, performing aerobic exercise, pilates or at the gym doing light weights. Aerobic exercise really helps with respiratory and cardiovascular health.

Under the guidance of a women’s health physiotherapist, exercise during pregnancy can provide extensive benefits for both the mum-to-be and baby:

Maintain pelvic stability, strength and mobility

Maintaining pelvic stability, strength, and mobility during pregnancy is important for the overall well-being and comfort of expectant mothers. Here are some tips and exercises to help achieve these goals:

Pelvic floor exercises help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which support the bladder, uterus, and bowel. To perform pelvic floor exercises, think about stopping the flow of urine when you go to the toilet. Hold this contraction as long as you can. It is also important to practice quick on/off contractions. Try to do these a few times throughout the day.

Squats can help strengthen the lower body and promote pelvic stability.

Pelvic tilts help improve pelvic mobility and alleviate lower back pain. Stand with your back against a wall or come into 4-point kneeling position. Gently tilt your pelvis forward and backward, pressing your lower back against the wall or thinking of tucking your tail bone under in 4-point kneeling. Repeat this movement several times, focusing on engaging your core muscles.

Glut bridge

Glute bridges strengthen the gluteal muscles and improve hip stability. Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Slowly lift your hips off the ground, squeezing your glutes at the top. Lower your hips back down. Start with a few repetitions and gradually increase as you get stronger. Which is essential with an increasing weight through the pelvis as the baby grows alongside an increase in ligament laxity

Reduce the risk of chronic health conditions

Engage in moderate exercise as recommended by your healthcare provider. Physical activity can help prevent or manage conditions such as gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and excessive weight gain.

Assist with stress management

Exercise during pregnancy can help to lower cortisol levels helping with stress and anxiety.Pregnant sleeping

Improve sleep

It can be increasingly difficult to get a good night’s sleep and find a comfortable position as the baby grows. Exercising can help improve your sleep patterns during pregnancy.

Maintain a healthy weight

Moderate intensity exercise during pregnancy really helps prevent excessive weight gain. Pregnancy can be uncomfortable from just carrying the baby, so extra weight gain is unhelpful and best avoided.

Help to prepare for labour

With safe and targeted exercises, pregnant women can minimise postural changes, reduce the risk of new injuries, build strength safely, improve recovery post-pregnancy, safely manage any injuries, and maintain mobility, of course in addition to reducing stress levels and fatigue.

Post natal return to exercise

Congratulations on the arrival of your little one and welcome to your new role as mum!

Pregnancy and birth is a very exciting time which involves significant changes in the body and hence a requires time for return to previous activity and strength. There’s should be a gradual return to exercise during the postpartum period. As much as we would love to return to what we were doing pre-pregnancy straight away, it is important to allow Time for the body to recover and gradually rebuild strength during this postpartum period.

A physiotherapy rehabilitation plan can provide a safe and graduated exercise program to return to your previous activities and reduce the risk of injury in the post-partum period. It can help address any pelvic floor issues, lower back aches, abdominal separation, postural changes and much more.

An exercise program should initially involve pelvic floor exercises, and beyond 6 weeks once assessed by a physiotherapist can incorporate further abdominal exercises, upper body and lower body strength, alongside rebuilding cardiovascular exercises such as swimming and walking.

Pregnancy hormones remain in the body for up to 3months after giving birth, increasing ligament laxity and hence pelvic stability – so high impact and dynamic exercises such as jumping and running should be commenced beyond minimum 3 months. For a postnatal assessment and tailored rehab plan, come in to see our women’s health physiotherapist to make sure your exercise is safe and effective to get you back on track to where you want to be!

Get Professional Advice

It should be noted further exercises limitations may be advised for women with ‘high risk’ pregnancies. It is always advised that women during pregnancy and after childbirth are guided by their physiotherapist or other healthcare professional to ensure tailored and safe exercise prescription. Considering booking in here to see our Women’s Health Physio Millie or register your interest here for pre/post-natal group exercise classes.

Keep an eye out on our instagram for some great strength and stretch exercises for pregnancy!

Pregnant or new mum and need some help?