Exercise during pregnancy: benefits, safety precautions & what to avoid

Baby Yum Yum - Preggy fit keeping fit during pregnancy & beyond
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Let’s face it, exercise can be a big ask when all you want to do is snuggle up on the coach with your favourite series on Netflix. Add a baby bump to the situation and you’re basically asking for the impossible. But, having said that, you may just find that the benefits of exercise during pregnancy are enough to give you the boost you need to put your couch potato days behind you. With one caveat: you’ve got to get the all-clear from your healthcare provider first.

That shouldn’t be a problem, however, because in most cases exercise is safe and even recommended during pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise per day on most, if not all, days of the week.

Can you start exercising while pregnant?

If you’ve never exercised regularly, you can safely begin an exercise programme as long as it’s not a completely new, strenuous activity. In other words, don’t start training for a marathon when you’ve never managed to make it around the block.

To those of you who don’t have as much of an attachment to the couch, the general rule of thumb is that if you were active before pregnancy, you should be able to continue your activity in moderation. Don’t try to exercise at your former level, instead, do what’s comfortable.

Remember: now is not the time to exercise for weight loss. Leave that until after the baby is born.

Is it safe to exercise during pregnancy & who should NOT exercise while pregnant?

If you have a medical condition such as asthma, heart disease, or diabetes then exercise may not be advisable. This includes pregnancy-related conditions as well, such as:

  • Recurrent miscarriages or a high risk for one
  • History of premature births or preterm labour
  • Low-lying placenta
  • Weakened cervix
  • Bleeding or spotting.

Not to say that exercise is completely out of the question, but you need to talk to your health provider first. It may just be that they are able, based on your medical history, to give you personalised exercise guidelines. However, if you don’t get the go-ahead then sit back and feel free to binge on that series.

Baby Yum Yum - The benefits of exercise during pregnancyThe benefits of exercise during pregnancy

  • Improve circulation. This may help to prevent constipation, haemorrhoids, varicose veins, leg cramps and those swollen pregnancy “cankles.”
  • Help to prevent back pain. Exercise helps to strengthen the muscles that support the spine and maintain good posture.
  • Improve energy. Pregnancy often leaves women feeling tired, but regular exercise can give you more energy to make it through the day. A strengthened cardiovascular system will give you more stamina, and stronger muscles will allow you to accomplish tasks with less effort.
  • Help you sleep better. Provided you exercise at least three hours before bedtime, exercise can result in a deeper and more restful slumber.
  • Improve mood. It’s been shown that exercise can help to lessen mood swings, improve your self-image, and allow you to feel a greater sense of control.
  • Help to prepare you for childbirth. Some studies suggest that exercise can result in a shorter labour, fewer medical interventions, and less exhaustion during childbirth. It won’t reduce the pain (damn!), but it may give you the endurance you need to get through it like a child-birthing Superwoman.
  • Make it less likely that you gain excess weight. Most experts agree that gaining excess weight during pregnancy makes it harder to lose after the baby is born. Regular exercise helps you bounce back into your pre-pregnancy clothes faster.

Now, if an easier birth, a better chance of getting your jeans past your knees, and feeling happy and full of energy appeals to you, then I may just have succeeded in getting you off the couch.

Safety precautions: how to exercise safely while pregnant

  • Exercise causes blood flow to shift away from the uterus to give your heart, muscles, and lungs more oxygen. Make sure not to exercise too strenuously. Stick to the recommended heart rate level, and don’t hold your breath for an extended period of time. This will ensure that baby is getting all the oxygen it needs.
  • As your pregnancy progresses, your centre of gravity shifts, making a fall more likely. Exercise on a level surface to prevent injury, and avoid rocky terrain or unstable ground. Now is not the time to plan that ski trip in the Alps.
  • Exercise increases your body temperature, which can affect the baby’s development. Use caution when exercising in hot weather, and make sure to take frequent breaks and have plenty of fluids before, during, and after your workout.
  • Your ligaments are laxer. This makes you more prone to sprains and joint injuries.
  • During the second and third trimester, lying on your back can decrease blood flow to the uterus.

Exercises to avoid during pregnancy

There are some activities and exercises you are better off avoiding while pregnant, including:

  • Contact sports such as football, basketball and volleyball.
  • Activities where falling is likely, such as skiing and horse-riding.
  • Exercise that may cause abdominal trauma, including activities that involve jarring motions, rapid changes in direction, and twisting the waist while standing.
  • Activities that require considerable jumping, hopping, skipping, bouncing or running.
  • Deep knee bends, full sit-ups, double leg raises, and straight-leg toe touches.
  • Ballistic stretching (bouncing while stretching).

Exercises that are safe during pregnancy

I’m hoping you didn’t have your heart set on any of the above, but, even so, there are still some good options of exercises and activities that are safe for pregnant women, like:

  • Swimming keeps your body toned without adding weight and stress to your joints. It’s also not likely to cause overheating and there’s less chance of an ungraceful face-plant.
  • Walking is generally safe for everyone and is easy on your body and joints. It doesn’t require extra equipment and is easy to fit into a busy schedule.
  • Bicycling: A stationary bike is great because there’s a lower risk of falling. It supports your weight and, therefore, puts less strain on your body. As your abdomen grows (and your bum and thighs get smaller), it can put a lot less stress on your back.
  • Prenatal yoga is a good way to maintain a healthy mind and body. It focuses on increasing strength and flexibility, while also helping to develop proper breathing and relaxation techniques that may result in an easier delivery.
  • Prenatal Pilates helps with flexibility and strengthening of the core muscles. This, in turn, can help to relieve lower back pain and reduce the risk of that pesky little “peeing in your pants” problem every time you laugh, cough, or sneeze that can develop during and after pregnancy.

Tips for exercising during pregnancy

  • Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing, as well as a good supportive bra.
  • Choose well-fitting shoes that are designed for the type of exercise you are doing.
  • Eat enough healthy calories to meet the needs of your pregnancy and your exercise programme.
  • Finish eating at least one hour before exercising.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • After doing floor exercises, get up slowly and gradually to prevent dizziness.
  • Avoid intense bursts of exercise followed by long periods of inactivity.

Exercises that are safe during pregnancy - Baby Yum YumExercising during pregnancy: warning signs

Don’t exercise to the point of exhaustion. If you’re feeling tired, breathless, or too hot, stop! A good way to tell if you’re overdoing it is if you can’t talk normally while exercising. If this is the case, slow down! And make sure to contact your healthcare practitioner if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Vaginal bleeding or fluid leaking from the vagina
  • Abdominal pain, pelvic pain or persistent contractions
  • An absence or decrease in foetal movement
  • Headache
  • Feeling faint, dizzy, nauseous, or light-headed
  • Feeling cold or clammy
  • Unusual shortness of breath
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Sudden swelling in your ankles, hands, face, or calf pain
  • Muscle cramps or weakness
  • Difficulty walking.

“A good way to tell if you’re overdoing it is if you can’t talk normally while exercising.”

Exercises to strengthen & soothe a sore back during pregnancy

What kind of chiropractor would I be if I didn’t look out for your spine? Here are a few exercises that may help to strengthen your back and keep you out the chiropractor’s rooms. Of course, you’re always welcome, but you may not be as excited to see me as I am to see you.

Kegel exercises help to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. When performing this exercise, try to envision pulling the muscles of the vaginal area up and in towards your baby. You shouldn’t feel your buttocks, thighs or abdominals tightening while you do this.

Pelvic tilts help to strengthen the abdominal muscles. Get on your hands and knees. Tilt your hips forward and pull your abdomen in. Your back should round slightly. Stay in that position for a few seconds then relax without letting the back sag.

Arm and leg raises help to strengthen the muscles of the back and buttocks. Get on your hands and knees with a straight spine. Do a pelvic tilt to stabilise the pelvis then lift your right arm and left leg while keeping your spine straight. Pause in this position and then slowly lower your arm and leg. Repeat on the other side. If you have difficulty keeping your balance in this position, modify the exercise by performing the leg and arm raises separately.

Wall squats help to strengthen the abdominals, buttocks, and thighs. Stand with your head, shoulders, and back against a wall with your feet at a comfortable distance away from the wall. Press your lower back into the wall and lower yourself into a squat position with the knees approaching a 90-degree angle. Hold for a few seconds then slowly come back up, keeping your back and buttocks in contact with the wall.

Maintaining a regular exercise routine throughout your pregnancy can help you stay healthy and feel your best. And who wouldn’t want that, right? Especially when pregnancy may be a time when you don’t feel much like any of those things.

There to lend a hand,

Dr Tony

This article was written for BabyYumYum by our partner chiropractor, Dr Tony Karpelowsky.

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