The more active and fit you are during pregnancy, the easier it will be for you to adapt to your changing shape and weight gain. It will also help you to cope with labour and get back into shape after the birth.
Keep up your normal daily physical activity or exercise (sport, running, yoga, dancing, or even walking to the shops and back) for as long as you feel comfortable.
Is exercise good during early pregnancy?
Exercise is not dangerous for your baby – there is some evidence that active women are less likely to experience problems in later pregnancy and labour.
Exercise tips for pregnancy
Don't exhaust yourself. You may need to slow down as your pregnancy progresses or if your maternity team advises you to. If in doubt, consult your maternity team.
As a general rule, you should be able to hold a conversation as you exercise when pregnant. If you become breathless as you talk, then you're probably exercising too strenuously.
If you weren't active before you got pregnant, don't suddenly take up strenuous exercise. If you start an aerobic exercise programme (such as running, swimming, cycling, walking or aerobics classes), tell the instructor that you're pregnant and begin with no more than 15 minutes of continuous exercise, three times a week. Increase this gradually to at least four 30-minute sessions a week.
Remember that exercise doesn't have to be strenuous to be beneficial.
Exercise tips when you're pregnant:
- always warm up before exercising, and cool down afterwards
- try to keep active on a daily basis: half an hour of walking each day can be enough, but if you can't manage that, any amount is better than nothing
- avoid any strenuous exercise in hot weather
- drink plenty of water and other fluids
- if you go to exercise classes, make sure your teacher is properly qualified, and knows that you're pregnant as well as how many weeks pregnant you are
- you might like to try swimming because the water will support your increased weight. Some local swimming pools provide aquanatal classes with qualified instructors.
- exercises that have a risk of falling, such as horse riding, downhill skiing, ice hockey, gymnastics and cycling, should only be done with caution. Falls may risk damage to the baby
Exercises to avoid in pregnancy
- don't lie flat on your back for prolonged periods, particularly after 16 weeks, because the weight of your bump presses on the main blood vessel bringing blood back to your heart and this can make you feel faint
- don't take part in contact sports where there's a risk of being hit, such as kickboxing, judo or squash
- don't go scuba diving, because the baby has no protection against decompression sickness and gas embolism (gas bubbles in the bloodstream)
- don't exercise at heights over 2,500m above sea level until you have acclimatised: this is because you and your baby are at risk of altitude sickness
Exercises for a fitter pregnancy
If you are pregnant, try to fit the exercises listed below into your daily routine. They will strengthen your muscles so that you can carry the extra weight of pregnancy. They'll also make your joints stronger, improve circulation, ease backache, and generally help you feel well.
As your baby gets bigger, you may find that the hollow in your lower back increases and this can give you backache. These exercises strengthen stomach (abdominal) muscles and may ease backache, which can be a problem in pregnancy:
- start in a box position (on all fours) with knees under hips, hands under shoulders, with fingers facing forward and abdominals lifted to keep your back straight
- pull in your stomach muscles and raise your back up towards the ceiling, curling the trunk and allowing your head to relax gently forward. Don't let your elbows lock
- hold for a few seconds then slowly return to the box position
- take care not to hollow your back: it should always return to a straight/neutral position
- do this slowly and rhythmically 10 times, making your muscles work hard and moving your back carefully
- only move your back as far as you can comfortably
Pelvic tilt exercises
- stand with your shoulders and bottom against a wall
- keep your knees soft
- pull your tummy button towards your spine, so that your back flattens against the wall: hold for four seconds and release
- repeat up to 10 times
Pelvic floor exercises
Pelvic floor exercises help to strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor, which come under great strain in pregnancy and childbirth. The pelvic floor consists of layers of muscles that stretch like a supportive hammock from the pubic bone (in front) to the end of the backbone.
If your pelvic floor muscles are weak, you may find that you leak urine when you cough, sneeze or strain. This is quite common and you needn't feel embarrassed. It's known as stress incontinence and it can continue after pregnancy.
You can strengthen the muscles by doing pelvic floor exercises. This helps to reduce or avoid stress incontinence after pregnancy. All pregnant women should do pelvic floor exercises, even if you're young and not suffering from stress incontinence now.
How to do pelvic floor exercises:
- close up your anus as if you're trying to prevent a bowel movement
- at the same time, draw in your vagina as if you're gripping a tampon, and your urethra as if to stop the flow of urine
- at first, do this exercise quickly, tightening and releasing the muscles immediately
- then do it slowly, holding the contractions for as long as you can before you relax: try to count to 10
- try to do three sets of eight squeezes every day: to help you remember, you could do a set at each meal
As well as these exercises, practise tightening up the pelvic floor muscles before and during coughing and sneezing.