For a majority of women exercising in pregnancy is a safe and rewarding activity that helps build tone to improve the recovery time from birth. A woman’s body does change during pregnancy as the body prepares to give birth. These changes, and the ongoing health of the fetus, mean that in general exercise should be less intense, performed in shorter periods and stopped when discomfort occurs.
Changes to your body during pregnancy
During pregnancy a number of changes occur to your body such as:
- changed body shape – that may effect your balance and make it harder to bend and stretch
- increased weight due to the growing baby
- your core body temperature rises approximately 1 degree celsius
- the expanding uterus pushes your diaphragm (chest muscle) upwards making breathing more difficult
- your heart rate increases as your body needs to pump more blood through your body to maintain oxygen supply to the baby
- your body releases the hormone relaxin which softens ligaments and joints making them less stable and more prone to injury
These changes can make it more difficult for you to perform exercise and physical activities that you could previously perform.
Advantages of exercise in Pregnancy
- improve your mood and relieve stress
- lessen tiredness
- reduce leg cramps
- reduce swelling
- reduce the risk of developing gestational diabetes
- reduce back pain
- increase the chance of an uncomplicated vaginal delivery
- help with faster recuperation after labour
- reduce your fat gain
- improve your sleep
Disadvantages of excessive exercise in Pregnancy
- increase the risk of physical damage to the abdomen and/or baby
- increase the stress put on your body to a point that you pass out
Recommendations for safer exercise
monitor your condition, temperature and heart rate and do not overexert yourself. A heart rate of over 140bpm is not recommended.
- if you are feeling short of breath, too hot, tired or uncomfortable stop and rest.
- drink plenty of water when exercising
- do warm up and gentle stretching exercises
- avoid long periods of standing
- avoid exercise that involves sudden movements such as bouncing, jumping or quick changes of direction
- avoid exercise involving excessive heat (eg saunas, hot tubs and pools at > 32 degrees celsius)
- avoid exercising when you feel unwell
- avoid scuba diving
- avoid exercise where you might fall or you run the risk of physical contact to the abdomen
- we recommend you tell the coach/instructor/trainer that you are pregnant
High Risk groups
If you have one of the following conditions you should be extra careful performing exercise or even discontinue exercise.
- placenta previa
- pre-term contractions
- high blood pressure
- persistent vaginal bleeding
- poor growth of the baby
- heart disease
- pelvic instability
Common forms of exercise during pregnancy
Many women take up some form of mild exercise during pregnancy. Popular forms of exercise include walking, swimming, water aerobics, exercise bike, tai chi, yoga, pelvic floor exercises and exercise classes designed specifically for pregnant women.
As always, if you are in doubt about what exercise is safe for you or you have specific questions please consult your doctor or midwife.