We are constantly being told these days how good exercise is for us. It can improve our physical fitness, our mental health and reduce the risk of numerous chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
Pregnant women used to be told to rest or take it easy, as it was believed that exercise might be harmful for the mother and /or her baby. These days there are more and more studies showing us that lifestyle behaviours during pregnancy can have a huge effect on the woman’s health and that of her baby. Physical activity is now being proposed as a therapeutic measure to reduce pregnancy complications and optimise maternal-fetal health worldwide.
Some of the suggested benefits of physical activity for pregnant women include:
- Improved muscular strength and endurance
- Improved cardiovascular function
- Reduced back and pelvic pain
- Reduced fatigue, stress, anxiety and depression
- Reduced risk of pregnancy-related complications such as pregnancy-induced hypertension or pre-eclampsia
- Reduction in excessive gestational weight gain with fewer delivery complications, and
- Prevention and management of urinary incontinence
What exercise should you do during pregnancy?
- If you were inactive prior to falling pregnant the recommendations are to start being more active by slowly increasing the duration of gentle exercise, such as walking.
- Pregnant women should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity each week to achieve clinically meaningful reduction in pregnancy complications
- This physical activity should be accumulated over a minimum of 3 days/week, however being active daily is encouraged.
- Pregnant women should incorporate a variety of aerobic and resistance training activities to achieve greater benefits. Adding some gentle stretching, such as yoga or pilates may also be beneficial
- Pelvic floor muscle training exercises should be performed daily, to reduce the odds of urinary incontinence. It is advised to get proper instruction on technique to get maximal benefits.
- Women who experience light-headedness, nausea or feel unwell lying on their back are recommended to modify their position and avoid exercising in this position. Do. not exercise on your back in the second and third trimesters.
Some safety precautions for exercising whilst pregnant, include:
- Avoiding activities which involve physical contact or danger of falling, as this may increase the risk of foetal trauma (such as martial arts, horse riding, skiing, hockey, gymnastics, cycling)
- Avoid scuba diving
- Avoid physical activity in excessive heat, especially with high humidity
- Maintain adequate nutrition and hydration – drink water before, during and after physical activity.
- Know the reasons to stop physical activity and seek medical advice immediately if they occur.
First trimester: Correct pelvic floor exercises, proper technique for core exercises, fix any postural imbalances and continue exercising.
Second trimester: Correct pelvic floor exercises, no exercising on your back, no heavy lifting, no new exercise (except Pilates), prevent pelvic pain, maintain muscle strength, improve deep core strength.
Third trimester: Pelvic floor exercises, no exercising on your back or tummy, maintain fitness and strength.
Post-natal: Whether you had a natural or caesarean delivery, the first 6 weeks is gentle. Enjoy being a mum and focus on walking, pelvic floor exercises and correct deep core exercises. It is best to get your tummy and pelvic floor muscles checked by a physio before returning to exercise. When your baby is 12 weeks old and you have been cleared by your health professional, you can slowly return to your normal exercise routine.
If you have any concerns regarding exercising whilst pregnant or have any aches and pains during your pregnancy it is probably best to seek some advice from a health practitioner, such as your doctor or physiotherapist.
The team at Clifton Hill Physiotherapy have a lot of experience in helping women to start and continue exercising during their pregnancy by managing any aches and pains you have.
We also run small supervised group exercise classes at our Clifton Hill Rehabilitation and Pilates site. Here we provide a tailored exercise program for you to help you to achieve your exercise goals.
Mottola MF, Davenport MH, Ruchat S-M, et al. 2019 Canadian guideline for physical activity throughout pregnancy, British Journal of Sports Medicine 2018; 52: 133-1346