Regular physical activity is important for many women during pregnancy to have a healthy living lifestyle. You can reap huge benefits during delivery if you undertake regular exercises. In most cases, moderate exercise is safe and beneficial for both mother and the baby. In general, at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day is recommended. You should aim to do a mixture of both aerobic physical activity and muscle-strengthening physical activity. If you are not used to regular exercise, you can start with gentle physical activities and then gradually increase the duration and intensity of the exercises.
What type of exercises should I do whilst pregnant?
Pregnant women should try to do a mixture of both aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises.
• Aerobic activity is any activity that makes your heart and lungs work harder such as brisk walking, jogging, swimming or dancing. Aerobic activity is something which makes you mildly out of breath and sweaty.
• Muscle strengthening activity includes weight training, climbing stairs, lifting or carrying shopping, yoga or similar resistance exercises that strengthen major muscle groups.
What kinds of physical activities are recommended during pregnancy?
Being pregnant does not mean that you should restrain yourself from doing any kind of physical activities. However, you do need to be sensible about what type of physical activity you do.
In general, any physical activity which will improve or maintain your physical fitness as well as your health is recommended. It includes:
• Everyday activities. Such as walking, regular domestic chores, gardening etc
• Active recreational activities. Such as dancing, swimming etc
• Gentle Sports: Such as playing tennis/ badminton and regular exercise sessions at the gym etc
Pelvic floor exercises are also important during pregnancy and are advised for all pregnant women. These help in strengthening the pelvic floor muscles which comes under strain when you are pregnant and at the time of labour.
What are the benefits of physical activities during pregnancy?
Regular Physical activity can help you to:
• Improve stamina and increased lung capacity
• Have less fatigue & better sleep
• Maintain healthy weight during and after delivery
• Less chances of developing back ache which occurs frequently in pregnancy
• Avoid constipation
• Less risk of developing swelling of feet, ankles or hands
• Avoid anxiety & depression
• Have a reduced risk of developing diabetes during your pregnancy (gestational diabetes). In women who do develop diabetes during their pregnancy, regular physical activity may help to improve the control of their diabetes.
• Perhaps, have a shorter labour and be less likely to have problems or complications during the delivery of your baby.
What precautions are to be taken while doing exercises in pregnancy?
Special care should be taken while choosing exercise routine as there are many physical changes during pregnancy which can lead to injury if not taken care of. This includes increased blood volume and hormonal changes that can affect the muscles and ligaments, change is mobility of joints and ease of breathing during pregnancy.
• Exercising while lying on your back after 16 weeks of pregnancy can make you feel light-headed and you may faint as vena cava, one of the main blood vessels of your body gets compressed by the developing baby.
• Experts also recommend that you should be careful if you are undertaking activities where you may be more likely to lose your balance and fall, injuring your abdomen, and possibly injuring your developing baby. You are advised to avoid activities such as horse riding, downhill skiing, ice hockey, gymnastics and cycling whilst being pregnant.
• Contact sports such as squash, judo, boxing, kickboxing etc must be avoided as you have a chance of being hit in your abdomen.
If you are joining exercise class that is not designed for pregnant women, do let your trainer know that you are pregnant. Also, you should always remember to warm up and cool down at the beginning and at the end of each session.
How much physical activity should I do whilst pregnant?
If you are used to doing regular exercises before you were pregnant, you can try to keep up with your usual level of physical activity for as long as you can and feel comfortable while doing it. However, it is normal that as your pregnancy goes along, you may have to take it easy and have to slow down the intensity of your physical activity. You may not be able to exercise to the same level as before. A good goal to aim for is at least 30 minutes of aerobic physical activity per day whilst you are pregnant. Keep your exercise sessions to no longer than 45 minutes.
If you are not used to doing regular physical activities before pregnancy, you should not just suddenly start an intensive exercise programme. Start with 15 minutes of physical activity three times a week and then increase this gradually to 30-minute sessions four times a week and finally to 30 minutes every day. Listen to your body and act accordingly
You should aim to become warm, mildly out of breath, and mildly sweaty during your exercise sessions. You should be able to complete a sentence comfortably and hold a conversation whilst you are doing physical activity. If you can do this, you are probably exercising at the right level or intensity. If you become too breathless to talk whilst you are doing physical activity, it probably means that you are doing too much and you have to slow down.
When is it not safe to exercise?
Physical activity during pregnancy is safe for most women. Doctor's advice should be taken as they will be able to guide the expecting mothers better depending upon their medical history. You must seek medical advice before starting physical activity if you have;
• Known heart & lung problems
• Vaginal bleeding that continues throughout the pregnancy
• High blood pressure during pregnancy
History of pre mature labour in the past
• Any signs of preterm labour during this pregnancy
• Premature rupture of the membranes
• Known weakness of their cervix (cervical incompetence), including women who have had a stitch in their cervix
• Low lying placenta for more than 20 weeks
• Signs that their baby may be small-for-dates (Intra uterine growth retardation) on ultrasound scanning during this pregnancy
• A twin or multiple pregnancy (triplets, quadruplets, etc)
• Poorly controlled epilepsy
• Poorly controlled thyroid disease during pregnancy.
• Severe anaemia during pregnancy.
• Bone or joint problems that may affect your ability to exercise.
• Poorly controlled diabetes during pregnancy
Is there any reason why I should stop exercising during pregnancy?
As mentioned above, there are many benefits of doing regular physical activity whilst you are pregnant. However, there are a few things that you should be careful about. You should stop exercising and seek urgent medical attention if you develop:
• Excessive shortness of breath
• Chest pain or palpitations
• Painful contractions, signs of labour or any leakage of amniotic fluid (waters breaking)
• Heavy vaginal bleeding
• Excessive tiredness
• Severe abdominal pain
• If the movements of the baby have become less than normal
• Calf pain or swelling with redness
When can I start exercises after delivery?
It is generally advised that you can start walking, doing pelvic floor exercises and stretching immediately after birth provided that you have had a normal vaginal delivery with no complications. You should gradually increase your physical activity to build up to your pre-pregnancy levels. If you have had a Caesarean section, you should ask your doctor when it is safe for you to start physical activity. In general, it is not usually recommended to start until after your postnatal check at 6-8 weeks. Postnatal exercise does not reduce the quantity or the quality of your breast milk or have any harmful effects on your baby.
Post natal exercises can help you to:
• Lose weight and get back in shape
• Increase your energy levels
• Improve your mood and avoid anxiety / postnatal depression
• Help to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles and reduce your chance of developing stress incontinence (leakage of urine during strain/coughing)