Exercise during pregnancy

Pregnant woman doing yogaPregnancy is not the time to be sitting on your burgeoning backside with a packet of HobNobs. The fitter you are, the easier you are going to find coping with the birth and strains of early motherhood. Plus, exercise during pregnancy makes you feel good and gives you more energy.

So if you were exercising regularly before you got pregnant, then continue to do so. And if you weren't exercising before pregnancy, now's the time to take up a gentle exercise such as walking, swimming, yoga or pilates, aiming to do about 30 minutes three times a week, as well as remaining generally active.

We've got some suggestions of exercises to do below - including a video of Olympic athlete Jessica Ennis-Hill demonstrating a few of her top picks.

Dos and don'ts of exercise during pregnancy

  • Don't overdo it. Take cues from your body and don't exercise to exhaustion. NHS Choices advocates that you should be able to have a conversation when you are exercising during pregnancy, so don't go at it full pelt. Keep within your limits.
  • Do a good warm up and cool down whenever you exercise.
  • If you go to a class, tell the instructor you are pregnant. They may be able to advise you on any modifications you can do if the exercises prove too strenuous.
  • Do some level of activity each day, even if it's just having a walk.
  • Swimming is great as you get bigger because the water supports your body and there is less pressure on the back.
  • Find an exercise class that is specifically for pregnancy. You can sometimes access these through your antenatal classes. Pregnancy yoga is great preparation for birth as it will teach you breathing techniques that can be used during labour and it can also help you use positive visualisations, which can help you relax during pregnancy and birth. Some pools run specific aquanatal classes, which can be great for your energy levels. Pilates is also good in pregnancy as it focuses on the muscles in the abdomen and your pelvic floor, which can help you prepare and strengthen them for birth.
  • Make sure you stay hydrated and drink plenty of water.
  • Do some strength conditioning as well as some aerobic exercise.
  • If you are finding floor exercises difficult, try sitting on a gym ball. This supports your pelvic floor nicely and gives you a solid base to to do upper body exercises.  

What to avoid when you're exercising during pregnancy

  1. Rapid twisting and jumping movements.
  2. Contact sports, or anything where you might get hit. So no judo, boxing, squash or anything like that.
  3. Don't do any exercises lying on your back after about 16 weeks. The weight of your baby can put pressure on your blood vessels and make you faint.
  4. Don't try to push your joints to the limit. Pregnancy hormones make them a bit floppy, so best not to test them too much.
  5. Running is fine early in pregnancy but may need to be modified as you get bigger. It is important not to overdo it.
  6. Try not to do exercises where there's a high risk of falling, such as cycling, horse riding or ice skating.
  7. Avoid the step machine in the gym and modify your gym routine as you progress through your pregnancy.
  8. Don't go scuba diving or mountain climbing above 2,500m because of the risk of altitude sickness. 

Useful exercises during pregnancy

Olympic gold-medallist and mum-to-be Jessica Ennis-Hill showed us some easy exercises to do while you're pregnant. 

The NHS Choices website details a couple of helpful exercises to do to strengthen your abdominal muscles, so that you can avoid back problems and help cope with the strain that your growing baby puts on these muscles.

Don't forget to do your pelvic floor exercises whenever you can - they will help you to avoid continence problems.

The cat pose used in yoga is very good, especially if you are experiencing back pain.

  • Start on your hands and knees with the knees directly below the hips, back flat (this is sometimes call the tabletop.)
  • Concentrate on your breathing and as you exhale round your spine toward the ceiling and pull in your stomach muscles, allowing your head to relax and hang down looking towards the floor.
  • Hold for a few seconds, breathe in and return to the neutral position you began in.
  • Do this slowly and rhythmically 10 times over. 

And the pelvic tilt exercise is also good:

  • Stand with your back against a wall keeping your knees soft.
  • Pull in your stomach towards your spine, flattening your back against the wall and hold this position for four seconds. Repeat 10 times.

What Mumsnetters say about exercise during pregnancy

  • So long as you're used to it, keep doing it, take care not to overheat, don't exercise on an empty stomach or when tired, drink plenty of fluids and listen to your body. Dizzy77
  • An advantage of exercising, if you can, is eating like a pig and not putting on much weight. FeralGirlCambs
  • Don't exercise on an empty stomach or when tired, drink plenty of fluids and listen to your body. My goal is being strong for the birth, rather than, say, a 25-minute 5k or whatever it might have been before. It's a great motivator. dizzy77
  • Continue doing what you're used to, don't start anything completely new (except pregnancy-focused exercises) and listen to your body. I'm 30 weeks and still doing Bodypump and Pilates - although I'm finding that it does get harder the bigger you get, simply because your range of movements decreases and you get out of breath a lot quicker! Jbrd
  • I have found exercising really good for keeping me sane and the gym is the one place I feel comfortable! freelancegirl
  • I run. And did run until 37 and 35 weeks with my pregnancies. This included races until 26 weeks (although at a toned-down pace). Basically, don't overheat and keep yourself well hydrated. Your body will natually slow you down as your pregnancy progresses. Chynah


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Last updated: 2 months ago