Advice from Tommy's on exercise during pregnancy
Being active during pregnancy will boost your health and that of your unborn baby. It can also help you to cope better with giving birth. It can be fun and sociable, and is a great way of meeting other mums-to-be.
Some women are worried that exercise may cause a miscarriage, but there is no evidence to support this. In fact, keeping fit will make your baby healthier. These tips will help you to exercise in a way that is safe for you and your baby.
Watch a film about exercise in pregnancy
A pictorial guide to staying active in pregnancy
The infographic below is a guide to the key points about staying active during your pregnancy. It should reassure you that physical activity in pregnancy is safe and healthy.
When you exercise, even doing something as simple as walking, oxygen flow to the placenta is improved, and this helps the baby to grow and develop. Slowly building up and/or or maintaining your activity will make it easier to manage your weight during pregnancy and afterwards. It will also reduce the chances of you having complications like high blood pressure or gestational diabetes, and this means less risk for the baby.
Keeping active can help relieve feelings of stress and depression. Common complaints such as swollen hands and feet or varicose veins are less common in women who are active. Although being pregnant may make you feel more tired, keeping active will help you sleep better, and surprisingly it can boost your energy levels and help you cope with the labour itself.
If you weren’t very active before your pregnancy, don’t worry. There are lots of small changes you can make to your everyday lifestyle to make a difference, for example by walking, or by just increasing what you are already doing. You should aim to build up to 30 minutes of exercise a day at least four times a week.
Exercise boosts your mood
When you exercise, it is not only your body and your baby who feel the benefits – your mental health also receives a boost.
When you are active your body produces substances called endorphins, which are associated with feelings of well-being. Endorphins improve your mood and may make you feel less anxious and depressed. Also, when you are pregnant your body is more sensitive to endorphins, so the boost you receive lasts longer.
What 'keeping active' means
Any activity that makes you feel warm and slightly out of breath counts towards your exercise goal. Brisk walking, going up or down stairs, increasing the amount of housework you do around your home, gardening, swimming, dance classes - it all counts.
If you are not used to exercise, start slowly with walking, aiming to complete your 30 minutes in ten minute blocks. Walking is a great activity that you can build on by walking more often and/or further.
If you were already active before pregnancy, you can continue doing many activities. Swimming and aquanatal classes, jogging, cycling, gym-based work, dancing and low impact aerobics are all fine.
Activities to avoid
The only ones to avoid are scuba diving, anything in a very hot environment like Bikram yoga, and contact sports where your bump is at risk of getting hit or that put you at risk of collision. You should also avoid activities that are likely to make you lose your balance and fall over.
As your bump grows, some activities may become more difficult because your bump may cause you to be more unbalanced with more risk of falling, for example in horse riding or road cycling. Consider your activity and listen to your body. If you have any specific health problems you should talk with your midwife or doctor for the right advice for you.
If you started your pregnancy with a high body mass index (BMI), becoming or keeping active can help with your weight management. There are many activities that you can do, but to avoid damage to your joints it is best to avoid running or jumping. Walking is a great activity and you can build on it by walking for longer and more often as you become fitter.
• Guidelines and Audit Committee of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Statement number 4: Exercise in pregnancy. London RCOG, 2006
• Clapp JF, Influence of endurance exercise and diet on human placental development and fetal growth. Placenta 2006; 27(6-7): 527-34
• Clapp JF et al, Beginning regular exercise in early pregnancy: effect on fetoplacental growth. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2000; 183: 1484-8
• National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, Dietary interventions and physical activity interventions for weight management before, during and after pregnancy. London NICE, 2010
• Dinas et al, Effects of exercise and physical activity on depression. Ir J Med Sci 2011; 180(2): 319-25
• NHS Choices, Exercise in pregnancy, London NHS Choices, 2013
Last updated: about 3 years ago