Pregnancy might seem like the perfect excuse to sit back and relax. However, it’s important to keep active during and following pregnancy as there is often a decline in physical activity for women during pregnancy increasing their risk of obesity, gestational diabetes and other conditions. Not only is exercise helpful to prepare for labour and delivery but it’s also important for your growing baby. If you haven't been exercising regularly, use pregnancy as your motivation to begin!
Pros to exercising during pregnancy:
Reduce backaches, constipation, bloating and swelling
Boost your mood and energy levels
Help you sleep better
Prevent excess weight gain
Promote muscle tone, strength and endurance
Other possible benefits of following a regular exercise program during pregnancy may include:
A lower risk of gestational diabetes
A reduced risk of having a C-section
Guidelines on physical activity and exercise have been extensively reported from the Royal Australian and New Zealand Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG). It’s also a timely reminder for women who have trained at an elite level to also seek guidance about what level of intensity of exercise can be maintained safely for the mother and the developing baby.
When it comes to exercising, certain changes in pregnancy must be considered:
Balance is often affected during pregnancy due to the developing uterus displacing the centre of gravity. It’s estimated that pregnant women are more likely to fall 2 to 3 times more than a non-pregnant women making falls to be a common cause of injury in pregnant women. Exercises addressing balance issues would be an important consideration during pregnancy.
Shortness of breath is also a common complaint during pregnancy due to remodeling and expansion of the thoracic cage affecting the position of your diaphragm which then leads to reduced lung capacity. Therefore, this discomfort should be considered with exercise programs.
Lying on your back is not recommended when exercising as this may decrease venous return and cause a sudden drop in blood pressure (supine postural hypotension). This happens in about 10-20% of pregnant women. If you get dizzy lying on your back you should avoid this position when exercising for the rest of your pregnancy. Definitely avoid exercising on your back after the fourth month of pregnancy.
Duration of exercise should be aimed at 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity exercise on most or all of days of the week. While there is no evidence for an upper limit to exercise duration, RANZCOG guidelines recommend exercise duration be limited to 60 minutes and shorter duration if overweight or commencing a programme when not used to exercising.
Intensity of exercise. The general rule of thumb is that you should still be able to talk during exercise which is a simple gauge to know how hard you’re exercising.
Temperature control during pregnancy shouldn’t be above 39 deg C (core temperature). Raising your core temperature above this can increase the risk of neural tube abnormalities. But to put it to perspective, core temperature only reaches 39 deg C with strenuous exercise such as marathon running in extreme heat. When you’re pregnant, your body is able to regulate heat much better via sweating and this generally improves as pregnancy progresses.
Avoid high contact sports such as hockey, netball, basketball, activities with a high risk of falling such as horse riding, cycling and water skiing, snow sports and those with physiological risk such as scuba diving.
It’s important to consult closely with your pelvic health physiotherapist about any exercise you wish to undertake during pregnancy to see if there could be harm to you or the baby. At your appointment, you may also wish to raise any issues such as pelvic floor concerns, back and pelvic pain and the state of your abdominal muscles.