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Exercise and pregnancy

Exercise and pregnancy

Finding time to exercise during pregnancy can do wonders for your baby's health as well as your own. Read our guide to get started safely

Fewer than 10 years ago we were all told to put our feet up during pregnancy. Now GPs and midwives are encouraging us to be active. This is because of a growing body of research that shows a huge range of benefits for mums-to-be who make the time to exercise.

For example, those pregnant women who fit walking, swimming and yoga into their schedule, compared to those who don't, may find they:

• Are less tired
• Have a healthier weight gain
• Have reduced bloating and swelling
• Experience reduced back pain
• Have shorter labours
• Can regain their pre-pregnancy figure in half the time of other women (if you exercise during pregnancy, your recovery is quicker after pregnancy. Plus, your body responds better to exercise).

There is some great news for baby too. Studies show that little ones born to exercising mums might experience some health benefits compared to those whose mothers were less active during pregnancy. For example, they might:

• Be more contented
• Be less colicky
• Have a healthier weight at birth
• Have better cognitive function
• Have a stronger heart

But before you head to the gym, studio, pool or park, make sure you read our important tips.

Get advice
Always check with your GP or midwife before you start any form of exercise. Current guidelines state that you must avoid lying on your back and doing contact sports once you're in your second trimester (after 12 weeks). Scuba diving and exercising at altitudes above 6,000 ft are not advised. You should also think twice before you hit the slopes, jump on a bike or take part in potentially hazardous team sports.

Go easier but more often
Forget high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and long hard runs. Instead, aim to work at a moderate level, where you feel challenged but able to hold a conversation. Research shows that moderate exercise (30-60 minutes) performed on most days (aim for five sessions a week) is far better for mums and babies than two or three sessions of higher-intensity exercise. You can still go to the gym, the pool and the park, you just need to tone it down a little. For example, walk rather than run, swim steadily or use a stationary bike. If you're new to exercise, start with 5-10 minutes of walking daily and build up to 30 minutes.

Stay cool
Always exercise in a cool and well-ventilated area. This is particularly important in your first trimester. You also need to drink more water than usual during pregnancy. Aim for two or three litres per day.

Make time for strength training
Include strengthening exercises that work on full-body strength and pelvic floor health in your exercise regime (see Pilates exercise below). A great way to experience this is with an antenatal Pilates class. To find a good one, check out the listings in Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs), or choose a local class that is approved by Royal College of Midwives (RCM).

Don't forget you're pregnant
Hormones are raging through your body, which will make your joints more mobile and in turn more unstable. Slow down your movements, avoid complicated dance routines or multidirectional movements (moving limbs in different directions, or turning quickly as you might in a Zumba class), and be careful not to overstretch.

Relax and chill
Always listen to your body. If you feel pain or discomfort, stop. Never sacrifice sleep for exercise. Pregnancy yoga and breathing exercises are excellent ways to calm, stretch out and release aching muscles. To find an antenatal yoga class near you, visit the British Wheel of Yoga website, or check out pregnancy yoga specialists such as Birthlight and the Active Birth Centre.

Try this core-strength Pilates exercise
Go onto your hands and knees with your hands in line with shoulders, knees in line with hips. Make sure your back is in a neutral line – this is where you have a long spine with your tailbone slightly lifted. Your head should be in line with your hands, and your eyes looking vertically down at the floor above your fingertips. Take a deep breath, exhale, and start to connect to your pelvic floor – think of stopping wind from your back passage and wee from your front. Draw in your tummy. Finally, take your knees wide and sit your bottom back onto your heels, arms outstretched in front. Hold for a few breaths, go back to the start and repeat 4-6 times.

By Jane Wake

 
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