Keeping active during pregnancy
The more active and fit you are during pregnancy, the easier it will be to adapt to your changing shape and weight gain. It will also help you to cope with labour and to get back into shape after the birth.
Covid-19 guidance for pregnant women and information on what is happening in your regional unit can be found at Northern Ireland maternity and parenting.
Exercising during pregnancy
Regular physical activity during pregnancy improves mood, sleep and fitness.
- helps prevent gestational diabetes
- controls weight gain
- reduces hypertensive disorders
Exercise improves your circulation, which is good for both you and the baby.
Giving birth is physically demanding. By keeping fit, you will be better equipped to give birth.
It's important to ask your doctor for advice before starting physical exercise. If you aren't active already, start gradually and build exercise into your day.
Keep up your normal daily physical activity or exercise for as long as you feel comfortable.
This can include sport, swimming, dancing, or just walking to work and back. Don’t exhaust yourself and remember that you might need to slow down as your pregnancy progresses or if your doctor advises you to.
As a general rule, you should be able to hold a conversation as you exercise. If you become breathless as you talk, you may be exercising too strenuously.
If you were inactive before you were pregnant, don’t suddenly take up strenuous exercise. If you start an aerobic exercise programme, begin with no more than 15 minutes’ continuous exercise, three times per week.
Increase this gradually to a maximum of 30 minutes, four times a week. Let the instructor that you are pregnant.
When exercising, remember:
- listen to your body
- stop if you feel uncomfortable
- ask your doctor or midwife for advice
- exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous to be good for you
- warm up before and cool down after exercising
- try to keep active on a daily basis – half an hour walking each day can be enough and any amount is better than nothing
- avoid strenuous exercise in hot weather
- drink plenty of water and other fluids
- if you go to exercise classes, make sure your instructor is qualified and knows you are pregnant
- try swimming, as the water will support your extra weight – some swimming pools have aquanatal classes with qualified instructors
Exercises to avoid
While you should continue exercising during your pregnancy, there are some activities you should avoid, including:
- contact sports where there is a risk of being hit, such as boxing, judo or squash
- horse riding, downhill skiing, ice hockey, gymnastics and cycling, because there is a risk of falling
- scuba diving, because the baby has no protection against decompression sickness and gas embolism
- exercising at heights over 2,500 metres until you have acclimatised – you and your baby are at risk of acute mountain sickness
- anything requiring you to lie flat on your back – your baby presses on the big blood vessels and can make you feel faint
Exercises for a fitter pregnancy
There are exercises you can do during pregnancy to strengthen your muscles to help you carry the extra weight.
They will help to:
- make your joints stronger
- improve your circulation
- ease backache
- generally make you feel well
Stomach strengthening exercises
As your baby gets bigger, you may find that the hollow in your lower back becomes more pronounced, which can cause backache. These exercises strengthen your abdominal muscles and ease your backache.
When doing these exercises:
- start on all fours with your knees under your hips, your hands under your shoulders, your fingers facing forward and your back straight
- pull in your stomach muscles and raise your back towards the ceiling, allow your head to relax and don’t let your elbows lock
- hold for a few seconds, then return to your starting position
- your back should return to a straight, natural position
- do this slowly and rhythmically ten times, making your muscles work hard and moving your back carefully – only move your back as far as is comfortable
Pelvic tilt exercises
Stand with your shoulders and bottom against a wall. Keep your knees soft, pull your belly button towards your spine, so your back flattens against the wall and hold for four seconds – repeat up to ten times.
Pelvic floor exercises
These exercises help to strengthen the pelvic floor, which are placed under great strain in pregnancy and childbirth.
The pelvic floor consists of layers of muscles which stretch like a supportive hammock from the pubic bone to the base of the backbone.
During pregnancy, you may find that you leak urine when you cough or strain. This is known as stress incontinence or urine and can continue after pregnancy.
By performing pelvic floor exercises, you strengthen the pelvic floor muscles and this helps to reduce or avoid this problem after pregnancy. It’s important to do them even if you are young and not suffering from stress incontinence now.
To do this exercise:
- close up your back passage as if trying to prevent a bowel movement
- at the same time, draw in your vagina as if you are gripping a tampon, and your urethra as if to stop the flow of urine
- first do this exercise quickly, tightening and releasing the muscles straight away
- then do it slowly, holding the contractions for as long as you can before your relax – try counting to ten
- try to do three sets of eight squeezes every day – you could try doing them at each meal to help you remember
As well as these exercises, you will also need to practise tightening up the pelvic floor before and during coughing and sneezing.
Ask your midwife or doctor about these exercises. Your local maternity unit should run classes where a specialist physiotherapist attends. They can instruct you in groups or individually. Feel free to ask them for advice and help.
Foot exercises can be done sitting or standing. They improve blood circulation, reduce swelling in the ankles and prevent cramp in the calf muscles.
You can exercise your feet by:
- bending and stretching your foot vigorously up and down 30 times
- rotating your foot eight times one way and eight times the other way before repeating with the other foot