Pregnancy and Exercise: Is it safe?

Some say pregnancy and childbirth can be likened to running a marathon, or quite simply, it could be the biggest physical challenge of your life.

Think about it in terms of a marathon. For nine months your body grows and changes (marathon training phase), then there’s labour (hours of physical pain overcome purely by your own willpower and the fact that you can’t go back now!) and then comes the post-natal period (exhaustion, elation and recovery all rolled into one).

Many women tend to stop exercise all together because of pregnancy, but this isn’t always necessary. Using the previous analogy, you wouldn’t attempt to run a marathon with a nine month rest prior. Unless your doctor recommends inactivity due to health concerns, you don’t have to stop exercising all together.

In fact, staying active during your pregnancy can provide the following benefits;

  • Increased energy levels
  • Reduced risk of getting pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes
  • A stronger, fitter body to endure labour
  • Reduced likelihood of complications during the birthing process
  • Generally a faster post-natal recovery

The key is to exercise safely. If you already exercised regularly prior to becoming pregnant, then there is no reason to immediately stop your usual activities. As the pregnancy progresses however, you will need to scale it back to compensate for the changes to your body. It’s a good idea to lean on the side of caution at all times, listen to your body and be sensible. A general rule of thumb is that you should be able to speak and hold a conversation during exercise. This is to ensure that your heart rate and level of exercise intensity isn’t too high.

If you didn’t have an exercise regime down pat prior to pregnancy, don’t despair. It’s still safe to undertake low intensity exercise like walking, swimming or pre-natal yoga.

No matter what your level of fitness prior to pregnancy, you’ll need to make some alterations to your usual routine to accommodate each trimester.

In the first trimester, there may be a higher risk of overheating. Slow the intensity of exercise down and wear layers so that if you feel hot you can strip a layer off. Also, be sure to drink plenty of water.

In the second trimester, your centre of gravity starts to change as your baby bump grows. Be mindful of anything that requires balance. If you are lifting weights, reduce the load as your body will already be working harder to carry your baby weight gain. Also heading towards the end of your second trimester, you should avoid any exercise that puts you in the supine position (lying flat on your back).

The third trimester is where you scale things back even more - definitely no supine exercises and be very careful with any core exercises. Excess pressure on your stretched abdominal muscles can cause a muscle separation, known as Diastasis recti.

There are also a few danger signs to be aware of. Consider seeking medical advice immediately if you show any of the following symptoms:

  • Prolonged periods of dizziness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Vaginal bleeding or fluid leaking
  • Swelling of the feet and hands
  • Blurred vision
  • Sharp pains in your abdominal area

If you have any doubts about whether you are exercising safely, seek professional help. Many cities and towns throughout Australia have qualified pregnancy and post-natal fitness providers that offer a variety of pregnancy friendly exercise classes. You could try pre-natal water aerobics, pre-natal yoga or pre-natal group exercise, just to name a few. A quick Google search in your local area should provide some options for you.

We’re certainly not saying that you should train to run a marathon while you are pregnant, but staying active safely can deliver great benefits!