If there are no problems with your pregnancy, moderate physical activity is recommended as long as you are comfortable.
Key points about physical activity when pregnant
- Regular exercise during pregnancy can help you cope with the physical changes your body undergoes when you become pregnant and build your strength for the birth and carrying your baby afterwards.
- Although physical activity or exercise is good during pregnancy, you should not start new sports or strenuous exercises.
- Talk to your doctor or midwife if you have any concerns or have any serious pre-existing health conditions before starting a physical activity.
- Examples of exercises you can do during pregnancy include pelvic floor exercises, walking and low-impact aerobics or yoga.
- The exercise you can do during pregnancy won’t be exactly the same as other pregnant women. You should listen to your body, slow down and rest when you need to.
|Stop exercising and contact your doctor or midwife if you notice:|
What are the health benefits of exercise in pregnancy?
Being physically active is one of the most important things you can do for your health, including when you are pregnant. There's no shortage of evidence that regular physical activity is good for you.
Some of the health benefits of exercise include:
- controlling weight
- preventing health conditions
- improving mood
- boosting energy
- promoting better sleep
- putting the spark back into your sex life
- having fun.
If you are pregnant, it doesn’t mean you have to stop exercising. In fact, moderate aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities are considered safe and are encouraged as long as you don’t have any pre-existing health conditions. Regular exercise can help you cope with the physical changes your body undergoes when you become pregnant, and build strength for the challenges that lie ahead.
Research shows that moderate physical activity improves the likelihood of giving birth to a healthy baby and can speed up your recovery after birth.
Benefits of physical activity and exercise in pregnancy include to improve your:
- heart and lung strength and stamina, which can help you cope with labour
- muscular strength to help you carry your baby
- posture and reduce the risk and severity of backache
- blood circulation and reduce the risk of varicose veins
- mood and post-birth recovery.
Physical activity or exercise during pregnancy can also reduce the risk of:
- gaining too much weight during pregnancy
- a long labour
- the need for intervention, pain relief, caesarean section, forceps or instrumental delivery during labour
- leg cramps, high blood pressure and constipation
- pregnancy-induced high blood pressure
- gestational diabetes
- urinary incontinence.
What are the safety considerations of exercise in pregnancy?
Any physical activity carries risks as well as benefits, but the risks of regular moderate activity in pregnancy are small.
Some risks of exercise in pregnancy include:
- reduced blood supply to your baby
- low blood sugar
- overheating your baby
- premature labour
- dizziness or fainting
- strains and sprains.
The changes your body is going through can also make certain positions and activities risky for you and your baby. While exercising, try to avoid activities that involve jumping, jarring motions or quick changes in direction that may strain your joints and cause injury.
There's a higher risk of strains during pregnancy because hormones are released to loosen your joints and ligaments in preparation for the birth, when your pelvis needs to open to allow your baby to be born. Stay away from scuba diving, body contact sports and high altitude climbing or any activities that carry a risk of falling.
There’s a greater likelihood of becoming overheated during pregnancy so, if the weather is warm, try exercising in the morning or evening, when it’s cooler.
A few safety tips:
- Never exercise to the point of exhaustion.
- Never exercise in extremely hot conditions.
- Avoid contact sports.
- In late pregnancy, avoid exercise lying on your back.
Should I see my doctor or midwife before exercising during pregnancy?
Although moderate physical activity or exercise is recommended during pregnancy, you should not start new sports or new strenuous exercises while you are pregnant.
Some pregnant women need to take extra care when exercising. It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor or midwife first before you start any exercise during pregnancy if you:
- have any concerns or fears
- have heart disease, obesity or diabetes
- have cervical incompetence (when your cervix dilates in the second stage of pregnancy)
- are expecting a multiple birth
- have any serious pre-existing health conditions
- are thinking of increasing the duration or intensity of your activity
- are thinking of starting new activities.
Your doctor or midwife can advise on appropriate activities or exercises for you.
The table below shows health conditions with which you should not undertake physical activity or exercise while you are pregnant:
Image: Eating and activity guidelines for New Zealand adults Ministry of Health, NZ, 2020
What are the exercises that I can do in pregnancy?
Exercise during pregnancy is most practical during the first 24 weeks. During the last 3 months, it’s normal to find that exercise that once seemed easy has become challenging.
You need to start gently and increase your activity gradually. Begin with only a few minutes and monitor yourself to see how you are feeling. If you are comfortable, increase slowly, week by week, until you can stay active for the recommended 30 minutes a day.
Some exercises you can do during pregnancy include:
- pelvic floor exercises
- low-impact aerobics or yoga.
It is recommended that pregnant women do pelvic floor exercises before, during and after pregnancy as this helps strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. This may help stop them from becoming weakened during pregnancy and childbirth, and reduce the risk of incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse. Once you've learned them, try doing 10 repeat exercises, 6 times a day. They can become part of your daily routine.
Walking is a great activity – one benefit of being a walker is that it is easy to continue once your baby is born. Most babies enjoy being walked in a stroller or backpack and you may find it is a good way to keep you both happy. Walking also helps to ease aching legs and a sore back. Take it slowly and rest as often as you need. Gentle walking in early labour can also help encourage the progression of labour.
Low-impact aerobics or yoga can also be a great option. As well as providing a gentle workout, yoga teaches you how to control your breathing – a useful tool for coping with labour. Avoid excessive stretches or positions as your ligaments are softened due to hormones produced in pregnancy. Talk with your yoga instructor about what is safe while pregnant.
Always begin each exercise session with up to 10 minutes of warm-up activity and stretch gently to prepare your muscles. And it’s just as important to cool down after working out by gently reducing your activity and heart rate.
What are the exercise programmes available?
In some areas of New Zealand pregnant women can attend special exercise classes (check out your local community centre, fitness centre, swimming pool or women's centre for details). If there are no classes near you, a trained fitness instructor (with qualifications in either physiotherapy or physical education) can work with you to develop a series of exercises that you can do safely when you are pregnant.
When should I stop exercising in pregnancy?
The exercise you can do during your pregnancy won’t be exactly the same as other pregnant women. If you find doing an exercise tiring and uncomfortable, you may need to change the activity. You may also need to change your physical activity level as your pregnancy progresses. This is because as your baby grows and your weight redistributes, your physical ability changes. Some exercises that seem easy during early pregnancy may not be the same during late pregnancy. Listen to your body, slow down and rest when you need to.
|Stop exercising and contact your doctor or midwife if you notice:|
The following links provide further information about physical activity and pregnancy. Be aware that websites from other countries may have information that differs from New Zealand recommendations.
- Eating and Activity Guidelines for New Zealand Adults Ministry of Health, NZ, 2020