If there are no problems with your pregnancy, swimming, walking, aerobics and cycle machines are all good exercises as long as you are comfortable.
Moderate exercise has benefits
A few safety tips include:
- 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.
Pelvic floor exercises strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. This may help stop them becoming weakened during pregnancy and childbirth. Once you've learned them try doing ten repeat exercises, six times a day. They can become part of your daily routine.
Things to consider
Some pregnant women will need to take extra care when exercising.
It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor first if you:
- have any concerns or fears
- have heart disease or diabetes
- have cervical incompetence (when the cervix dilates in the second stage of pregnancy)
- are expecting a multiple birth.
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, too, 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.
Benefits of regular exercise
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 the birth. There are a whole host of other benefits for mums-to-be, including:
- improvement in heart and lung fitness - great preparation for labour
- increased muscle strength to get you ready for carrying your newborn and all the extra equipment you’ll need
- some relief for common problems like leg cramps, constipation, high blood pressure, fatigue, and bloating
- improved posture, which helps avoid backache
- possible reduction in the length of labour and the need for pain relief
- improved circulation - a big bonus in the battle against varicose veins
- and it can boost your mood, energy levels, self-image and ability to get a good night’s rest.
How to get started
Exercise during pregnancy is most practical during the first 24 weeks. During the last 3 months, it’s normal to find that exercises that once seemed easy, have 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.
Walking and swimming are great choices – one benefit of being a walker is that’s easy to continue once the baby is born. Most babies enjoy being walked in a stroller or back-pack and you may find it is a good way to keep you both content.
Swimming is ideal in pregnancy (especially late pregnancy). The weightlessness experienced when you are swimming is relaxing as well as energizing. Some pools also offer aqua-aerobic classes which are low-impact and can be fun.
Always begin each session with up to 10 minutes of warm-up activity like slow walking, 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.
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.
Yoga is also a pleasant way to exercise when pregnant. As well as providing a gentle anaerobic workout it teaches you how to control your breathing - a useful tool for coping with labour. Avoid excessive stretches or positions and talk with your yoga instructor about what is safe while pregnant.
Remain alert for danger signs
Stop exercising if you notice:
- blurred vision
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- abdominal pain
- vaginal bleeding.
If you have any concerns at all, contact your doctor.
Diet and exercise National Women's Health, NZ