Moderate exercise is generally considered safe in pregnancy provided your pregnancy is progressing normally.
The following sections are guidelines only and one needs to be driven by common sense when deciding what form of exercise is good for you. Always discuss your exercise routine with your doctor or midwife to ensure that you are causing no harm to your growing baby in any way.
If your pregnancy is normal, you can exercise and do no harm to yourself or your baby. However, you must discuss the nature of your exercise routine with your doctor or midwife.
Try to do some gentle exercise as part of a daily routine
If you were exercising before pregnancy, you can continue regular exercise, as long as your pregnancy is normal and your exercise routine not harmful for the baby (consult the doctor).
You can also safely begin an exercise program even if you were not exercising before pregnancy. However, try to keep it very gentle initially and building it up slowly.
Warm up and cool down when exercising
Walking, swimming, water exercise and low impact aerobics are safe forms of aerobic exercises during pregnancy.
Listen to your body and use your common sense to decide how often, how long and how hard you exercise.
Make sure that your exercise class teacher knows that you are pregnant
If you are doing muscle conditioning, you should aim to strengthen muscles that improve and support your posture, breasts, abdominal floor and muscles used during labour.
If you are a beginner in a class, don't try to keep up with more experienced exercisers. Exercise at a pace that suits you and does not tire you. Avoid exercise in the supine (lying on your back) during the third trimester.
Avoid exercise requiring good balance, especially in the third trimester.
Never dehydrate yourself. Keep your fluids up during exercise.
Make sure that you do not become overheated with vigorous exercise: overheating may be linked with problems in early pregnancy
Exercise should never be painful or make you feel sick, dizzy or breathless. If any activity causes pain or discomfort, stop immediately
Don't attempt exercises that could cause trauma to your abdomen e.g. contact sports like netball and basketball.
Never exercise in extreme environmental conditions e.g. scuba diving or high altitude climbing.
High impact activities like running can increase your risk of musculoskeletal injury because of increased weight laxity in the connective tissues.
Q: Do I need a special diet when exercising in pregnancy?
A: It is important to include carbohydrate-rich foods in your diet in order to restore muscle glycogen lost in exercise. Keep up your intake of fluids as well.
Q: Who should not exercise in pregnancy?
A: Exercise is definitely not recommended if you have any of the following conditions:
Preterm rupture of membranes
History of preterm labour
Persistent bleeding in second or third trimester
In addition to above, there may be certain times when the doctor may advise you not to exercise. In such cases, follow the doctor's advice.
Q: How active should I be during my pregnancy?
A: Unless your lifestyle already keeps you very active with normal occupations such as housework, walking, or gardening, you will probably feel better if you take up some form of regular, gentle exercise during your pregnancy. With a fairly inactive daily routine, exercise such as swimming will help you to cope with the workload of pregnancy and the demands of labour. Listen to your body and stop exercising when it tells you. It will probably not be until the final stages of pregnancy that you feel too uncomfortable to exercise.
Q: Are there any special exercises for pregnancy?
A: The pelvic floor exercises are the most important exercises in pregnancy. The weight of the baby places a great strain on the muscles of your pelvic floor. It is important to strengthen these muscles during your pregnancy to prevent tearing in labour, and also after the birth to aid recovery of the pelvic floor area. Exercising your pelvic floor muscles will help to support the weight of the baby and the womb and help control the need to urinate.
Other important exercises include the ones that help to tone up your muscles and improve the suppleness of your joints, making your pregnancy more comfortable and relieving problems like backache. Pilates in pregnancy is also an effective form of exercise.
Q: How often should I exercise?
A: On a very general basis it is suggested that an exercise program should be limited to three or four times a week and kept to a regular pattern of short sessions rather than over-ambitious one-off efforts.
Q: What are the warning signals while exercising when I should stop at once?
A: You must stop exercising and contact your doctor or midwife if you experience any of the following symptoms:
gush of fluid from the vagina
contractions or any form of abdominal pain
lack of foetal movement
nausea or vomiting
swelling or pain in calf or leg
Q: Are there any special exercise classes?
A: There are now many classes organised specially for pregnant women. Some offer antenatal exercises, some are for yoga, others are active birth classes. Some pools and clubs also offer exercise classes in water run by qualified professionals. Pilates in pregnancy is also recommended.
Q: What should I wear?
A: Make sure you wear supporting exercise footwear to prevent jarring and damage to the joints. Choose comfortable clothes that won't cause you to overheat. It is a good idea to wear a support bra during any exercise.
Q: When should vigorous exercise be avoided?
A: It is suggested that vigorous exercise is not suitable for those with a history of: two or more spontaneous miscarriages, bleeding in pregnancy, toxaemia or pre-eclampsia, placenta praevia, multiple births or previous problems with the growth of the baby.
Q: How good is swimming for me?
A: Swimming is an excellent exercise because the water supports your bodyweight and allows you to tone your muscles without strain. It can also improve your stamina. Some swimming pools or clubs now offer classes particularly aimed at pregnant women. These are ideal for less confident swimmers because they are done in shallow water.
Q: Are there any particular activities that I should avoid?
A: Research suggests that activities and sports like scuba diving, downhill skiing, mountaineering, rock climbing, high diving, saunas, steam baths and hot tub baths must be avoided in pregnancy because of varied risks of high temperatures, overheating, falls and trauma. In addition to the above - water skiing, trampolining, gymnastics, netball, hockey and other forms of collision sports must also be avoided because of insufficient research on their safety in pregnancy.
Q: What is pelvic floor?
A: The pelvic floor supports your pelvic organs (the bladder, the womb, and part of the bowels). Pelvic muscles also help to control your bladder and bowels. These muscles can be stretched by the weight of the baby; this causes discomfort and may result in stress incontinence.