Exercise during pregnancy

Finding out you are pregnant can often be a trigger for you and your partner to take steps to improving your overall health. Making healthy choices can sometimes be difficult but there are huge benefits for you and your baby.

As important as it is to keep active during pregnancy you must be careful not to exhaust yourself, particularly in later pregnancy you may need to slow down. Being physically activite doesn't need to be completely tiring to be beneficial. 

Adults should aim for at least 3 hours of physical activity in a week, this is still the case when pregnant although more moderate physical activity is recommended. Ideally aim for 15 to 30 minutes of continuous physical activity then take a break or aim for four 30 minute sessions per week.

Ideal physical activities when pregnant include:

  • yoga
  • walking
  • using the stairs and not the elevator
  • swimming
  • low impact aerobics - find a class for expectant mothers
  • water aerobics - find an 'aquanatal' class

What to avoid when being physically active during pregnancy:

  • don't lie flat on your back, particularly after 16 weeks, as the weight of your bump can press on the main blood vessel bringing blood back to your heart and make you feel faint
  • don't take part in contact sports where there's a risk of being hit, such as martial arts or tennis
  • don't take part in an activity where there is a risk of you losing balance and falling, cycling is generally discouraged for this reason, an exercise bike is a safer option.

Stomach-strengthening exercises

As your baby gets bigger, you may find the extra weight you are carrying can cause lower back pain. There are exercises you can do to help strengthen the muscles in your stomach to ease the strain on your back.

Start in a box position (on all fours) with knees under hips, hands under shoulders, with fingers facing forward and abdominals lifted to keep your back straight

  • pull in your stomach muscles and raise your back towards the ceiling, allow your head to relax gently forward. Don't let your elbows lock
  • hold for a few seconds then slowly return to the box position
  • take care not to hollow your back:  it should always return to a straight/neutral position
  • do this slowly and rhythmically 10 times, making your muscles work hard and moving your back carefully
  • only move your back as far as you can comfortably

Pelvic floor exercises

The muscles of the pelvic floor can come under great strain during your pregnancy and childbirth. The pelvic floor are the layers of muscles that stretch like a hammock from the pubic bone (in front) to the end of the backbone.

If you have weak pelvic floor muscles, you may find that you leak urine when you cough, sneeze or strain your stomach muscles. This is common and you shouldn't feel embarrassed. It's known as stress incontinence and it often occurs after pregnancy.

Pelvic floor exercises help you strengthen these muscles. This will help reduce or avoid stress incontinence after pregnancy.   It is recommended that all pregnant women do pelvic floor exercises, even if you're young and not suffering from stress incontinence now, it will help prevent it in the future.

How to do pelvic floor exercises:

  • close up your anus as if you're trying to prevent a bowel movement
  • at the same time, draw in your vagina as if you're gripping a tampon, and your urethra as if to stop the flow of urine
  • at first, do this exercise quickly, tightening and releasing the muscles immediately
  • then do it slowly, holding the contractions for as long as you can before you relax, try to count to 10
  • try to do three sets of eight squeezes every day, to help you remember, you could do a set at each meal

As well as these exercises, practise tightening up the pelvic floor muscles before and during coughing and sneezing.