pregnancy

What type of exercise can I do while pregnant? An obstetrician and gynaecologist answers.

While age may be the most important factor for falling pregnant, there are many lifestyle factors that can impact a women’s pregnancy journey – particularly exercise. Keeping active and having a pregnancy workout is beneficial in all stages of pregnancy, from conception right through to post-delivery – and is extremely beneficial for both mum and baby.

How much should I exercise during the conception stage?

It’s important for women to be healthy if they want to maximise their chances of falling pregnant, this includes keeping their BMI within a normal weight range (18.5 to 25). Being under or overweight can not only cause women to not ovulate regularly, but also independently decreases the chance of any given embryo implanting.

Ideally, women shouldn’t wait until they are pregnant to start a fitness regime, instead moderate physical activity can increase a women’s chance of conceiving – aim for 30 minutes per day. These activities can include brisk walking, leisurely cycling, golfing, a light jog and even gardening. It’s important not to over-do it though, as excessive exercise can negatively alter energy balance in the body and affect the reproductive system.

Is it safe to continue to exercise when I’m pregnant?

Health practitioners agree that exercising during pregnancy, if you have a normal and healthy pregnancy, is not only safe – but has many physical and mental benefits. Although there is no consensus as to whether exercise is beneficial during pregnancy, most studies report it poses no risk to either the mother or the fetus, and many suggest it to be beneficial to both.

Most of the studies examining the relationship between exercise and pregnancy report no complications on maternal or fetal well-being. This is also in line with recent review studies advising that the pregnant population without obstetric contraindications should be encouraged to exercise during pregnancy.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists state that physical activity in all stages of life maintains and improves cardiorespiratory fitness, reduces the risk of obesity and associated comorbidities and results in greater longevity. Physical activity in pregnancy has minimal risks and has been shown to benefit most women, although some modification to exercise routines may be necessary because of normal anatomic and physiologic changes and fetal requirements.

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Women with uncomplicated pregnancies should be encouraged to engage in aerobic and strength-conditioning exercises before, during, and after pregnancy.

What are the safest exercises while pregnant?

The safest exercises to do while pregnant include:

Swimming:

A popular form of exercise, swimming is great as its low impact and weightless – so particularly beneficial in the later trimesters, and can be a welcome relief to aches and pains. Additionally swimming improves circulation, boosts heart and lung function and increases muscle tone and strength. It also promotes good sleep, which will be favourable in the later, uncomfortable months.

Walking:

Brisk walking is effective during pregnancy, as it doesn’t put much pressure on the joints and muscles and can be easily incorporated in anyone’s daily routine. It’s improves cardiovascular fitness, while giving the body a complete workout.

Low impact aerobics:

This works the heart and lungs and is great for improving over-all cardiovascular fitness.

Yoga:

Yoga is easy on the joints, encourages relaxation and is great for helping with posture and maintaining muscle tone.

Pilates:

A great exercise to strengthen the stomach and pelvic floor muscles – and targets these areas that can weaken during pregnancy.

Weight training:

Depending on where your fitness level was at when you started exercising, weight training while pregnant can be a great way to maintain fitness level and increase strength.

What are the benefits of exercising while pregnant?

There are many benefits to exercising while pregnant which include:

Helps maintain a healthy body weight:

Aa healthy body weight, will help ensure baby’s healthy weight – and this will maximise the chances of a natural and easier birth.

Lowers risk of gestational diabetes:

Exercising helps to keep your body weight in control and may reduce the risk of developing high blood sugar levels.

Aids in stress relief:

There is nothing more exciting (but nerve-wracking) then an impending birth, and with hormones raging and pregnancy mood swings, exercise can be a great natural stress buster. Physical activity releases endorphins which makes us feel good – both physically and mentally.

Prepares the body for birth:

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Exercise can increase flexibility and tones and strengthens muscles. Yoga and Pilates are particularly beneficial for stretching, as well as strengthening the tummy, back and pelvic floor muscles.

Reduces general aches and pains:

With all the changes the body must undergo while pregnant, gentle exercise can help combat some of the discomfort.

Increases energy: 

There is no denying that pregnancy can make the body feel sluggish – exercise can revitalise the body and increase energy.

How should my exercise change post-delivery?

Gentle exercise can be a great way to get the body moving post-birth – simple post-partum exercises such as pelvic tilts, head and shoulder raises and simple push ups, can help strengthen major muscles groups that have been affected by the delivery, including abdominal and back muscles. Moderate gradual-intensity exercise can then be added.

Who should avoid exercising during pregnancy? 

Obstetricians should carefully evaluate women with medical or obstetric complications before making recommendations on physical activity participation during pregnancy. Although frequently prescribed, bed rest is only rarely indicated and, in most cases, allowing ambulation should be considered. Regular physical activity during pregnancy improves or maintains physical fitness, helps with weight management, reduces the risk of gestational diabetes in obese women, and enhances psychologic well-being.

An exercise program that leads to an eventual goal of moderate-intensity exercise for at least 20-30 minutes per day on most or all days of the week should be developed with the patient and adjusted as medically indicated. Benefits of exercise in pregnancy include reduction in cesarean section rates, appropriate maternal and fetal weight gain, and managing gestational diabetes.

Additional research is needed to study the effects of exercise on pregnancy-specific outcomes and to clarify the most effective behavioural counselling methods, and the optimal intensity and frequency of exercise.

However there may be some circumstances where this can be unhelpful, mainly for psychological reasons. Interestingly, there does not appear to be information suggesting that exercising in the circumstances of high blood pressure, diabetes, placenta previa or other pregnancy problems causes problems. Obviously, taking any intervention to an extreme can have negative outcomes. Excessive exercise can result in a plethora of medical issues.

Mild exercise in pregnancy is worth encouraging, and there are no indications supported by evidence that this has negative effects.

Dr David Knight is a Medical Director, Fertility Specialist, Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at Demeter Fertility. With a history of innovation, he is a pioneer of Mild Ovarian Stimulation in Australia and one of Australia’s most experienced fertility specialists.

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