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The important thing is to make sure that the exercise or activity that you do is fairly easy-going, and doesn’t involve the potential for any jolts or falls.
Which type of exercise is best in pregnancy?It's safe to continue with most types of exercise, if you’re used to doing them. However, you should talk to your doctor, midwife or exercise instructor beforehand, just to make sure.
Aerobic exercise, such as swimming, brisk walking and aquanatal classes, are ideal (Nascimento et al 2012). You can also do some types of muscle-strengthening exercises, such as pregnancy yoga and pilates. Make sure that your instructor is qualified and experienced in teaching pregnant women.
Exercise doesn't have to be formal to count. Regularly walking to work, taking the stairs instead of the lift, and doing gardening and housework, all add up. Try to be active on most days of the week, if not every day, for at least 30 minutes a day (Wright 2010, NHS 2013).
Which sports should I avoid in pregnancy?In pregnancy, the hormone relaxin softens the tough tissues (ligaments) that connect your bones. It also loosens your pelvic joints, ready for your baby’s birth. So even if you’re usually quite supple, you will be more prone to sprains and other injuries, now you're pregnant (Artal et al 2003, RCOG 2006).
Because your joints are looser in pregnancy, it’s best not to do any activity that could make you slip or fall.
Sports that carry a risk of you losing your balance, such as horse riding, skiing and mountain climbing, carry too high a risk of injury to your tummy (RCOG 2006). Contact sports, such as football and basketball, and racket sports, can also be tough on your knees and ankles (Artal et al 2003, Davies et al 2003), so are best avoided.
Should I have a check-up before starting to exercise?If you have always been active, you should be able to carry on with your usual exercises, with a few modifications, as long as you have no pregnancy complications. But if you're not sure which exercise is right for you, ask your midwife or doctor for advice. If you haven't exercised much before now, they can give you tips for getting started.
If you weren't active before you became pregnant, it's best not to suddenly take up strenuous exercise. If you want to start an exercise programme such as running, swimming, cycling, walking or aerobics, tell your instructor that you're pregnant. Start with 15 minutes of continuous exercise, three times a week, and increase this gradually to at least four, 30-minute sessions a week (NHS 2013).
What should I wear when exercising in pregnancy?Wear layers of light clothes that are easy to remove (Lynch et al 2003, Soultanakis-Aligianni 2003). Try not to overheat while you exercise, especially in the first trimester. Make sure your maternity bra is comfortable, supportive and fits well. You may find that a standard sports bra suits you better when you exercise.
Wear trainers that fit your feet properly to support your ligaments and tendons. If your shoe size has changed because of mild swelling, find a more comfortable pair.
What are the top tips on exercise in pregnancy?Get in the habit
If you’re committed to keeping fit, exercise at least four or five times a week, for at least 30 minutes at a time (Hegaard et al 2007, NHS 2013). Building up a regular exercise programme means you'll get the most benefit from it, and can better protect yourself against injury.
Warm up before exercising
This will get your muscles and joints ready for activity and help build your heart rate slowly (Nascimento et al 2012, NHS 2013). If you skip the warm-up and jump around before your body is ready, you may injure yourself (Fradkin et al 2006).
Standing still for long stretches can decrease the flow of blood to your uterus (womb), and cause blood to pool in your legs. This can make you feel dizzy (Schneider et al 2005) or faint. Some yoga and dance positions involve being still. So if you feel uncomfortable, change positions, or walk on the spot.
Don’t exercise lying flat on your back after 16 weeks of pregnancy
Besides being uncomfortable, this position may cause dizziness. It puts your uterus on top of the vena cava, a major blood vessel, and this may reduce blood flow to your growing baby, and your brain (Scott and Kerr 2005, RCOG 2006). Prop yourself up on your elbows instead, or lie on your left side.
Take care with awkward positions
You'll need to be careful with the following positions, as they may cause ligament strain and pain in and around your pelvis:
- standing on one leg
- moving your legs too far apart
You can tone the muscles used in these movements in other ways. Swimming and walking will work your thigh muscles (quadriceps) and buttocks just as well as lunges and knee bends.
As your centre of gravity shifts during pregnancy, you become more prone to losing your balance. That’s why you should take care when you shift positions. Getting up quickly can make you dizzy, and cause you to lose your footing and fall.
Drink lots of water
Try to drink plenty of water before you begin exercising. Take a bottle of water with you when you exercise, and take frequent sips from it. This will help to regulate your temperature and prevent you from becoming dehydrated (OTIS 2010).
Take it easy when it’s hot and humid outside. Weather like this makes you prone to overheating. Give your workout a miss or exercise indoors in a cool, airy room.
Take the time to cool down properly after you exercise (Nascimento et al 2012, NHS 2013). Walk on the spot for a few minutes, stretch and relax. This gives your heart a chance to return gradually to its normal rate.
I like to push myself when exercising. Is it safe?Keep exercise moderate, and don't overdo it. You should just feel a bit warmer and mildly sweaty (Wright 2010), not exhausted.
A good rule of thumb is to slow down if you can’t comfortably carry on a conversation. Read more about how hard you can exercise.
Always listen to your body. When something hurts, or if you feel tired, that’s your warning to stop. You should feel that you’re working your body, not punishing it. Think about maintaining your existing fitness levels, or improving them slightly, rather than going for peak fitness.
Last reviewed: October 2013
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