Exercise During Pregnancy

Exercise safely during pregnancy by Kylie Patterson (the fitness Physiotherapist)

There are many guidelines that dictate what type and intensity of exercise is appropriate during pregnancy. The most recent guidelines from the ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) state that pregnant women can exercise as they have done while not pregnant.  It’s important to note that they recommend medical guidance for high risk pregnancies, multiple pregnancies and in the incidence of bleeding or contractions that occur around exercise.  When in doubt about working out while pregnant, always seek the advice of your doctor.

Per these guidelines, you can safely continue with exercise that you were doing prior to falling pregnant. However, it should be noted that pregnancy is NOT the time to take up something new, like train for a marathon!

Many times, some of the women I see have felt so terrible in first trimester that they have often stopped all exercise during pregnancy until they started to feel better- I encourage them to “ease” back into exercise in a sensible way, rather than picking up where they left off. After a 12 week break, these women need to approach resuming in a similar way to someone who has NOT been exercising prior to pregnancy.

Another interesting thing to note is that relaxin, the hormone that softens your ligaments (the support structures for your joints) peaks in second trimester. This means that it’s important to avoid overstretching as ligaments don’t “snap” back into their previous state (This is a bit like your pelvic floor and abdominals- but that’s another topic!). Often women pursuing yoga as their form of pregnancy activity present with unstable joints from overstretching, so if yoga’s your thing make sure that you are taking part in a pregnancy specific yoga practice to keep things safe.

In third trimester there is a big shift in your centre of gravity which means things that require balance and co-ordination are risky for some expectant mums. There’s also more pressure on the abdominals with a greater risk of splitting them down the middle with strenuous activity involving the abdominal wall. Really, by the end of the third trimester sitting up in bed from lying down is strenuous!  There’s also more weight and load on the pelvic floor so high impact activities should be minimised to avoid more stress on this area. Road cycling is another tricky one in third trimester- I see quite a few mum’s who have fallen off the bike due to the centre of gravity and losing balance. This is something that could put both you and your baby in a lot of danger.

Essentially exercise during pregnancy should be low impact, graded appropriately for your level of fitness, include a component of pelvic floor muscle training and be tailored to your needs. It should not involve straining, any form of curl-ups or overstretching of ligaments.  Ideally it would be delivered by a health and exercise professional with specialised training in pre and post natal exercise.  Walking, yoga, swimming, pilates, some group fitness classes and light resistance training are all ideal forms of exercise.