Becoming pregnant can be a trigger for women and their partners to take steps to improve their health. It can be hard to make some healthy choices but the benefits for you and your baby are huge. Research suggests that physical activity can have positive effects on your mood, self-esteem and body image. It can also help with sleep, stress, depression and anxiety.
Moderate physical activity is good for you, is usually safe and doesn’t harm your baby’s growth and development. Carrying on with your usual exercise routine is normally OK – unless you’re into extreme sports – but check with your midwife and tell your instructor.
Physical activity recommendations
There is new national guidance for physical activity. Over the week, aim to gradually build up to at least 150 minutes (2 ½ hours) of moderate intensity activity in bursts of 10 minutes or more. One way to approach this is to do at least 30 minutes on at least five days a week. Good activities include swimming and brisk walking, which are gentle in movement and intensity.
Keeping active and healthy
Being active daily is good for you and your baby. You should aim to be active for at least 30 minute on at least five days a week. It doesn't need to be done in one go, though – you can add it up in bouts of 10 minutes if it easier for you.
Physical activity can easily be added in to everyday life. Here are some examples to help you get active every day:
- Take the stairs instead of the lift
- Walk or cycle (in early pregnancy)to work instead of taking the car
- Walk the dog
- Try gardening
You can strengthen your back and avoid backache by learning to ‘stand tall’. Stand with your feet apart and let the weight of your body sink through to your feet. Imagine a string from the top of your head drawing you up towards the ceiling. Feel your spine lengthening. When you stand, remember this posture. It helps to stop you slumping and sagging into your tummy, especially later in your pregnancy when your baby is heaviest.
Try not to sit for long periods of time. When sitting, tuck a small cushion into the small of your back to help you to sit up straight and comfortably. This takes the strain away from your lower back muscles which are doing a lot of work.
Yoga is generally a safe and helpful form of exercise during pregnancy. The poses gently stretch the body and the breathing methods and emphasis on relaxation encourage peace and calm.
If you belong to a class, tell the teacher you are pregnant. Your teacher will adapt the postures to make sure you don't injure yourself or your baby. They will usually tell you stay nearby for specific instructions. If you want to start yoga, find a class specifically for pregnant women. Local authority exercise classes and sports centres usually include yoga. Some teachers also offer classes to new mums and babies.
Aerobic exercise strengthens your heart and lungs and helps maintain muscle tone. Choose a class especially designed for expectant mothers, you’ll enjoy the company of other women and be assured that the instructor is qualified to adapt the class especially for pregnancy. As long as you choose exercises which are low impact – meaning no high kicks and leaps, and one foot on the ground at all times to minimise stress on the joints – you should be able to continue your routine throughout your pregnancy, gradually tapering off towards the end.
Even if you haven’t done much exercise before your pregnancy, you’ll find swimming easy. The water supports your whole body, so there’s almost no risk of injury, and you can tone and stretch all over. It's good for taking the strain off your back too.
Many pools run ‘aquanatal’ classes, where you learn movements and exercises designed for pregnancy. These should be run by a specially trained midwife, or an obstetric physiotherapist with a midwife present.
In any class, you should be given the chance to warm up with some gentle limb stretches, followed by movements which work round the body, and then maybe a swim.
Sports to avoid
Sports with a high potential for hard falls or those where you might be thrown off-balance are not a good idea. These include horseriding, downhill skiing, gymnastics and waterskiing. Additionally, most doctors and midwives recommend giving up cycling after six months, even if you’re an experienced cyclist, because of the potential for falls. You can, however, use an exercise bike for as long as you like.
If you are already active and have any concerns check with your midwife whether it is safe to continue.