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Can I Exercise While Pregnant?

It can be tempting to spend your pregnancy couch surfing, getting caught up on your Netflix while eating for two. However, you might be surprised to learn that most women don’t have to avoid exercise for 9 months, and it comes with a whole host of benefits for them and the baby.

For many women, a moderate level of activity can improve their and their baby’s health while they’re pregnant. It can also mean that you have a smoother labour with less chance of complications.

Regular exercise while pregnant can do the following:

  • Help to reduce high blood pressure.
  • Help to reduce the risk of diabetes. For women who have to deal with gestational diabetes, exercise can help to keep it under control.
  • Help you maintain a healthy weight while pregnant and help you bounce back quicker after postpartum.
  • Help to reduce the likelihood of varicose veins, swelling in your joints, and the back pain that comes with carrying a little person around with you 24/7.
  • Improve your level of fitness.
  • Reduce the chance of depression and anxiety.
  • Improve sleep.
  • Lower the chance of very low birth weight and cesarean birth.

There are exceptional circumstances when it isn’t advisable to exercise while pregnant, so always consult your GP beforehand, especially if you experience any of the following:

  • Heart problems or lung disease.
  • Weakness of the cervix or if you’ve had a cervical stitch.
  • If you have twins or greater
  • Have a prior history of premature labour, or any signs of premature labour in your pregnancy.
  • Premature waters breaking.
  • Vaginal bleeding continues throughout pregnancy.
  • Placenta praevia, which is where the placenta is close to the cervix.
  • Pre-eclampsia. This is a condition where there is a problem with the placenta that affects the mother’s blood vessels and the baby’s blood supply.
  • Not under control diabetes,
  • Seizures or thyroid disease while pregnant.
  • Anemia while pregnant.
  • Bone or joint problems like severe arthritis affects mobility.
  • An eating disorder.
  • A body mass index higher than 40 or you are very inactive.

Ways To Exercise While Pregnant

Most forms of exercise that can be done normally can also be done while pregnant with limitations.

Walking is a great place to start. It’s simple, low impact and as a bonus you can walk through parks or woodland and get in touch with nature. It’s also a great stress reliever which is something that can only help relaxation while pregnant.

Walking With Daughter

Yoga/pilates are a brilliant way to move your changing body and ease stress. Pilates can help strengthen the key muscles around the pelvis and spine too. We recommend that you do it under the supervision of a qualified coach, or attend a pregnancy-specific class.

Exercising While Pregnant

If you do yoga or pilates at home, then make sure that the exercises you are doing are safe for pregnancy. Avoid the following:

  • lying on your back after 16 weeks of your pregnancy
  • exercises that include holding your breath or taking short forceful breaths
  • stretches that cause discomfort, pain, or strain
  • lying upside down or on your abdomen
  • back bends or strong twists of the abdominals.

Water aerobic exercise classes are another great thing to do during pregnancy as it can improve your cardiovascular fitness and muscle tone, and help you relax. Exercising in the water helps support the bump and reduce the impact on the joints, you’ll have less muscle soreness afterward and reduce the risk of injury.

Swimming is one of the safest exercises you can do during pregnancy. Like water aerobics, it helps ease swelling and gives relief from sciatic pain as it encourages circulation. The only thing to avoid is the backstroke late on in your pregnancy as it can press on the main blood vessels in the abdomen.

The idea of weight lifting while pregnant can be a bit intimidating, but it can actually be quite beneficial. We’d only recommend weight training if you were a regular weight lifter pre-pregnancy or if you have a PT. Weight training can help prepare you for the physical demands of labour. You will likely have to use lighter weights than before, and avoid certain movements. Always let your coach or instructor know that you are pregnant before performing weight exercises.

If you’re used to cardiovascular exercise, it can also be great to continue during pregnancy. There’s no need to be concerned about running while pregnant. Experts agree that it does not affect gestational age or birth weight centile.

Like with weight training, don’t start running when pregnant if you haven’t done so before. Running can affect your knees and pelvic floor even if you’re not pregnant but pregnancy hormone relaxin makes you more injury-prone than before.

Exercises That Are a Must During Pregnancy

Stomach-strengthening exercises

As your baby gets bigger, you may find that the hollow in your lower back increases, and this can give you backache. These exercises strengthen the stomach muscles and may ease backache, which can be a problem During pregnancy:

  • start in a box position (on all 4s) 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 up towards the ceiling, curling your trunk and allowing your head to relax gently forward. Do not 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

Source: NHS UK

Pelvic tilt exercises

  • stand with your shoulders and bottom against a wall
  • keep your knees soft
  • pull your tummy button towards your spine, so that your back flattens against the wall: hold for 4 seconds then release
  • repeat up to 10 times

Source: NHS UK

Pelvic floor exercises

Pelvic floor exercises help to strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor, which come under great strain in pregnancy and childbirth. The pelvic floor consists of layers of muscles that stretch like a supportive hammock from the pubic bone (in front) to the end of the backbone (spine).

If your pelvic floor muscles are weak, you may find that you leak urine when you cough, sneeze, laugh or strain. This is quite common, and it can continue after pregnancy.

You can strengthen these muscles by doing pelvic floor exercises. This helps to reduce or avoid stress incontinence after pregnancy. All pregnant women should do pelvic floor exercises, even if they’re young and not suffering from stress incontinence at the moment. 

How to do pelvic floor exercises:

  • close up your bottom, as if you’re trying to stop yourself from going to the toilet
  • 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 3 sets of 8 squeezes every day: to help you remember, you could do a set at each meal

Source: NHS UK

What Exercise To Avoid While Pregnant

The key to knowing about what type of exercise to avoid is thinking about the amount of impact. It goes without saying that contact sports should be avoided, including martial arts, football, rugby, etc. Also, sports that have a lot of impact on your joints, like Tennis and Badminton should be avoided as they can lead to an abdominal injury and joint stress.

Extreme sports should obviously be avoided too, in particular Scuba Diving, as this is can cause birth defects and fetal compression syndrome.

Finally, exercise at high altitude (above 2500m) can cause lead to altitude sickness. If you are in those conditions, perhaps on holiday, then allow time to acclimatise.

Know Your Limitations When Exercising While Pregnant

If you work out regularly it becomes nature to want to continually see improvement. It goes against that nature to slow down and do less, but it’s an idea that you need to get used to. It’s important to be aware of your limitations.

As a general rule, you should be able to hold a conversation as you exercise when pregnant. If you become breathless as you talk, then you’re probably exercising too vigorously, and need to slow down a little. Remember that the overall goal is to make pregnancy and post-pregnancy recovery as stress-free as possible.

Hopefully, this guide has given a clear idea of the do’s and don’ts around exercising while pregnant. Once again, speak with your GP if you need any further advice or have any concerns about a specific form of exercise. If you are looking for a coach to guide you through, we’re always here to help. Just get in touch!

Until next time,

“Strength for Life”


Davie McConnachie

Davie McConnachie is Scotland’s leading health and wellness coach, multi-award-winning gym owner, motivational speaker and the founder of DMC Fitness, a fitness education facility known as the premier choice for 1-2-1 personal training. He has inspired thousands of people to fall in love with fitness – his true purpose and mission in life.

Diving into the world of fitness and wellness has helped Davie to deal with his own trauma and inner demons. He, overcame many dark times using his own unique methods to continue his cycle of healing.