Pregnancy and Exercise: Is it safe?

I believe pregnancy and childbirth can easily be likened to running a marathon, or quite simply the biggest physical challenge of your life!

Think about it in terms of a marathon; for nine months your body grows and changes (marathon training phase), then there’s labour (hours of physical pain overcome purely by your own willpower and the fact that you can’t go back now!) and then comes the post-natal period (exhaustion, elation and recovery all rolled into one).

Having relayed that analogy, I don’t quite understand why many women stop all exercise because of pregnancy. I imagine that you wouldn’t attempt to run a marathon with a nine month rest prior. Unless your doctor recommends inactivity due to complications, there is absolutely no reason to stop exercising because you are “eating for two” as they say.

In fact, staying active during your pregnancy provides the following benefits;

  • Increased energy levels
  • Reduced risk of getting pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes
  • A stronger, fitter body to endure labour
  • Reduced likelihood of complications during the birthing process
  • Generally a faster post-natal recovery
  • Less weight gain during pregnancy and retention after birth

The key is to exercise safely. Here’s how;

If you exercised regularly prior to pregnancy, then there is no reason to stop your usual activities. As the pregnancy progresses however, you will need to scale it back to compensate for changes in your body. You need to lean on the side of caution at all times, listen to your body and be sensible – A general rule of thumb is that you must be able to speak and hold a conversation during exercise to ensure that your heart rate and level of exercise intensity isn’t too high.

If you haven’t exercised prior to pregnancy, don’t despair, it is safe to undertake low intensity exercise like walking, swimming or pre-natal yoga.

Even if you have stayed active prior to pregnancy, you will have to make some alterations to your usual routine to accommodate each trimester.

In the first trimester, the greatest risk is overheating. Slow the intensity of exercise down and wear layers so that if you feel hot you can strip a layer off. Also, be sure to drink plenty of water.

With the second trimester, you will have a visible baby bump meaning that your centre of gravity starts to change. Be mindful of anything that requires balance. If you are lifting weights, you need to reduce the load as your body will be working harder anyway to carry your baby weight gain. Also heading towards the end of your second trimester, you shouldn’t complete any exercise that puts you in the supine position (lying flat on your back).

The third trimester is where you scale things back even more, definitely no supine exercises and be very careful with any core exercises. Excess pressure on your stretched abdominal muscles can cause a muscle separation.

There are also a few danger signs to take note of. If you have the following happen please seek medical advice immediately;

  • Prolonged periods of dizziness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Vaginal bleeding or fluid leaking
  • Swelling of the feet and hands
  • Blurred vision
  • Sharp pains in your abdominal area

If you have any doubts about whether you are exercising safely, seek professional help. Many cities and towns throughout Australia have qualified pregnancy and post-natal fitness providers that offer a variety of pregnancy friendly exercise classes – Try pre-natal water aerobics, pre-natal yoga or pre-natal group exercise, just to name a few. A quick Google search in your local area should provide some options for you.

I’m certainly not saying that you should train to run a marathon while you are pregnant, but staying active safely delivers great benefits! Pardon the pun…