Many of us aren’t sure if we should exercise during pregnancy, or what kind of exercise is safe. However there is clear evidence that moderate physical activity is not only safe, but it is beneficial for both mother and baby.

In fact, it’s so helpful that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recommend that pregnant women should do 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise most days of the week. Tommy’s Charity website also has helpful advice about exercise and pregnancy.

So what are the benefits?

  • you’ll feel less tired
  • your circulation will be better so you’ll have less ankle swelling and reduced risk of varicose veins
  • it’ll help you stop putting on too much extra weight
  • it’ll help reduce back pain
  • it may reduce the risk of gestational diabetes
  • very importantly regular exercise will help reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia
  • and it’ll reduce the time you are in labour (which has to be a good thing).

As if this wasn’t enough of a reason you will also feel better – exercise in pregnancy is shown to help reduce stress, anxiety and depression.

It’s not only good for you, but good for your baby too. There is some evidence to suggest being active during pregnancy helps the baby’s brain develop, and reduces the chance of your baby becoming distressed during birth.

Most women will be fine taking exercise during their pregnancy, but if you have had problems with previous pregnancies or have an existing health condition such as diabetes or high blood pressure, or have any concerns you should talk to your doctor first. Exercise is very risky for some pregnant mothers and babies, it is important that you check it’s ok for you before you start.  There is advice on the Tommy’s Charity website and below is a list of conditions and symptoms, if you have any of these, or if you are not sure you must talk to your doctor or health professional before doing any exercise while pregnant.

If you were active before your pregnancy you will probably be able to carry on with what you were doing, although see the advice below on kinds of exercise to avoid. If you are new to exercise then you might want to start with something like walking or swimming. If you are attending a gym of fitness class please make sure your instructor knows you are pregnant so they can advise you on what to avoid. They should ask you to complete a PAR-Q form so that they are aware of any existing medical condition you have before you start to exercise.

Types of exercise for pregnant women

You should aim to exercise most days of the week for around 30 minutes.

You should be doing moderate intensity exercise. Exercises such as :

  • Swimming / aqua aerobics (as long as the water temperature is below 32 degrees Celsius)
  • Walking
  • Jogging / running
  • Yoga / pilates / pelvic floor exercises
  • Gym or gym classes
  • Dance or dance classes

If you are attending any classes please make sure the instructor knows you are pregnant.

Exercise to avoid when pregnant

  • Scuba diving
  • Exercise at high altitude (>6,000 feet)
  • Exercising in hot temperatures

After the first trimester (first 3 months) you should avoid :

  • Exercises that require you to lie on your back
  • Contact sports
  • Any exercise with a risk of falling eg riding or skiing
  • Any exercise with a risk of being hit in the abdomen eg tennis or squash

If you feel dizzy or tired or experience any pain while exercising you should stop. Remember your body changes during pregnancy, don’t over-stretch or lift heavy weights.

Exercise after your baby is born

Your ligaments soften when you are pregnant, and they stay soft for several weeks after the baby is born so it is generally advised that you don’t restart exercise for 6 weeks after birth (let’s face it you probably will be too busy and tired anyway). However you can start going for walks as soon as you feel up to it, and should start your pelvic floor exercises as soon as possible.

There is more information on how being active helps with pregnancy in the The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists patients leaflet, the NHS Choices website and Tommy’s Charity website.

Don’t exercise if you have these conditions or symptoms

Seek advice from a medical professional before exercising while pregnant if you have or experience any of the following:

  • Incompetent cervix
  • Persistent bleeding in the 2nd or 3rd trimester
  • Placenta praevia after 26wks
  • Premature labour during current or previous pregnancies
  • Ruptured membranes
  • Pre-eclampsia/pregnancy induced high blood pressure
  • Multiple gestation at risk of premature labour
  • Restricted growth of the baby during current pregnancy

Or if you have :

  • Significant heart or lung disease, or poorly controlled hypertension
  • Anaemia (Haemoglobin below 10)
  • Poorly controlled Type 1 diabetes, epilepsy or hyperthyroidism
  • If you are overweight (BMI above 40) or underweight (BMI below 12)
  • Severe back, pelvic or other joint pains