Is it healthy to exercise during pregnancy?

Many people think that exercise during pregnancy is dangerous and that women should put their feet up and rest as much as possible. This may sound appealing (at least for a couple of days) but generally exercise during pregnancy, as long as it is done sensibly, is beneficial to both the mother and the baby.

We’re not talking about running the marathon (unless you’re Paula Radcliff). Exercise during pregnancy should be ‘recreational’, aiming to stay fit rather than reach peak fitness.

What are the benefits of exercising during pregnancy?

There are many benefits to exercising in pregnancy. It can reduce many of the common complaints that occur during pregnancy such as fatigue, swelling, insomnia, stress, anxiety and depression.

It can reduce problems such as weight gain, cardiovascular problems, gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia. It also reduces the risk of developing colon cancer and may reduce the risk of breast cancer later in life.

Pregnant women who exercise may tolerate labour better

There have been studies that show that women who exercise in pregnancy may tolerate labour better, that it can reduce the length of labour and the amount of complications.

Can you exercise if you're breastfeeding?

It is also worth mentioning that you can exercise if you are breastfeeding. It doesn’t affect the amount or quality of your milk and most women can exercise as soon after delivery as they feel ready.

What are the risks of exercising in pregnancy?

However, it is important to balance the benefits and the risks. During pregnancy your body changes. Your joints become lax and hyper-mobile (you become much more stretchy). Your metabolic rate increases meaning your body temperature can increase. And obviously you are carrying a large bump on your front, albeit a very precious large bump.

What precautions should you take if you are exercising in pregnancy?

Therefore, there are precautions that you have to take:

  • Make sure you don’t get too hot, drink lots of water, don’t over-exert yourself and avoid exercising in very hot and humid climates.
  • Avoid low blood sugar by eating well during pregnancy and don’t exercise for more than 45 minutes at a time.
  • Avoid low blood pressure by not doing exercises that involve lying on your back, especially after 16 weeks.
  • Avoid physical injury by doing warm up and cool down exercises and consider wearing a pelvic support belt (because of the loose joints). Choose activities with minimal risk of loosing balance or being hit in the abdomen such as judo or squash.
  • If you have any unusual symptoms (such as pain or shortness of breath) you should stop exercising and contact your healthcare professional immediately.
  • If you have a medical condition you should discuss with your healthcare professional before doing recreational exercise.
  • If you didn’t exercise before pregnancy, you should start with no more than 15 minutes 3 times a week and gradually build up. If you did exercise before pregnancy, you should be able to continue provided that you take the above precautions.

Find an exercise in pregnancy class

There are many fantastic classes that are designed especially for pregnant ladies, such as aqua aerobics and pregnancy yoga. They should help you to find an exercise routine that you are comfortable with.

If you have any concerns, it is prudent to talk to your midwife or doctor before doing any exercise.

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Snotty Noses is written by Dr. Orlena Kerek, mother of four and paediatrician.