The benefits of exercise during pregnancy

During pregnancy, your changing body and hormone levels present their fair share of challenges. But growing research shows that exercise helps you to adapt to these throughout pregnancy and even in labour.

It’s a common myth that exercising during pregnancy is bad for your baby. In reality, the opposite is true. Here we take a closer look at the health benefits of exercise to you and your baby, and what simple changes you can make to have a fitter pregnancy.

Boost your mood and energy

As many as 1 in 2 women notice increased depression or anxiety levels while pregnant. Many also experience general fatigue during the first and late-third trimesters. However, regular aerobic exercise such as pilates, swimming, running and dancing can do wonders for your mood and boost energy levels[1] by releasing endorphins and strengthening your cardiovascular system. Taking up short spells of daily meditation in the morning can also put you in a more restful state of mind and even improve your quality of sleep.

Reference:
[1] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S183695531270067X

Reduce risk of pregnancy-related complications

A 2017 study[1] showed that women who exercise while pregnant were less likely to develop gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. Gestational diabetes effects as many as 9 in 100 pregnant women by making their cells more resistant to insulin, causing blood sugar levels to rise. If your condition allows it, regular exercise can help maintain healthy glucose levels.

Reference:
[1] https://www.bmj.com/content/358/bmj.j3119

Improve general comfort

Maintaining muscle strength, flexibility and circulation during pregnancy helps you to handle the aches and pains that inevitably come during pregnancy. For example, yoga and pilates are great for easing back pain and flexibility, swimming strengthens abdominal muscles and walking improves circulation.

Still feeling the strain? While exercise helps to improve comfort, investing in a supportive pregnancy pillow can alleviate aches and pains while sitting on lying down. You can even try soothing swollen feet and legs with a tonic water foot bath. It sounds odd, but the quinine in tonic water helps to reduce inflammation.

Prepare you for labour

Labour is a challenge for any woman that requires stamina and determination, but staying strong and in shape may ease and even shorten childbirth. Some preliminary studies have found that women progress through the first stage of labour quicker if they follow an exercise regime three times per week throughout pregnancy.

Reduce risk of delivery complications

Another study showed that women who exercised three times per week were less likely to give birth to macrosomic babies (babies weighing 9lb or more) by up to 58%.[1] This in turn reduces the risk of the mother needing a c-section or episiotomy to deliver the baby.

Reference:
[1] https://www.nct.org.uk/pregnancy/exercise-and-fitness/exercise-during-pregnancy-what-know

Starting a safe workout routine

Studies into pregnancy exercise are generally based on 150 minutes of activity per week[1]. How you space these minutes out is up to you, although it’s best not to exceed 30 minutes of exercise per session. The goal is to raise heartrate, engage your muscles and core through aerobic activities such as walking, pilates, jogging and swimming.

It’s advised to start your routine slowly with five minutes per day, adding 5 extra minutes per week. Sports that have a high risk of falling such as horse riding and skiing are best avoided.

Exercise is safe for most pregnant women, however it is advised to speak to your GP or midwife before exercising if you experience any of the below:

Known weakness of the cervix or if you’ve had a cervical stitch

A twin or multiple pregnancy

History of premature labour or any signs of premature labour in your pregnancy

Premature waters breaking

Vaginal bleeding that continues throughout your pregnancy

Placenta praevia, which is where the placenta is close to the cervix

Pre-eclampsia

Poorly controlled diabetes, seizures or thyroid disease during pregnancy

Anaemia during pregnancy

Bone or joint problems that affect mobility

An eating disorder

A body mass index higher than 40 or you are very inactive

A smoking habit where you smoke more than 20 cigarettes a day[2]

Reference:

[1] https://www.acog.org/Clinical-Guidance-and-Publications/Committee-Opinions/Committee-on-Obstetric-Practice/Physical-Activity-and-Exercise-During-Pregnancy-and-the-Postpartum-Period?IsMobileSet=false

[2] https://www.nct.org.uk/pregnancy/exercise-and-fitness/exercise-during-pregnancy-what-know