Exercise in pregnancy
The more active and fit you are during pregnancy, the easier it will be for you to adapt to your changing shape and weight gain. It will also help you to cope with and get back into shape after the birth.
Keep up your normal daily physical activity or exercise (sport, running, yoga, dancing, or even walking to the shops and back) for as long as you feel comfortable.
Exercise is not dangerous for your baby – there is some evidence that active women are less likely to experience problems in later pregnancy and labour.
Exercise tips for pregnancy
Don't exhaust yourself. You may need to slow down as your pregnancy progresses or if your maternity team advises you to. If in doubt, consult your maternity team.
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 strenuously.
If you weren't active before you got pregnant, don't suddenly take up strenuous exercise. If you start an aerobic exercise programme (such as running, swimming, cycling, walking or aerobics classes), tell the instructor that you're pregnant and begin with no more than 15 minutes of continuous exercise, three times a week. Increase this gradually to at least four 30-minute sessions a week.
Remember that exercise doesn't have to be strenuous to be beneficial.
Exercise tips when you're pregnant:
- always warm up before exercising, and cool down afterwards
- try to keep active on a daily basis: half an hour of walking each day can be enough, but if you can't manage that, any amount is better than nothing
- avoid any strenuous exercise in hot weather
- drink plenty of water and other fluids
- if you go to exercise classes, make sure your teacher is properly qualified, and knows that you're pregnant as well as how many weeks pregnant you are
- you might like to try swimming because the water will support your increased weight. Some local swimming pools provide aquanatal classes with qualified instructors.
Exercises to avoid in pregnancy
- don't lie flat on your back for prolonged periods, particularly after 16 weeks, because the weight of your bump presses on the main blood vessel bringing blood back to your heart and this can make you feel faint
- don't take part in contact sports where there's a risk of being hit, such as kickboxing, judo or squash
- don't go scuba diving, because the baby has no protection against decompression sickness and gas embolism (gas bubbles in the bloodstream)
Exercises for a fitter pregnancy
If you are pregnant, try to fit the exercises listed below into your daily routine. They will strengthen your muscles so that you can carry the extra weight of pregnancy. They'll also make your joints stronger, improve circulation, ease backache, and generally help you feel well.
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 stomach (abdominal) muscles and may ease backache, which can be a problem in pregnancy:
- start in a box position (on all fours) 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 the trunk and allowing your head to relax gently forward. Don't 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
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 four seconds and release
- repeat up to 10 times
Try the full body Prenatal workout below....
Yoga Stretches to try during Pregnancy
Yoga is meant to be relaxing, delivering gentle stretches to energise you. There’s lots of yoga classes around and lots of different types of yoga, but there’s fewer pregnancy yoga specialists than regular teachers. If you find a good teacher, stick with them, but even if you don’t, there’s some basic yoga poses (asanas) that you can try at home. You don’t immediately come super fragile just because you’re pregnant, and you may be surprised by how much you can bend – and in some cases, just how restorative yoga can feel. Give these a go!
Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
Stand straight with your feet hip width (or a few centimetres wider, but no further) apart. Inhale and stretch your arms up to the ceiling, straightening them and touching your palms together. Exhale and feel the equal balance between your feet. Pull your palms apart but facing each other and keep your arms in line with your ears and keep reaching up toward the ceiling. Ease back slightly at the lower back for a tiny back bend (really tiny, just a few centimetres!) and keep your arms in line with your ears. Keep breathing and when you feel you need to, come back up to centre. You may feel some shuddering or wobbling, and if so, micro-bend your knees. Don’t hold this for too long: it can feel quite intense quite quickly!
Cat/Cow Pose (Marjarisana/Bitilasana) – for the first 26 weeks of pregnancy only
Get onto all fours with your shoulders over your wrists and your hips over your knees. With your in-breath, lift your chest, head and tailbone to the ceiling, sinking your tummy down. As you exhale, invert this: pushing your tailbone and head down and arching your back up (almost like a Halloween- scared cat type of silhouette). Keep doing this slowly in time with inhale and exhale. This is a great gentle warmer for your spine and may crack and click: this is fine, as long as it doesn’t hurt!
Warrior Pose (Virabhadrasana)
This should be done on both sides, so repeat on the other once you’ve done it. Standing with your feet hip-width apart, lift one foot and place it back, about 3 feet away. Keep the feet hip-width apart (or a little wider, if it’s comfortable) and keep the back foot at an angle of about 45 degrees. The front leg should be bent, with the knee above the ankle or slightly further back, but no further forward. Try and equalise your balance between both feet and then raise your arms up straight above your head, in line with your ears. Take some deep breaths here and when you’re ready, step the back foot forward to then try the other side.