Written by Bethany Ford, Pelvic Health Physiotherapist shared via Bethany Ford.
As a pelvic health physiotherapist, one of the most commonly asked questions I receive from women is ‘I’m pregnant, how much exercise should I be doing?’. This is a crucial time when women want to make sure they’re following the right advice and not putting themselves or their baby at any risk.
This blog will take you through some of the latest guidelines for exercise in pregnancy, so you feel well informed and confident to exercise.
What do the guidelines say?
Current Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANCOG) guidelines encourage the many well established benefits of exercise during pregnancy for women who have been advised they are safe to exercise. These include benefits for mum’s fitness, the prevention of excessive weight gain and psychological benefits which include reduction in symptoms of depression (RANZCOG, 2016). Taking part in regular exercise during pregnancy has also been associated with shorter and less complicated labour, as well as fewer neonatal complications for your baby (RANZCOG, 2016).
There is no evidence that regular exercise in an uncomplicated pregnancy has any detrimental effect to mum or baby (NICE, 2019). If you have any complications in your pregnancy or have any medical conditions that prevent you from exercising, please talk to your doctor or midwife for recommendations specific to your situation.
How often should I exercise?
Pregnant women should try to be active on most if not all days of the week. If you have previously not been very active, try gradually building up to this - for example 3 or 4 non-consecutive days per week.
For how long?
30 minutes per day is recommended with a maximum of 60 minutes. If you’re new to exercise, start with less i.e. 15-20 minutes and build up gradually to 30 minutes.
How hard should I work?
This will depend on your current baseline level of fitness. If you have been inactive, maintaining a moderate intensity should be enough to get the benefits from exercise for health and well-being. If you are used to a high level of fitness and regular vigorous exercise there is no evidence that continuing with this level of exercise is in any way harmful to mum or baby. This being said, it’s really important to ensure you are not overheating and that you’re well-nourished and hydrated.
What type of exercise should I do?
The guidelines encourage women to perform both aerobic and strength-based exercises. Popular aerobic exercises include walking, swimming and static cycling. If you aren’t used to running, pregnancy isn’t the best time to start. However, if you’re a seasoned runner there is no reason to stop so long as you feel comfortable and you are adjusting your routine appropriately to accommodate for changes in comfort, tolerance and suitable intensity.
Strength based exercise should be aimed at the main muscle groups of the body and ideally 2 sessions per week on non-consecutive days. Resistance could be resistance bands, light weights or body weight. Women without prior experience can aim for 1-2 sets of 12-15 repetitions for each exercise.
Some things to avoid in pregnancy include: laying on your back for prolonged periods of time after your first trimester, any form of exercise where you might lose your balance or sustain a blow to the tummy; for example, horse riding and contact sports. If you experience any unusual symptoms while you’re exercising, abdominal pain or feel unwell, always contact your doctor or midwife immediately to seek medical attention.
Anything else to consider?
As well as the aerobic and strengthening exercises the guidelines discuss, you might like to consider yoga classes for pregnancy. There is some preliminary evidence to suggest yoga for pregnancy can lower physical levels of pain including back pain, reduce stress, boost the immune system and reduce the likelihood of interventions in labour and birth (Jiang et al., 2014). A class is also a great opportunity to take some relaxing time for yourself and to meet other expectant mums. As a women’s health physiotherapist, I also stress the importance of functional pelvic floor exercises during pregnancy and in the postnatal period.
In an uncomplicated pregnancy, try to aim for 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise on most days of the week. Importantly, find something you enjoy and take this time for yourself. Step outside your busy schedule and reap all the health benefits for you and that of your baby.
If you would like some more tailored advice or an appropriate exercise programme for pregnancy, a pelvic health physiotherapist is an ideal person to design a programme for you. As well as exercise advice in pregnancy, they can help to treat pelvic girdle pain, low back pain, pelvic floor problems including incontinence and issues with abdominal muscle separation.
Bethany offers pelvic health physiotherapy appointments and pregnancy yoga classes at InForm Physiotherapy in Silverstream, Upper Hutt. Contact 04 527 4155 for bookings.
1. Jiang, Qinxian & Wu, Zhengguo & Zhou, Li & Dunlop, Jenae & Chen, Peijie. (2014). Effects of Yoga Intervention during Pregnancy: A Review for Current Status. American journal of perinatology. 32. 10.1055/s-0034-1396701.
2. National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) Guidelines; Antenatal care for uncomplicated pregnancies. 2019
3. Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Exercise During Pregnancy. July 2016