Safe Pregnancy Exercise: Everything You Need to Know

(10 minute read)

Ultimately, it's down to you to decide what you do and don’t do during pregnancy. No one can stop you from exercising if you want to, and the type of exercise you do is down to you. As with everything throughout pregnancy, it’s always important to discern what feels right for you, and to choose a form of exercise that you’re comfortable with.

In this article we'll explore the benefits of exercise, what might be a safe option for you and some ideas for regular exercise routines.

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Why is exercise important during pregnancy?

For all of your adult life, you’ve probably been aware that exercising - whether that involves a yoga class, a bike ride, or a run - can benefit your overall health. During pregnancy, there are even more reasons to keep moving, or to get moving, if you haven’t had an exercise routine in the past.

Exercising during pregnancy has been found have brilliant benefits to your health and mental wellbeing, including:

Improving your stamina and heart health

As you may have already guessed, working out can improve your overall fitness. By strengthening your heart and blood vessels through regular exercise, you’re preparing your body to tackle another physical challenge yet to come: childbirth!

Boosting your mood

Moving your body during pregnancy releases endorphins that help improve your mood while reducing stress and anxiety. This increased sense of calm will prepare you well for birth, where endorphins play a vital role in combating pain. Endorphins are released in high quantities in labour, and they are 10 times stronger than morphine. 

Easing back and pelvic pain

It’s no secret that your growing baby bump puts extra pressure on your lower half, resulting in back pain and an aching pelvis, also known as pelvic girdle pain. Strengthening your body and pelvic floor may help ease this discomfort.

Fighting fatigue

Low-level tiredness plagues many women during their first trimester, and then again later on in the third trimester. So while you should never push yourself to exhaustion, a little nudge - say, an easy walk or a pregnancy yoga class - can make a big difference to your energy levels.

Improving your sleep

While many pregnant women report having a harder time falling and staying asleep, those who exercise consistently say that the quality of their sleep is better, and that they wake up feeling better rested. Just be sure not to exercise too close to your bedtime, as this can be energising and actually reduce your chances of getting to sleep.

Week 19 Fetus (20)

What kind of exercise should be avoided during pregnancy?

While I encourage staying active throughout pregnancy, there are several forms of exercise that aren’t safe and should be avoided, including:

  • Contact sports, like rugby or football.
  • Activities that have a high risk of falling, such as climbing, cycling, acrobatics, or trampolining.
  • Exercise at high altitudes. You need more oxygen in pregnancy, not less!
  • Scuba diving, as this puts far too much pressure on your body.
  • Exercise that involves laying on your front.
  • Exercise that involves laying on your back after 28 weeks. This is so that the vena cava isn’t put under pressure, which can be linked to stillbirth.
  • Activities that require you to twist your abdomen, such as certain pilates and yoga positions. This is why it’s important to seek out a prenatal yoga teacher who is highly trained!
  • Heavy weight lifting. Weight lifting can be risky if you don’t know what you’re doing. You have higher quantities of a hormone called ‘relaxin’ in your system during pregnancy, meaning your joints are more supple, increasing your chance of injury.
Week 19 Fetus (19)

What kind of exercise is safe during pregnancy?

The following activities are completely safe to do while you’re pregnant and can be incredibly beneficial:

When should I start exercising in pregnancy?

The answer to this is simple - whenever you want! Some women wait for the first trimester to pass, because they may be too exhausted or sick to work out. But others start in the first trimester and carry on until the day they give birth. This is a personal journey, and you should start exercising when the time feels right for you. You may begin finding exercise harder as your pregnancy reaches the final weeks, or you may want to naturally slow down. But one thing’s for sure - it’s a myth that exercise is dangerous at any point in your pregnancy.

When might exercise actually be dangerous, though? It could be dangerous for you if you have placenta previa or pre-eclampsia. If either of these conditions apply to you, be sure to speak to your health care provider about what’s advisable when it comes to exercise.

The benefits of pregnancy yoga

Pregnancy yoga is totally safe for both you and your baby, and it has so many benefits for your mental and physical health. Let’s dive into four of them together:

  1. Pregnancy yoga is very gentle

All of the poses are adapted to suit your changing body as your baby grows, and the design of the classes mean that you are supported physically and emotionally from start to finish.

  1. Yoga helps you face the physical demands of labour, birth, and new motherhood

It teaches you how to breathe deeply and consciously relax. Breathing techniques are one of the first things you'll learn in a yoga class, and this comes in handy during labour.

  1. Prenatal yoga primes you mentally for labour and childbirth

Learning to breathe intentionally helps you stay calm when you need it most. When you're in pain or feel afraid, your body produces adrenaline which cuts through our precious pain-killing endorphins, and this can interrupt the progression of labour.

  1. You become part of a like-minded community

The benefits of yoga aren't limited to health and wellbeing. Taking a prenatal yoga class is a great way to meet other pregnant people and to feel connected to mothers who are on the same journey as you. Being in a positive, supportive environment can provide a regular emotional boost and keep you motivated to continue exercising.

Week 19 Fetus (21)

When can you start practising pregnancy yoga?

You can start practising pregnancy yoga from your second trimester onwards, unless you have placenta previa or pre-eclampsia. You'll probably be past the worst of your morning sickness by this point. But, of course, the best time to start practising pregnancy yoga is when you feel ready to!

Why is hot yoga so dangerous for pregnant people?

Have you heard of hot yoga? It’s essentially yoga classes that are held in very hot and humid spaces, and you should steer clear of it at all costs if you’re pregnant. In stark contrast to antenatal yoga classes - hot yoga isn’t safe for pregnant women. Its main danger comes from risks around extreme heat during pregnancy, which obviously isn’t yoga-specific. It’s the same reason why doctors caution pregnant women to avoid hot tubs and saunas.

Pregnant women are very sensitive to elevated body temperature, and because you’re carrying extra weight that alters your centre of gravity, you’re more likely to experience overstretching muscle damage, and torn cartilage. This is why hot yoga can lead to dizziness, exhaustion, and fainting if you’re pregnant. Hot yoga’s higher risk of physical injury is true for everyone, not just pregnant women, but pregnant women are extra vulnerable because of the stresses already placed on their body.

Going at your own pace

The decision to exercise during pregnancy is a personal one. While the benefits of staying active are clear, it's important to prioritise your safety above everything else. Choose activities that align with your comfort level and avoid those with potential risks, taking everything slowly, and checking in with yourself regularly about how you are finding each one. And if you have any doubts about whether your exercise routine is appropriate for your individual circumstances, you can always consult with your midwife or healthcare provider.

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