A guide to exercise in pregnancy
As soon as I knew I was expecting my first baby, my head instantly filled up with questions. Of course, I had a gazillion questions about pregnancy and babies in general, but because I’ve always been a really active person a lot of my questions werearound the dos and don’ts of exercise.
It was music to my ears to discover that exercise in pregnancy is completely safe. More than safe, in fact, it’s really beneficial to both mama and baby.
We all know that staying fit delivers a host of benefits at any time of life, such as helping usmaintain a healthy weight, boosting our mood, strengthening muscles and helping us get a better night’s sleep. But did you know that keeping our body strong and active throughout pregnancy can actually help ease some of the most common pregnancy ailments, such as backache, swellingand constipation? It also generally helps prepare our body for labour, and the Royal College of Midwives has even shared evidence that it reduces the risk of complications like gestational diabetesand preeclampsia by up to 40%.
If you’re newly pregnant and keen to stay fit or start being more active, I hope you find the following information a useful guide to exercising safely with baby on board.
How much exercise should pregnant women do?
To quote McFly: ‘it’s all about you.’
If you exercised before getting pregnant, you can safely continue doing the same amount of exercise now. But remember the goal is to maintain your current level of fitness, not to try and increase it – now is not the time to decide to train for your first-ever ultramarathon, for example!
If you weren’t especially active before you got pregnant, it would be really beneficial (and perfectly safe, as long as you don’t have any medical reasons not to) to start incorporating regular exercise into your life now. But that doesn’t mean you suddenly have to become super sporty or start hanging out at the gym every day if that’s not your thing! NHS guidance is that pregnant women should aim for 150 minutes of aerobic activity a week. That’s a cumulative total and it can be made up of short bursts of as little as 10 minutes, or longer sessions up to a maximum of 45 minutes.
What activities are suitable duringpregnancy?
Just as you can maintain the same amount of exercise you did before, you can also safely continue with almost every type of exercisethroughout your pregnancy. In general (though I’ve listed a few exceptions below), as long as you were doing it before, you can crack on!
If you were already a runner before you got pregnant, it’s absolutely safe to keep it up. Likewise with cycling, though you may find your balance is compromised as your bump gets bigger, so it’s important to keep a check on how stable you feel and if you’re in any doubt, hang up your helmet for a while.
If you usually attend classes such as spinning, strength training or yoga and Pilates, be sure to let your instructor know you’re pregnant so they can adapt any specific exercises for you as needed.
If you’re new to exercise, brisk walking is a brilliant place to start. And swimming is a particularly good choice if you’re prone to back pain, as the water supports the weight of your bump. You may also find some specialist prenatal classes near you, for example aquanatal or pregnancy yoga, and these can come with the added bonus of giving you the opportunity to meet other mums-to-be.
Remember though, aerobic activity isn’t all about the gym, classes or formal ‘exercise’. A ten-minute session of energetic hoovering is 100% a legitimate aerobic exercise session, as is a kitchen disco or a spot of gardening. If it gets you breathing harder and your heart beating faster, it counts (I feel like that sentence needs a 😉)! It’s all about finding the things that work for you and having fun doing them.
What activities should I avoid while pregnant?
While most types of exercise are absolutely safe to do when you’re expecting, there are a few activities to steer clear of.
Avoid any exercise that involves lying on your back after 16 weeks. This is because the weight of your bump can put pressure on the main blood vessels that supply the heart and uterus, which can make your blood pressure drop and/or restrict blood flow and oxygen to your baby.
It’s also best to avoid any contact sports and activities that put you at risk of falling, or your bump at risk of taking a knock. Things like tennis, horse riding, gymnastics, football, rugby and martial arts are best put on the back burner until your baby arrives.
How to exercise safely while pregnant
Whatever your fitness level and whichever activity you choose, the most important rule when it comes to safely exercising during pregnancy is to listen to your body and don’t overdo it. A good sense check is to make sure that while you’re exercising you canstill hold a conversation without struggling to breathe. If you can’t, take it down a notch or two!
It’s important not to exercise for more than 45 minutes at a time, and to make sure you don’t overheat or dehydrate. If at any point you feelunwell or experience any unusual symptoms, stop immediately and speak to your instructor, midwife or GP.
If you wear a smartwatch or fitness tracker, it can be useful to monitor your heart rate and keep withinthe following ranges, as advised by Tommy’s:
Your ageHeart rate (beats per minute)
Less than 20 years140–155
Over 40 years125–140
If you feel you’d benefit from some tailored advice on keeping fit throughout your pregnancy, it mightbe worth getting some help from a personal trainer who specialises in pre and postnatal exercise. They can devise a programme for you that will keep your fitness levels where you want them to be while making sure you stay safe.
Mental wellness matters too
Yes, staying physically active when you’re pregnantis important, but it’s equally important to prioritise your mental well-being. Listen to your mind as well as your body and make sure you’re taking time out for the things that keep you feeling mentally nourished, whether it’s catching up with friends, relaxing in the bath, reading a good book, spending time on a favourite hobby or simply taking an afternoon nap.
Exercise should always be about making you feel good, and now more than ever it’s crucial not to put yourself under any pressure to stick to a rigid exercise schedule or routine. Pregnancy is rarely plain sailing and on any given day you might be struggling with sickness, tiredness and/or all kinds of emotions. You’ll probably notice differences in your energy levels from day to day, and definitely from trimester to trimester, and that can be difficult to deal with, especially if you’re someone who’s used to being very active.
It might shock you to learn about the 2019 study that found pregnancy to be the endurance equivalent of running a marathon every day for 40 weeks! Which means you’re basically outperformingelite athletes right now – of course you’re going to have periods of feeling totally exhausted! Be kind to yourself and take your body’s lead – go for it on the days you have the energy, but don’t beat yourself up if sometimes all you want to do is hibernate.
What to wear for pregnancy exercise?
A well-fitting sports bra is always an essential to support your boobs while you exercise, particularly if you’re blessed with bigger boobs and/or are doing high-impact activities. Our boobs can change a lotin pregnancy – not just the cup size but the band too, as our rib cage expands to accommodate the bump – and it’s important not to allow any underwires to dig into the breast tissue, as this can not only be painful but can damage your milk ducts.
It can be tricky to find a sports bra that will see youthrough pregnancy and if you’re anything like me, you might resent spending money on things that don’t last. That’s why I designed Latched Sports Bras with extendable bands and a unique sizing system that gives you plenty of room for growth in the cup, while still delivering dependable support for sports and exercise. They also feature specially designed nursing clips that allow you to breastfeedeasily, but are so discreet you’ll be happy to carry on wearing them long after you finish feeding – no one would ever know it’s a nursing sports bra!
When it comes to sports leggings for pregnancy, I found that even before my bump got big, the tiniest seam around my tummy would feel really uncomfortable. So I created our Maternity Sports Leggings in super comfy, stretchy fabric that grows with you and will continue to fit and flatter your postnatal body too. They all have a high waistband to gently support your bump (or post-labour tummy) with no stitching to dig in and irritate you, and there’s a choice of classic and easy-to-combine colours to choose from.
Because your incredible body deserves nothing but the ultimate in comfort and confidence.