Exercise and Fitness During Pregnancy

Whether to engage in regular exercise during a pregnancy is in fact a very good question. In reality exercise is rarely ever a bad thing as long as you are aware of your limits. This article talks about when and what kind of exercise is best suited to a pregnancy, so that you can make an informed decision about how to go about maintaining or starting an active lifestyle safely and healthily.

Should I exercise while pregnant?

There is a generally pervading myth that you shouldn’t exert yourself while pregnant, and this isn’t strictly true. While you should be careful not to over exert and lift overly heavy projects, particularly towards the end of a pregnancy (during the last few months usually referred to as the third trimester), a healthy amount of moderately intense exercise can be very beneficial.

Regular exercise and activity will help you adjust to the changes your body is undergoing, particularly as you start to gain weight towards the latter end of the pregnancy, which is where your unborn baby will do most of his or her growing. The rapid weight gain during this period will often result in fatigue and shortness of breath, and keeping fit throughout your pregnancy will definitely help you adjust to these changes.

Keeping healthy and fit will also help you during the final days of your pregnancy as your body goes into labour. Childbirth is a physically demanding process, and a healthy body is better suited to the stresses of labour. Moreover a sustained level of fitness throughout your pregnancy makes it easier to get back into shape after childbirth.

What kind of exercise should I do when pregnant?

While exercise can be a healthy part of your pregnancy, it is important not to overdo it and exhaust yourself. As the pregnancy goes on your body will be under more than enough stress as it is, and over-exertion can do more harm than good. If you were not a regular exerciser prior to your pregnancy, then while it’s good to take up some fitness activities you should be particularly careful not to push yourself too hard.

Generally speaking exercise like yoga, running, dance, walking, and particular sports are recommended. Activities like these are good for your fitness and give you control over the intensity of your exercise.

The NHS recommends that when pregnant exercise should leave you out of breath, but you should still be able to converse freely without panting for breath. This level of activity should be safe throughout your pregnancy, and if you are part of an exercise group or class make sure that your instructor and training partners are aware of the fact that you’re pregnant. It’s important to know that exercise and activity don’t have to be intensely strenuous for you to benefit from them.

Remember that if you are having any kind of doubts about the types of exercise you should be doing then don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor, midwife, or GP about it.

Are there any kinds of activity I should avoid when pregnant?

There are certain kinds of exercise which you might be better off avoiding while pregnant. Any kind of activity which involves lying flat on your back should be avoided once you are past the 16 week mark. At this point your baby will have grown enough that lying in this position will cause the weight of your womb to press down on your arteries and veins, restricting blood flow and potentially leaving you feeling faint and week.

Contact sports should definitely be avoided when you’re pregnant as these are extremely risky. These include activities like boxing, squash, hockey and judo, where the risk of a sudden trauma to your abdomen is very high.

You should also avoid any activities where there is a risk of falling for the same reasons. These exercises include cycling, gymnastics, and horse riding.

Scuba diving is a particularly dangerous activity as your foetus will be vulnerable to decompression sickness and gas bubbles in your blood (referred to as a gas embolism). Similarly activity at high altitudes can be dangerous because at these heights your body’s ability to provide oxygen to your cells and those of your baby is diminished.

General tips for exercising when pregnant

General advice for exercise during a pregnancy includes making sure that you warm up before you exercise and cool down afterwards to avoid injury. Regular, short periods of physical activity are a great way of maintaining your fitness without exhausting yourself.

Hydration is extremely important if you are exercising, and as such you should make sure you always have water to hand and that you keep drinking to keep your body well hydrated. For the same reason you should avoid exercising in hot weather when it is much easier to become dehydrated.

Swimming and water based exercise is particularly good for you as your weight increases. The water provides natural and helpful support that can make exercise while your baby bump is getting bigger much easier. In fact many swimming pools and leisure centre now offer antenatal classes in the water (referred to as aquanatal classes) designed specifically for pregnant women.

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