Welcome to the Exercise Room! We all know exercise is important but identifying activities suitable for pregnancy and after birth can be tricky… So we’re here to help and new tips, activities and videos will keep entering the Room, so please check in regularly!

Exercise during pregnancy

Regular exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle, including during pregnancy. Many women enter pregnancy with an aerobic and strength training programme already in place, and this is a great start. Other women use pregnancy as an opportunity to improve their health by developing good exercise habits. Whatever your situation, it’s beneficial to do some regular exercise if you possibly can.

Exercise will help prevent loss of fitness, too much weight gain and low back pain. It will probably also help prevent such things as pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, diabetes and varicose veins. It will make you feel better in yourself – exercise is proven to have a positive effect on people’s moods.

Mild or moderate exercise is best. Nearly all pregnant women (with the possible exception of those with very complex pregnancies or severe heart, lung or high blood pressure problems) can safely manage some exercise. If you have any particular problems, other conditions or concerns, discuss with your LMC how they might affect your ability to exercise.

Strenuous exercise is probably best avoided, as it will reduce the blood flow to the placenta. Whether or not this adversely affects the baby depends on a number of other factors related to the placenta. There may be exceptions to this general rule if you were very fit before becoming pregnant, so discuss this with your LMC or GP. You may also want to seek advice from a sports medicine expert if you are involved in top-level competitive sport.

Precautions for exercise while pregnant

Because pregnancy causes changes to body mass and blood volume, there are some basic precautions to take when exercising:

  • Drink more fluid than normal before and during exercise to prevent dehydration.
  • Wear loose, comfortable clothing to avoid overheating, and don’t exercise if you have a temperature. (There is some evidence to suggest that the baby’s health is put at risk if the mother is overheated, either from vigorous exercise or from an illness that causes a fever.)
  • Eat plenty of carbohydrates to replace your own energy levels quickly after exercise.
  • Avoid exercising while lying flat on your back once you are more than 20 weeks pregnant.
  • Avoid exercise where the oxygen supply can be severely compromised (e.g. scuba-diving, high-altitude climbing).
  • Avoid exercise where you may get hit directly in the abdomen, especially later in pregnancy.
  • Stop exercising if you get any vaginal bleeding, leakage of amniotic fluid or painful uterine contractions, or if you feel very faint, get chest pain or have excessive shortness of breath.

Recommended activities while pregnant

Walking

This is a wonderful form of exercise. It is certainly the easiest and cheapest, and is available to everyone. Just 15 minutes of brisk walking, building up to 30 minutes three times a week, is helpful. Walking even a kilometre a day will ease aching legs and a sore back, and help maintain a degree of physical fitness. The ‘talk test’ is a good indication of whether your exercise intensity level is too high. If you can maintain a conversation while exercising, keep going; this is considered a comfortable intensity. If you cannot do this, exercise less intensely. Take it slowly, have plenty of rests if you need them, but walk.

Jogging

This is less popular than walking, because it is a high-impact exercise, and as pregnancy progresses it puts extra strain on softened pelvic ligaments. If you want to run, take it more easily as your weight increases. Some women find it too uncomfortable as pregnancy progresses, and urinary incontinence may be a problem. But if you enjoy it, carry on gently as long as it’s comfortable, and then do some other form of exercise such as walking instead.

Swimming

This is excellent for pregnant women and probably the perfect pregnancy exercise. It’s relaxing – provided the water is neither too hot nor too cold – and the buoyancy of the water supports your increasing body weight. It’s quite safe to swim during pregnancy, unless the amniotic sac around the baby has broken (see p.260 of The New Zealand Pregnancy Book), although this is very unusual until late in pregnancy. As your EDD approaches, swimming is also helpful to get your baby into a good position: the ‘tummy down’ position you use doing breaststroke or with a kickboard, for example, can help your baby’s back to move forward rather than lying against your back. This posterior position often causes backache in pregnancy and labour, so anything you can do to relieve it is helpful (see box on p.225 of The New Zealand Pregnancy Book).

Aquarobics

Aquarobics classes are offered by many swimming pool complexes around the country, and involve a range of exercises done in the water.

Many pregnant women find them relaxing and fun. Keeping fit in the water has a number of advantages during pregnancy:

  • Every muscle in the body can be exercised in the water, either gently or more vigorously.
  • The water takes some of the weight off your lower limbs, and is good for increasing the blood circulation in the legs, especially when standing and walking in the water.
  • You can exercise quite actively in the water without overheating.
  • Classes are a good way to meet other women who are pregnant, and those who already have children.

Exercise programmes

A variety of exercise programmes tailored specifically for pregnant women are available in some centres in New Zealand, and many commercial gyms now offer courses that take pregnancy requirements into account. Check out suitable classes offered in your area – yoga centres and physiotherapists are also worth trying, as some run excellent classes for pregnancy and in preparation for birth.

Detailed pregnancy exercises can be found on pp.126-133 of The New Zealand Pregnancy Book.