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Exercise Guidelines

You will need to talk to your LMC (lead maternity carer) about how much and what types of exercise you can safely do while you’re pregnant. Every pregnancy is different.

General advice about exercise during pregnancy

Studies have shown that women who exercise regularly report feeling better during their pregnancy than sedentary women. However, if you’re usually a bit of a ‘couch potato’, pregnancy is not the time to start a rigorous exercise regime. Investigate gentle types of exercise, such as walking and specialised ‘pregnancy fitness’ classes.

If you’re a sports woman, athlete or have an established exercise habit, talk to your LMC about how you can adapt your usual training programme. You may be able to continue training well into your pregnancy.

Cardiovascular exercise

Activities that are low-impact or non-weight bearing – such as swimming, walking and cycling – are generally the best cardiovascular choices for pregnant women. Other options can include low-impact exercise classes, cross-training machines, stationery cycling and treadmills.

There is some evidence that intense exercise (when your pulse goes above 150 bpm) causes bursts of rapid heart beats in the baby, which may be an indicator of stress. It’s probably best to exercise at a moderate or mild level.

Standard recommended intensities are 60-75% maximum heart rate for the unfit woman and 70-85% for women who exercise regularly. Shorter cardiovascular exercise intervals (15-20 minutes) may help prevent heat stress to you or your baby.

Strength training

If you usually do regular strength training, there’s every chance you can safely continue. Strong muscles will come in handy once your baby has arrived. A physiotherapist or professional trainer who understands your body’s changes during pregnancy can help you to identify an appropriate strength training programme.

Medical experts recommend that women avoid lying on their backs to exercise after the first trimester, because blood flow to the baby can be decreased.

Activities requiring agility and/or balance

If you’re a keen dancer, tennis player, skier or yogi, remember that your pregnant body won’t be as agile or as good at balancing. Increased body size, looser joints and altered centre of gravity could make you accident and injury prone. Use common sense and change to less challenging forms of exercise, especially during the third trimester.

Pelvic floor exercises

Pelvic floor exercises during and after pregnancy help to prevent stress incontinence (involuntary loss of urine when you sneeze, cough, laugh or lift). Ask your LMC about daily exercises for strengthening your pelvic floor muscles.

How often?

Aim to exercise three or four times a week. One day on, one day off is better than saving it all for the weekend. Include two or three different types of exercise in your week, to reduce the risk of overuse injuries.

Sports to avoid

Activities that limit your ability to get oxygen – such as free diving, scuba diving and mountain climbing – should be avoided. After 20 weeks, sports and activities that carry the risk of falls or abdominal trauma (soccer, netball, basketball, horse riding and racquet sports) should also be avoided.

General tips

  • If you experience pain, bleeding or your baby stops moving, stop exercising and immediately check with your LMC.
  • During the first trimester, low energy levels could increase your risk of injury during exercise. Make sure you get enough sleep and don’t expect your body to perform at its usual level.
  • A gradual 10-minute cool down after vigorous activity helps maintain adequate blood flow to your baby.
  • Drink plenty of extra fluids before, during and after an exercise session.
  • Wear a supportive sports bra.
National Women's Health
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