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7 Benefits of Exercising During Pregnancy

May 3, 2023

Fertility & Pregnancy

Woman resting after exercise

Exercising during pregnancy can have numerous benefits for both the mother and the baby. As long as the mother is healthy and the pregnancy is low-risk, exercising during pregnancy is considered safe and highly recommended by the UK Chief Medical Officers (Department for Health).

Benefits of exercising when pregnant

Helps maintain a healthy weight: Exercising during pregnancy can help mothers maintain a healthy weight, which is important for both the mother and the baby. Excessive weight gain during pregnancy can increase the risk of complications such as gestational diabetes, hypertension, and pre-eclampsia[1].

Reduces the risk of gestational diabetes: Exercising during pregnancy can reduce the risk of gestational diabetes, a condition that affects up to 5% of pregnant women in the UK[2]. Gestational diabetes can cause high blood sugar levels that can be harmful to the mother and the baby.

Boosts mood and energy levels: Pregnancy can be a challenging time for many women, both physically and emotionally. Exercising during pregnancy can boost mood and energy levels, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve overall mental health[3].

Reduces the risk of preterm labour and delivery: Exercising during pregnancy has been proven to help reduce the risk of preterm labour and even shorten labour times[4][5].

Improves sleep: Many pregnant women struggle with sleep, especially in the later stages of pregnancy. Exercising during pregnancy can help improve sleep quality and reduce the risk of sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea[6].

Strengthens muscles and improves flexibility: Exercising during pregnancy can help strengthen muscles and improve flexibility, which can be beneficial during labour and delivery. Strong muscles can also help reduce the risk of back pain and other pregnancy-related discomforts.

Promotes a healthy pregnancy: Exercising during pregnancy can promote a healthy pregnancy by improving circulation and boosting the immune system. It can also help prepare the body for labour and delivery.

Exercises to do During Pregnancy

When it comes to exercise during pregnancy, low-impact activities are generally best. These exercises are gentle on the joints and can help to reduce the risk of injury. It’s important to take your time when exercising and to listen to your body. Be careful not to bump the bump.

Low-Impact Cardiovascular Exercises

Low-impact cardiovascular exercises are a great way to get your heart pumping and improve your overall fitness level. Some examples of low-impact cardiovascular exercises include:

  • Walking
  • Cycling on a stationary bike
  • Swimming or water aerobics
  • Low-impact aerobics
  • Elliptical machine

Strength Training Exercises

Strength training exercises can help to improve your overall strength and endurance, which can be beneficial during labour and delivery. Some good strength training exercises for pregnant women include:

  • Lightweight or bodyweight squats and lunges
  • Bicep curls
  • Tricep extensions
  • Shoulder presses

Pelvic Floor Exercises

Pelvic floor exercises, also known as Kegels, can help to strengthen the muscles that support the uterus, bladder, and bowels. Strong pelvic floor muscles can also help to prevent urinary incontinence and other pelvic floor disorders. The NHS has a great guide on how to do pelvic floor exercises which you can find on their website.

Yoga and Pilates

Yoga and Pilates are both excellent forms of exercise for pregnant women. These exercises can help to improve strength, flexibility, and balance, as well as reduce stress and anxiety. However, it’s important to choose a prenatal yoga or Pilates class that is specifically designed for pregnant women and to avoid poses that put too much pressure on the abdomen.

Swimming and Water Aerobics

Swimming and water aerobics are both excellent low-impact exercises for pregnant women. These exercises can help to improve cardiovascular fitness, reduce swelling and fluid retention. Swimming is also an excellent way to offload your joints during the third trimester as the baby grows significantly and can offer good relief for your back and joints.

Tips for exercising safely during pregnancy

Talk to your midwife: Before starting any exercise during pregnancy, it is important to talk to your midwife. They can help you determine which exercises are safe for you and your baby and provide you with specific guidelines to follow.

Don’t bump the bump: Avoid exercises for activities that could bump your bump.

Listen to your body: Pay attention to how your body feels during exercise. If you feel uncomfortable, dizzy, or short of breath, stop exercising and rest.

Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise to stay hydrated.

Wear comfortable clothing: Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing that allows you to move freely and doesn’t restrict your breathing.

Avoid overheating: Avoid exercising in hot and humid conditions and stay cool by wearing light, breathable clothing and exercising in air-conditioned or cool spaces.

Don’t push yourself too hard: Pregnancy is not the time to push yourself to your limits. Remember to take it slow and listen to your body.

Exercises to avoid when pregnant

Contact Sports

Contact sports like football, basketball, rugby and soccer involve a lot of physical contact and can put you at risk of getting hit in the abdomen, which can harm your baby.

Hot Yoga or Hot Pilates

Hot yoga or hot Pilates can raise your body temperature, which can be harmful to your growing baby.

Lying on your back

As your pregnancy progresses, lying on your back can put pressure on the vena cava, a large vein that carries blood from your lower body to your heart. This can reduce blood flow to your baby and may cause dizziness, shortness of breath, or nausea. If this happens to you, remember to listen to your body and avoid anything that doesn’t feel quite right.

How often should I exercise during pregnancy?

Most pregnant women are encouraged to aim for 30 minutes of exercise 3-5 times a week. Here are some guidelines to follow when exercising during pregnancy:

Start slowly: If you were not active before getting pregnant, start with low-impact exercises like walking, swimming or prenatal yoga. Gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts over time.

Be consistent: Aim to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, most days of the week. This can be broken up into smaller sessions if needed, such as three 10 minute walks.

Listen to your body: Pay attention to how your body feels during exercise. If you feel tired or uncomfortable, take a break. Rest is just as important.

Adjust as needed: As your pregnancy progresses, you may need to adjust your exercise routine to accommodate your changing body. This may include reducing the intensity of your workouts or switching to low-impact exercises.

Avoid exercising in extreme conditions: Avoid exercising in extremely hot or humid conditions and stay cool by exercising in air-conditioned spaces.

Article references

  1. [1]Weight gain in pregnancy. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/related-conditions/common-symptoms/weight-gain/
  2. [2]Gestational Diabetes. Available at: https://www.diabetes.co.uk/gestational-Diabetes.html
  3. [3]Mental health in pregnancy. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/keeping-well/mental-health/
  4. [4]Physical exercise during pregnancy and the risk of preterm birth: a study within the Danish National Birth Cohort. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18303008/
  5. [5]Physical activity during pregnancy and its influence on delivery time: a randomized clinical trial. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6371916/#:~:text=Moderate%20physical%20exercise%20in%20water%20is%20associated%20with%20a%20reduced,were%20significantly%20shorter%20in%20EG.
  6. [6]Effects of Exercise on Sleep Quality in Pregnant Women: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1976131720300037

This information has been medically written by Dr Thom Phillips

Thom works in NHS general practice and has a decade of experience working in both male and female elite sport. He has a background in exercise physiology and has published research into fatigue biomarkers.

Dr Thom Phillips

Dr Thom Phillips

Head of clinical services