Exercising in pregnancy

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Keeping fit in pregnancy is all part of taking good care of yourself and the health of your baby.

Achieving a good level of fitness may reduce your risk of developing complications in pregnancy, benefit your baby’s health and help you control your weight.

In the early weeks when you’re suffering from tiredness, nausea and pregnancy sickness you might not feel like your usual jog or gym session, but by the second trimester (after 12 weeks), you’ll usually feel better and find your energy levels are returning.

There’s no evidence that exercising is dangerous for your baby .Equally though, the risk of miscarriage is at its highest in the first 12 weeks, so if you do experience spotting or bleeding at this time, you may want the reassurance of an early baby scan.

How much exercise should you do?

The UK’s chief medical officer (CMO) issued guidance on physical activity in pregnancy in 2017 and recommended aiming for 150 minutes of moderate activity a week. This can be broken down into 10-minute bursts of activity if a 30-minute session is too difficult to fit into your schedule (wearing an exercise tracker device might help you achieve this target).

Moderate activity includes walking, swimming, dancing, cycling and everyday activities such as climbing stairs and taking the kids to the parks or the shops.

The guidelines also recommend performing muscle-strengthening exercises twice a week. By this they mean activities such as walking up hill, working with resistance bands, swimming, and digging the garden, and not dead-lifting heavy weights, CrossFit or circuit classes which involve lifting heavy weights. Always tell instructors that you are pregnant.

The message is that if you are already active you should keep going and if you’ve not exercised previously, you should start off gradually and build up. In other words, be sensible and don’t start training for a long-distance run for the first time if you’ve never run before, be realistic about what you can achieve.

What are the health benefits of exercise in pregnancy?

Brisk walking will boost your blood circulation and help lower high blood pressure, swimming is a good all over body muscle toner and pregnancy yoga techniques can help you cope in labour.

The CMO guidance says that exercise also helps control your weight, prevent gestational diabetes (a special type of diabetes that develops in pregnancy which can result in your baby growing too large for a vaginal delivery) and can help with both your sleep and mood.

Other benefits from exercising in pregnancy reported in medical journals include reducing the risk of lower back pain, a lower risk of an emergency caesarean, and reduced incidence of pregnancy constipation.

Research has shown that even women who were previously inactive can benefit if they start to take moderate exercise in pregnancy - including brisk walking, swimming etc. Compared to women who remained sedentary, women who improved their aerobic fitness and muscular strength delivered comparable size babies with significantly fewer caesarean sections. Active women developed no high blood pressure and reported no injuries.

What about safety?

Whilst it’s important to stay active, there a couple of safety considerations to consider when exercising in pregnancy.

  • Pregnancy hormones relax the ligaments: This makes you more likely to suffer a sprain or strain. Your centre of gravity also shifts making you more prone to losing your balance and falling – so be careful if you are running, jogging or taking part in an aerobics class.
  • Your body temperature is also higher: If you push yourself too hard, you will raise your core body temperature which is bad for the baby. Very fit women who exercise at high intensity are recommended to exercise for no longer than one hour at that level, especially in hot weather.
  • Contact sports can be risky: Contact sports including tennis, hockey, squash, kick boxing or judo/karate, where there is a risk of a blow to the abdomen (remember the saying “don’t bump the bump”), should be avoided.
  • Avoid scuba diving and sky diving: This is because there is a risk of decompression sickness and gas embolism. Also avoid sky diving above 6,000 ft as it can cause reduced blood flow to your uterus.
  • Don’t lie flat on your back in classes after the 1st trimester: Exercise classes which include lying flat on your back should be avoided after 12 weeks as they can increase the risk of reduced cardiac output and orthostatic hypotension (an increase in blood pressure when you stand up). However, specific pregnancy yoga, Pilates and aerobics classes should avoid these positions, so these should be fine.

Listening to your body

If you experience any of the following red flag symptoms during or following exertion seek medical attention. These include:
  • Headaches and dizziness 
  • Chest pain 
  • Muscle weakness affecting balance 
  • Calf pain or swelling
  • Breathlessness (after minimal exertion) 
Pregnant women are also recommended to reduce physical activity following pregnancy complications such as bleeding, regular painful contractions or amniotic fluid leakage.

If you have experienced any of these symptoms and want some extra reassurance about your baby’s wellbeing, a private baby scan from a company such as Ultrasound Direct may be an option to consider. The company offers 14 different ultrasound baby scans for every stage of pregnancy.

For more information on baby scans visit Ultrasound Direct