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Fit for pregnancy

Fit for pregnancy

Keeping fit when you're expecting boosts your health and wellbeing, reduces the risk of pregnancy problems such as varicose veins, and improves your stamina for labour. However, being pregnant puts extra strain on your body, so you'll need to modify your exercise routine and take a few precautions.

The exercise you chose depends on your fitness levels and whether you have already experienced any pregnancy complications. Pregnancy is not the time to take up the triathlon if you've always been a bit of a couch potato. And even if you are super-fit you will need to work within new limits.

Always tell your gym or class instructor that you are pregnant so your fitness routine can be adapted. Low impact work is usually best because your joints loosen and ligaments soften during pregnancy ??this also makes a thorough warm up essential. Swimming and brisk walking are ideal and there are also classes specially designed for pregnant mums such as aquanatal (antenatal exercise in water) and yoga for pregnancy. To find out what is on nearby, ask your midwife or check at your local leisure centre. Or try www.aquanatal.co.uk.

Click here to read our blog post 'Three Common Pregnancy Exercise Questions answered'

Can I exercise during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy?

Exercises to avoid

Certain types of exercise are unsuitable for pregnant women. These include sports where there is a risk of falling heavily (such as riding and skiing) and contacts sports (such as football and hockey). Scuba diving is out too.

You should also avoid exercises that require you to lie on your back after the first three months of pregnancy. This is because the weight of the womb can compress major blood vessels and reduce blood flow to the heart.

It's also important to avoid overheating, and getting too out of breath, so drink plenty of water when you exercise, wear loose clothing and don't exercise on very hot days. You'll need to stay out of the steam room, sauna or hot-tub for the same reason.

what exercises should I avoid during pregnancy?

Warning signs

Reasons to stop exercising immediately are:

  • Dizziness
  • Pain
  • Contractions
  • Feeling faint
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle weakness
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Swelling in your calves
  • Headaches
  • Sickness
  • Vaginal bleeding or leaking fluid
  • Being unable to feel the baby moving

Don't exercise again until you have seen your GP and explained what happened.

When exercise is out

Most pregnant women enjoy exercise, but there are medical conditions that may prevent you from exercising. You should consult your GP about starting to exercise if you have or have had:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes (as a result of pregnancy or if you are insulin-dependent)
  • Vaginal bleeding during the pregnancy
  • A miscarriage, stillbirth or baby born prematurely
  • Anaemia
  • Back problems
  • A weak cervix or placenta praevia

For more about the conditions above see pregnancy complications.

You should also get medical advice if:

  • You are having twins, triplets or more
  • Your waters have broken early
  • Your baby is small-for-dates

Pelvic floor exercises

Your pelvic floor is a group of muscles supporting your womb, bladder and bowel. During pregnancy, more pressure is put on these muscles so you may leak urine if you sneeze or cough. Strengthening these muscles before the birth will make it less likely that you will have bladder-control problems in the future.

Pelvic floor exercises are easy to do, and no one need know you are doing them. Simply clench your back passage and at the same time pretend you are preventing yourself doing a wee by clenching your vagina. Hold for five seconds. Release. Try not to clench your stomach muscles at the same time.

Alternatively, you can pretend your pelvic floor muscles are a lift. Gradually clench, just a bit, lifting your pelvic floor a little, stop, then clench a bit more, lifting a little higher, and so on. Then when the muscles are at full tightness, hold for a few seconds and gradually release.

Don't do this exercise when you are actually weeing as it can cause you to hold back a little, which may cause infection. Instead try to make a point of doing them 10 times a day in short bursts. It really is worth it!

Click here to view our pregnancy fitness videos