For most women, it is important to do some regular physical activity during pregnancy as part of living a healthy lifestyle. In most cases, moderate physical activity during pregnancy is safe and can have benefits for both you and your baby and should not harm either of you. However, you do need to be sensible about what type of physical activity you do. You should aim to do a mixture of both aerobic physical activity and muscle-strengthening physical activity. In general, at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day is recommended.
Physical activity is any activity that you may do that helps to improve or maintain your physical fitness as well as your health in general. It can include:
If anyone does regular physical activity, it can have a number of health benefits. A separate leaflet called Physical Activity and Health, gives further details about physical activity in general.
Just because you are pregnant does not usually mean that you should stop any physical activity. Equally, it does not usually mean that you cannot start physical activity. For most women, it is important to do some regular physical activity during pregnancy as part of living a healthy lifestyle. In most cases, moderate physical activity during pregnancy is safe and can have benefits for both you and your baby and should not harm either of you. However, you do need to be sensible about what type of physical activity you do. This leaflet gives details about physical activity during pregnancy including safe types of physical activity, physical activity benefits and how much physical activity you should do when you are pregnant.
If you are regularly physically active during pregnancy, this can have a number of benefits, both for you and for your baby. If you are pregnant, regular physical activity has been shown to make you:
If you do some physical activity during your pregnancy you are also more likely to continue this after you have given birth and therefore get the longer-term benefits of physical activity. Amongst other things, these benefits may include some protection against developing heart disease, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, colon cancer and breast cancer. Regular physical activity can also help you to manage your weight and keep a healthy weight in the long-term.
Pregnant women should aim, as should nonpregnant women, to do a mixture of both aerobic physical activity and muscle-strengthening physical activity.
As well as this, pelvic floor exercises are also important during pregnancy and are advised for all pregnant women. They can help to strengthen the muscles of your pelvic floor which can come under strain whilst you are pregnant, and especially during labour. A separate leaflet called Pelvic Floor Exercises, gives more details.
The aim of physical activity during pregnancy is so that you can maintain a good fitness level throughout your pregnancy. However, you should not be training for peak fitness or doing training for competitions or sporting events.
Also, you need to be careful about the type of physical activity that you choose so as not to risk any harm to yourself or your baby. Some changes obviously take place to your body during pregnancy. For example, hormone changes can affect your muscles and ligaments. Because of this, your joints can become more lax and more mobile during pregnancy. If you are not careful and, depending on the type of physical activity that you do, this can increase your chance of injury.
The following is some advice about the type of physical activity to avoid (or think carefully before doing) during pregnancy:
Walking is a very good physical activity whilst you are pregnant. Swimming is also good. Special aquanatal classes or other exercise classes specifically aimed at pregnant women run in many areas. If you are doing another exercise class that is not dedicated to pregnant women, do let your instructor know that you are pregnant. Also, you should always remember to warm up and cool down at the beginning and end of each session.
Try to build physical activity into part of your everyday life. Take the stairs and not the lift at work or in the shopping centre. Take a brisk walk at lunchtime. Try not to sit for long periods in front of the television or in front of a computer. Walk instead of driving to the shops, etc.
If you are someone who exercised regularly before you were pregnant, in general, provided the type of physical activity is sensible (see above), you can try to keep up with your usual level of physical activity for as long as you can during your pregnancy, or for as long as feels comfortable. However, it is normal that as your pregnancy goes along, you will have to slow down the intensity of your physical activity and you will not be able to exercise to the same level as before. Listen to your body. Ask your doctor or midwife for advice about your usual physical activity programme and how this should be adapted during your pregnancy.
A good goal to aim for is at least 30 minutes of aerobic physical activity per day whilst you are pregnant. Keep your exercise sessions to no longer than 45 minutes.
If you are someone who has not been very physically active before pregnancy, you should not just suddenly start an intensive physical activity programme. Start with 15 minutes of physical activity three times a week. You can then increase this gradually to 30-minute sessions four times a week and then to 30 minutes every day.
You should aim to do moderate-intensity physical activity. This means that you get warm, mildly out of breath, and mildly sweaty. A good tool that you can use to measure the intensity of your physical activity is the talk test. You should aim still to be able to talk and hold a conversation whilst you are doing physical activity. If you can do this, you are probably exercising at the right level or intensity. If you become too breathless to talk whilst you are doing physical activity, it probably means that you are doing too much.
Physical activity during pregnancy is safe for most women. However, there are some pregnant women who should speak to their doctor or midwife before doing any physical activity during their pregnancy. Their doctor or midwife will be able to advise about whether it is safe for them to take part in physical activity. These include pregnant women with:
You should also speak with your doctor or midwife before you start any physical activity during pregnancy if you:
Less likely to develop swelling of your feet, ankles or hands.
Less likely to develop back pain.
Less likely to have problems with high blood pressure during your pregnancy.
Sleep better and feel less tired.
If you already have diabetes, regular physical activity may help to improve the control.
Have a reduced chance of becoming anxious or depressed.
Have a reduced chance of developing varicose veins.
More likely to have a shorter labour and be less likely to have problems or complications during the delivery of your baby.
More likely to keep a healthy weight during and after your pregnancy.
Now you have read 9 benefits of physical activity during pregnancy, why not look at some of our other slideshows.
Less likely to develop swelling of your feet, ankles or hands.
As mentioned above, there are many benefits of doing regular physical activity whilst you are pregnant. And generally, the benefits of exercising during pregnancy by far and away outweigh any risks. However, there are a few things that you should watch out for. You should stop exercising and seek urgent medical attention if you develop:
There are some other things that you should be careful about when doing physical activity while you are pregnant:
Again, regular physical activity after your baby is born can have a number of benefits. Regular physical activity after you have given birth can:
If you are breast-feeding and doing moderate exercise (the 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise as described above), this should not reduce the quantity or the quality of your breast milk or have any knock-on effects on your baby.
However, you still need to be sensible with your physical activity after you have given birth. It is generally advised that you can start walking, doing pelvic floor exercises and stretching immediately after birth provided that you have had a normal vaginal delivery with no complications. You should gradually increase your physical activity to build up to your pre-pregnancy levels. If you have had a Caesarean section, you should ask your doctor or midwife when it is safe for you to start physical activity. In general, it is not usually recommended to start until after your postnatal check at 6-8 weeks.