Tips for being active during pregnancy

When pregnant you may want to remain active, however, there can be limitations to what you can do. Check out our tips for exercising safely throughout your pregnancy.

There are many women who are fearful of exercising when they fall pregnant. 

In fact, a recent Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report found that only three in ten pregnant women met the Australian physical activity guidelines. 

Staying active can lead to a range of benefits including decreased risk of pregnancy-related complications, reduced stress and anxiety, reduced back and pelvic pain, and prevention and management of urinary incontinence, a Sports Medicine Australia review found. 

We spoke with registered personal trainer and author of Pregnant, Fit and Fabulous, Mary Bacon, about the changes happening to a woman's body at each stage of pregnancy and how to remain active throughout.

First trimester

There are many hormonal changes that take place when a woman falls pregnant, including an increase in the hormone relaxin, explains Bacon. 

“Relaxin becomes detected between week 7 and 10, and is responsible for relaxing muscles, joints and ligaments – especially in the pelvis,” she says.

“Many mums will experience pelvic discomfort and lower back pain so at this time it's important to focus on stabilising the pelvis and strengthening the pelvic floor muscles.”

At about the same time – between week 8 and 13 – the baby's organs are forming which can mean many pregnant women become quite fatigued.

“For this reason it is very important to keep to low impact exercises and for the mum not to overheat,” Bacon says. 

“Recommended heart rate in the first trimester is between 140-150 beats per minute when exercising, depending on the age and fitness level of the mum.”

Great exercises for trimester one include:

  • hip extensions (contracting the glutes and hamstrings) to alleviate some back pain
  • side leg lifts and pelvic floor contractions to improve pelvic stability 
  • walking and water aerobics for cardiovascular fitness.

Second trimester

The second trimester (T2) can be an excellent time for a pregnant woman to push herself more and do a variety of training. 

“Morning sickness should have subsided, the baby’s organs are fully formed, and it’s all about having great nutrition, being fit and healthy,” Bacon says.

“Keeping a balance between cardiovascular, strength training and therapeutic classes (such as pilates) is vital, as they all deliver different results.”

She adds that strengthening your upper back is highly recommended to avoid bad posture and tense or tired shoulders. It's also important to stretch the sciatic nerve so hip muscles don’t get tight.

Great exercises for trimester two include:

  • squats for strong legs and glutes
  • chest presses on a Swiss ball to work glutes as well as the chest
  • seated rows on a Swiss ball for building back strength.

Activities that Bacon recommends avoiding during the second and third trimesters include:

  • water skiing or snow sports, due to the risk of dangerous falls that can harm the baby
  • any explosive lifting or weight lifting exercises
  • laying on your back for a prolonged period of time. Bacon notes that this should be avoided because it restricts blood flow through the vein which carries deoxygenated blood from the lower half of the body to the heart.

Third trimester

This is not the time to avoid exercise, Bacon warns. 

“Generally speaking, we lose 40% of our fitness in only two weeks of inactivity,” she says. 

“It's important for the mum to stay fit and healthy so that emotionally and mentally she can cope for the weeks ahead.”

In T3, particular attention should be paid to stretching inner and outer thighs, the lower back and hip flexors. 

“Continue working on the pelvic floor muscles so that pushing the baby through the birth canal becomes easier,” Bacon says. 

“And note that low impact aerobics classes, pilates and getting a massage all offer good therapeutic time in the third trimester.”  

Post pregnancy

Always seek medical advice and clearance from a doctor before resuming any exercise activity, says Bacon.  

“Natural and uncomplicated births have faster recovery, whereas c-section births vary and it can take months to heal completely,” she says.

“This is the time where the mum really needs to focus on resting and recovering properly.”

Pelvic floor exercises should, however, resume as early as two days after the birth, Bacon says. 

“This will help the mum resume regular exercise programs quicker and avoid abdominal diastasis,” she says. 

“It is also highly recommended that the mum does gentle walking – starting with ten minutes and progressively increasing it as she feels stronger.”

Your growing family

Keeping fit and healthy is an important part of protecting your growing family.

For other protections you might like to consider when starting a family see TAL's summary here.

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