Exercise and pregnancy… You’ve got to be joking!

Lea Fitcher
You may be about to enter or have entered the most exciting, sometimes scary, overwhelming, life-changing and wondrous time of your life. So, of course, you want to give yourself and your baby the healthiest, best start.

Pregnancy for many women can be a very tiring time; you are growing another person which of course takes energy. The notion of exercising may seem like a joke, when really you would like to sit down with your feet up.

Add to that the fast-paced, on-your-feet, unpredictable work many pregnant nurses and midwives do, you may feel twice as much that just resting is the way to go. But while it is important to put your feet up we want to remind you how important it is to look after yourself and that exercise is a big part of staying healthy when you are pregnant. We hope these tips and resources support you to exercise safely to keep you and your baby well.

exercise and pregnancy

Exercise during pregnancy guidelines

If you’re unsure about exercising during pregnancy, the recommendations and guidelines from The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) are an excellent place to start.

The first of these recommendations is evidence-based and states: “Women without contraindications should participate in regular aerobic and strength conditioning exercise during pregnancy.”

Benefits of regular exercise

The benefits of regular exercise for pregnant women without contraindications are well-established and include:

  • improved general wellbeing
  • better control of pregnancy weight gain
  • decreased subsequent risk of gestational diabetes and hypertension
  • maintained or increased fitness and muscle tone, and
  • the addition of pelvic floor exercises to an exercise regime in pregnancy will assist in improved recovery for woman who have a vaginal birth.

RANZCOG has a great summary of recommendations for exercise prescription during pregnancy to assist women to safely and confidently achieve the benefits that can be gained from regular exercise participation.

What about mindfulness and meditation?

Many practices involving breathing have evolved over the generations. Names differ, however all have a desired outcome of relieving, distracting or reducing the pain of childbirth. Mindfulness and meditation, using the breath, aid in decreasing distress and anxiety.

You can have more control during labour when you exercise and teach your mind to relax. The knowledge, and then the belief, that labour pain comes from wonderful uterine muscles contracting and relaxing, not pain from unnatural causes such as burns or cuts, can form part of mindfulness training and techniques during labour and birth.

What happens in your body?

The physiology of pregnancy is fascinating and a number of changes take place in your body to accommodate the growing foetus. These changes include:

  • Your normal centre of gravity changes, with baby, amniotic fluid, placenta and increased blood volume which has an effect on balance and coordination and the lumbar spine.
  • With the physiological vascular changes, especially in the second and third trimesters, your resting heart rate increases and maximal heart rate and blood pressure decrease. With this in mind, rapid posture changes should be avoided, heat and hydration status monitored.
  • The increased laxity of ligaments, primarily around the pelvis but also throughout the body, enables the enlarging uterus to have room. In all women, high agility activities should be avoided or undertaken with care.

By and large, being sensible about exercise during pregnancy is the key. Straight line or stationary activities (walking, jogging, swimming or cycling) and strength training can all be undertaken safely. Start exercising slowly and be mindful of any changes you feel.

If you’re unsure or you’re starting a new exercise program, speak with your doctor or midwife for additional support.