Exercise and pregnancy

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Current evidence shows it's not only safe, but beneficial to continue physical activity during pregnancy. The benefits of physical activity while pregnant include:
  • the easing of lower-back pain and leg cramps;
  • maintaining and improving posture helps support the spine and reduces back strain;
  • smaller gain of body fat;
  • resistance to fatigue;
  • improved sleep and management of insomnia;
  • reduced risk of diabetes;
  • improved circulation;
  • reduced risk of varicose veins;
  • stress relief;
  • better ability to cope with labour; and
  • faster recuperation after labour.
However, certain exercises may be harmful to the foetus or mother. The following information is provided as a guide for mums or mums-to-be. It does not replace your family doctor or obstetrician in any way. You might also find the Stretched and Relaxed (PDF)chart on the Lifestyle Medicine Australia website useful.
Pre-activity considerations
Have you seen you obstetrician or family doctor?
It's a great idea to talk to your medical team first. Discuss with them any fears or concerns you may have along with any previous or existing medical conditions they may be unaware of.
Individual considerations
Individuals will differ in what they are capable of completing and what exercise they can enjoy. Remember to listen to your own body and only exercise when you feel healthy, energetic and safe. If you do not feel like exercising then don't.
Your environment
Heat stress is especially dangerous in the first trimester to both mother and baby. Dehydration can trigger a premature labour and therefore exercise or physical activity should be avoided in hot, humid or poorly ventilated areas. During any exercise or activity wear cool, loose-fitting clothing and drink plenty of hydrating fluids. Water is the best!
Lying on your back can block or slowdown blood flow and should be avoided in the second and third trimester. Roll to the side and eliminate the exercise if any of the following occur while lying on your back, even during the first trimester: dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, spots before eyes, tingling fingers, feeling of suffocating or general discomfort. Standing in one spot for long periods in the second and third trimester can also reduce the flow of blood to the foetus.
Balance and coordination
During the second and third trimester your centre of gravity moves forward, affecting balance. Coordination will also often be adversely affected. Blood pressure drops in the second trimester; this has an additional impact on balance especially when moving quickly. Activities which may threaten balance are probably best avoided during the second and third trimester.
Relaxin and joint health
Relaxin is a hormone released during pregnancy which loosens joints. This will increase your risk of injury if you're not careful, especially if a joint is under load during exercise or while lifting weights. Stretching should not be taken beyond a comfortable range; this especially important in the second and third trimester.
Things to look out for
If you decide to exercise during pregnancy, which is completely okay if you're happy with the decision, there are several warning signs to be aware of. If any of the following present during exercise, the activity must be discontinued
  • straining;
  • becoming excessively fatigued;
  • breathlessness, dizziness and faintness;
  • nausea;
  • feeling of illness;
  • headache;
  • fever;
  • muscle weakness;
  • chest pain or tightness, rapid heart rate or heart palpitations;
  • swelling of the face, hands or feet, calf pain or swelling;
  • back pain;
  • pubic pain, vaginal bleeding, amniotic fluid leakage, contractions, cramping in the lower abdomen;
  • walking difficulties; or
  • insufficient weight gain or an unusual change in the baby's movements.
After pregnancy
Many of the changes that occur to a women's body during pregnancy continue until approximately six weeks postpartum (post birth). Hence if you are less than six weeks postpartum it may be best to wait.
If you're ready to get back into some exercise six weeks after giving birth, had a six-week check-up, discussed your intentions with your doctor then you are ready to gradually reintroduce a more normal pre-pregnancy exercise regime. Check out this Lifestyle Medicine Australia's stretching chart (PDF)for some ideas.

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