Being fit means different things to different people. Some need to be able to run a marathon or play competitive netball to feel truly fit. For others, fitness means they can physically do all that they need or want to do without discomfort.

When you are pregnant this does not change—different women will have different expectations. For this reason there are few hard and fast rules about what exercise you can and cannot do, or what level of fitness you must have when you are pregnant. What is safe and appropriate for one woman may not be for another.

Some pregnant women will need to take special care and should discuss with their doctor how they plan to exercise.

Pregnant women who should take special care when exercising:

  • women who have a history of miscarriage;
  • women who have heart disease or diabetes;
  • women who have cervical incompetence (when the cervix dilates in the second stage of pregnancy); and
  • women who are having more than one baby at the same time.

Exercise regularly and within your comfort zone

When you are pregnant it is wise always to exercise within your comfort zone or ability. For instance, if you have been running on a regular basis it is generally fine to continue when you become pregnant until it becomes too uncomfortable. If you have not been a regular runner, during pregnancy is not a good time to take it up.

It is also much better to exercise on a regular, daily basis rather than to do so intermittently. When your body is stressed by strenuous and unaccustomed exercise the placenta cannot deliver food and oxygen to your baby efficiently.

Be wise when you exercise

Use common sense when you are planning exercise during pregnancy. Do not stress your body by exercising in very hot or cold weather. Drink plenty of fluids before and afterwards, and remember to do a gentle warm-up and down. Do not exercise if you are unwell, especially if you have a fever.

What type of exercise is not advised in pregnancy?

As your ligaments (a tough band of tissue which links 2 bones together) relax during pregnancy you are especially vulnerable to injury. Sports which use rapid direction changes (such as squash or netball) or hard, repetitious movements (such as some types of aerobics) should be played with care. Scuba diving, body contact sports and high altitude climbing should be avoided.

What type of exercise should I consider if I have not been exercising at all?

If you have not been doing any regular exercise before pregnancy and would like to begin, walking is the cheapest, safest and most beneficial option. Try to walk for a least half an hour, 4 times a week. Walk slowly at first, building up the speed and distance as you get fitter. Another benefit of being a walker is that it is easy to continue once the baby is born. Most babies enjoy being walked in a stroller or back-pack, and you may find it is a good way to keep you both content.

Swimming is also ideal in pregnancy, especially late pregnancy. The weightlessness that is experienced when you are swimming is relaxing as well as energising. Some pools also offer aqua-aerobic classes that are low-impact and can be fun.

Exercise programmes

Women can usually attend special exercise classes for pregnant women (check out your local community centre, fitness centre, swimming pool or women’s centre for details). If there are no classes near you, a trained fitness instructor (with qualifications in either physiotherapy or accredited exercise physiology) can work with you to develop a series of exercises that you can do safely when you are pregnant.

Yoga is also a pleasant way to exercise when pregnant. As well as providing a gentle work-out, it teaches you how to control your breathing—a useful tool for coping with labour.

Pelvic floor muscle exercises

Exercising your pelvic floor muscles can help reduce the chances of developing problems with incontinence during and after pregnancy.

After the baby is born

Many people find that when they have children it becomes more difficult to find time to exercise. Although you may not be able to maintain the same level of fitness with a new baby or young children, make the effort to get out and at least walk around the block. Exercise is, in part, habit or routine and keeping the routine going will help ensure that you will participate in some type of exercise for life.