During pregnancy it should be possible for you to maintain any pre-pregnancy exercise program to some degree. Research has shown that exercise during pregnancy can reduce your perception of pain during labour.
If you have not done any regular exercise before becoming pregnant, pregnancy can be a good time to start, but it is important to take it slowly and listen to your body. Regular low impact exercise (that is exercising 3 times a week) is better than exercising in intense spurts.
Breathing and stretching during pregnancy can also bring you many benefits, as you become familiar with the groups of muscles used in birthing. You will be more able to recognise, isolate and activate these muscles for a more efficient labour. Toned muscles are better able to perform their functions. By performing pelvic floor exercises these muscles will be better able to play their two very important roles during birth. They guide your baby’s movements through the birth canal; and they relax and allow your baby to exit from the pelvis. Good pelvic muscle tone can make your pushing efforts during the second stage of labour more effective, resulting in a shorter labour for you and an easier birth for your baby.
The benefits of exercise during pregnancy don’t stop here though! Maintaining or improving your muscle tone can also make for a more comfortable pregnancy. Exercise is effective in reducing backache, as your body is better able to maintain the natural tilt of your pelvis; muscle cramps through improved circulation; and episodes of constipation.
A good level of physical fitness during pregnancy may reduce your overall stress and anxiety and will leave you in better shape to enjoy your new baby.
Guidelines for exercise during pregnancy
- Always listen to your body, don’t overt exert yourself. If you experience
dizziness, nausea, blurred vision, fatigue or shortness of breath during
exercise, STOP, these can be signs of heat stroke. Never exercise to point of
exhaustion or breathlessness.
- Warming up your muscles before exercising and cooling your muscles
down after exercising is very important.
- Wear comfortable footwear giving strong ankle and arch support.
- Take frequent breaks and maintain your fluids levels.
- Avoid exercising in extremely hot weather.
- Avoid rocky terrain or unstable ground when running or cycling ? during
pregnancy your joints are more lax and therefore more easily sprained or
- Contact sports or any sport where you run a risk of falling should be avoided during pregnancy.
- Weight training should emphasise improving muscle tone especially in
the upper body and abdominal areas. Avoid using weights that put a strain on your lower
- During your 2nd & 3rd trimesters, avoid exercise that involves laying
stationary on your back as this decreases blood flow to uterus. There
is also a danger of supine hypotension. Instead try half-lying position with your back
raised to angle of 35 degrees.
Birthready Stretch and Relax classes can further develop your skills and build your knowledge around:
- Warm ups and basic stretches.
- Stretching to demonstrate how mental relaxation can be used in labour.
- Pelvic floor exercises.
- Bennett, VR & Brown, LK (1999). Myles Textbook for Midwives. London: Churchill Livingston.
- Enkin. M, Keirse. MJNC, Neilson. J, Crowther. C, Hodnett. E, & Hofmeyr.J. (2002) A guide to effective care in pregnancy and childbirth. 3rd Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Goldberg, E. (2001). Exercise and Pregnancy. Available at http://www.med.umich.edu/1libr/womens/pg08.htm [Accessed on 16.5.03]
- Reeder, SJ., Martin, LL., Koniak, D. (1992) Maternity Nursing – Family, Newborn and Women’s Health Care. 17th Edition. New York, London, Hagerstown: Lippincott Co.
- Varrassi, G., Bassano, C. & Edwards, WT. (1989). Effects of physical activity on maternal plasma beta-endorphin levels and perception of labor pain. Am J Obstet Gynecol, March 1989;160(3).