In short the answer is a resounding yes, but there are many considerations regarding the type and intensity of exercise. The POGP (pelvic obstetric and gynaecological group of physios) have produced some fantastic evidence-based advice regarding exercise in pregnancy, and their principle message is that the aim of exercise in pregnancy is to “maintain or moderately improve fitness”. All pregnant women MUST check with their health professional monitoring their pregnancy that it is safe for them to exercise. All reputable health and fitness professionals will insist upon this before commencing an exercise program with a pregnant women.
What are the benefits?
Research suggests there are many beneficial effects of exercising in pregnancy such as reducing the incidence of pelvic girdle pain, gestational diabetes, anxiety, depression and incontinence. In addition to contributing to an improved pregnancy experience.
How does my baby respond to exercise?
The baby’s heart rate and blood pressure respond directly to the mother’s. During exercise research shows baby’s heart rate can increase by 10-30 beats per minute, returning to its normal rate within 30minutes of finishing exercise. It has also been shown that any adverse neonatal outcomes are not increased in women who exercise in pregnancy.
Are there any risks?
There is understandably a lot of fear associated with exercise in pregnancy due to a lack of discussion about exercise between mums and health professionals, along with traditional fears such as overheating, stressing the body and the risk of injury. If precautions are taken, such as avoiding exercise in hot and humid conditions, taking regular hydration breaks and ensuring any risky exercise are avoided such as skiing and excessive stretching, then exercise can be safe and hugely beneficial to both mother and baby. Research suggests that there are very clever strategies in place for the increased demand during exercise such as an increase in maternal oxygen extraction, designed to prevent compromised oxygen supply to the baby.
Aerobic and conditioning exercise (without straining such as Pilates) are recommended in all “uncomplicated” pregnancy and most non-contact sports are safe. The main consideration in pregnancy is not to suddenly decide you want to get fit for the first time, so the principle is maintaining fitness or moderately improving it.
The POGP have defined 4 categories of exerciser; complete non-exerciser, the non-regular exerciser, the regular exerciser and the elite athlete. Recommendations based on what type of exerciser you were pre pregnancy as they can significantly vary with respect to time, intensity and frequency.
Any issues should be detected during check-ups and you may be advised not to exercise if you have an incompetent cervix, preeclampsia or pregnancy related high blood pressure, certain restrictive lung issues, persistent bleeding, placenta or membrane abnormalities, or risk of premature labour, for example if expecting twins.
Are there any warning signs to stop exercising?
YES there are quite a few and you should stop immediately if you experience any vaginal bleeding, shortness of breath before you start exercising, dizziness or headaches, calf pains of swelling, decreased fetal movement, abdominal pain or amniotic fluid leakage.
Liz has undergone post-graduate training in women’s health and pregnancy and post-natal Pilates, and is happy to answer any questions regarding physiotherapy, exercise and pregnancy,
The POGP is a speciality pelvic obstetric and gynaecological professional network affiliated with the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and are the leading authority in the UK in physiotherapy and women’s health matters.