Whether you join a pregnancy fitness group or continue going to the gym, exercise won't only make you feel better right now, but will also help you during labour. Almost all exercise is good, but there are some things to bear in mind or avoid.
Endorphins are your own natural anaesthetic which your body produces when you exercise. They improve your mood and sense of well-being. They are also good for the growing baby. If you are happy, your baby will be too.
Physical activity is good for the body during pregnancy
Movement and exercise improve your blood circulation. This reduces water retention and the risk of complications such as varicose veins. It strengthens your back, which is important now it needs to support a growing stomach on the other side of the spine.
A strong, fit body is also better equipped to deal with labour and childbirth.
It's never too late to start
Walking is a great form of everyday exercise if you can set aside the time for it. If you've never exercised before, take a brisk walk for 20-30 minutes three times a week. Use walking poles if you want. Walking and some other forms of exercise such as yoga, pilates, water aerobics and swimming are find to continue with right up to when you go into labour. You might want to try some type of exercise specially for pregnant women, such as yoga, special exercises or low impact aerobics for expecting mothers.
Cycling, dancing and swimming
During the first two months of pregnancy, cycling can be an ideal sport because the baby is well-protected deep in your pelvis. Cycling may feel less comfortable later in pregnancy.
Dancing is a fun form of exercise if you enjoy music and dance. All types of dance are good, but avoid jumping and sharp movements. Only do what feels good.
You can start swimming at any stage of your pregnancy, including the final weeks.
Avoid sideways movements if you do water aerobics during the final stages of pregnancy. Swim at a speed that feels comfortable and right for you. As a rule of thumb, keep your heart rate below 140 beats per minute.
Keep going to the gym
You can continue lifting weights during pregnancy, but make sure you keep a good posture and use lighter weights on the machines. Now is not the time to build muscles. Just continue maintaining what you already have.
Experiment with what feels right for you. If a certain exercise hurts, avoid it.
If you continue your usual aerobics or gym regimen, tell the instructor you're pregnant so they can suggest alternative movements if something feels uncomfortable or difficult.
Pregnancy yoga balances your mind and body
Yoga helps you find inner peace, mental strength and physical control,
Yoga includes physical exercises, deep relaxation techniques and breathing exercises. It helps you practice mindfulness and develop contact with your body. This gives you practical tools to help you during labour.
Read more about how to prepare for labour.
What to avoid
• Take care not to sprain yourself. The pregnancy hormone relaxin softens the body tissues, so take care to avoid excessive stretching.
• Avoid physical exercise that involves jumping.
• In the later stages of pregnancy, it's normal to feel discomfort when you lie on your back. You mind feel dizziness, nauseous or short of breath. Roll onto your side and the discomfort will soon pass.
• Avoid compressing your tummy and diaphragm. Avoid movements that involve bending far forward, such as situps.
• Certain tough forms of exercise should be avoided during pregnancy such as contact sports and extreme sports.
• Avoid pushing yourself further than feels comfortable. For example, if you feel pressure in your pelvic area while jogging, it's time to start walking instead. Listen to your body.
• If you are experiencing pelvic pain, there are quite a lot of movements you should avoid, primarily asymmetrical and diagonal movements. Don't exercise alone if you are in pain. Consult a physiotherapist for advice.
Some exercise tips
• Practise relaxing before labour.
• Instead of ordinary situps, you can lie on your back with bent knees and press the small of your back against the floor 5-10 times.
• The small of your back can easily become too curved as your belly grows. The back muscles can often become tired and tense. Stand on all fours and hump your back as much as you can. Then flatten it again without arching it. Repeat 5-10 times. To relax your lower back, rock your pelvis backwards and forwards 5-10 times. This can also be done lying on your side.
• To strengthen your pelvic floor: Contract the muscles around your anus, vagina and perineum for about 2 seconds, then rest for 2 seconds. Repeat 10 times. You can do this while sitting, lying down or standing up.
Also read our 10 tips for eating healthily during pregnancy .