Exercising Safely During Pregnancy – All You Need to Know
Alex Glanville, Busylizzy Mums-to-Bee instructor and Birthlight Tutor
Pregnancy is a lovely time to exercise. Classes can be a great way to meet other expectant mums, and staying as fit and active as you can will help enormously when it comes to giving birth – and the subsequent recovery.
Exercise & the first trimester
If you are newly pregnant and also new to exercise then it’s a good idea to wait until you are 14 weeks into your pregnancy when the placenta is fully attached. If you have been exercising prior to pregnancy then it’s still a good idea to avoid anything new in those first 14 weeks. Even the most avid exercisers are best advised to do things a little more gently during the first trimester – do not overdo any stretches or over-exert yourself during this time of enormous changes in the body!
14 weeks onwards
Once you’re past that first period of pregnancy and feel ready to start some exercise, there are a number of key things to bear in mind as your bump starts to grow and the hormones surging through the body change the way your ligaments support you.
- Getting up and down safely – this is something we tend to take for granted most of the time, but should be a key consideration in pregnancy. If you are making a transition from one position to another, do try and do so with the knees parallel. Particularly from a seated or lying position on the floor to standing position or vice versa from standing to floor then you should ensure that your knees leave the floor and return at the same time, and roll up/down through the spine. If you step forward to get up from a high kneeling position putting all the weight through one leg as you get up can put too much pressure on the pubic symphysis causing the two pieces of cartilage to separate and shaft, detrimentally resulting making walking very painful (the cartilaginous joint located in front of the bladder and between the hip bones) which can contribute to symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD).
- Standing exercises – with the above in mind you should also avoid any one-legged standing/balancing exercises or poses, especially if you’re suffering with any pelvic pain or instability, or sciatic pain through your lower back, hips, buttocks and down one leg. Indeed, even any two-legged standing poses should be avoided for too long – the extra weight of your baby can lead to things like varicose veins. When standing, ensure the weight is evening placed through the feet (do not allow the weight of your baby to take your weight more forward onto the balls of the feet, this encourages the back to over-extend aggravating the sacro-illiac joint and putting too much pressure on the rectus abdominals. Also ensure the weight is evenly distributed through both legs.
- Seated exercises & stretches – when sitting on the floor with your legs in a v-shape, try not to take the legs too far apart. This can cause the pubis symphysis cartilage around the public bone to separate, again potentially leading to SPD. The legs should form a natural v with the pubic bone.
- Abdominal separation – the abdominals (rectus abdominis if you want the medical term) are going to start to stretch (possibly even separate) during pregnancy as your bump gets bigger to make space for your growing baby, but we want to avoid exercises that are going to stretch them further apart. So deep stretches or any movements that cause the arms to open widely (for instance poses like triangle in Yoga can be modified simply by leaving the upper hand on your hip instead of opening out into the full stretch). Be careful when practising twists, avoid twisting too deeply as well as anything that causes your abdominals to strain or bulge – so no planks please!
- Cat & cow stretches/downward dog – if you’ve been practicing Yoga outside of pregnancy then you might be familiar with cat / cow stretches of the back – arching the spine up like a cat that’s angry or dipping it down to mimic the shape of a cow’s back, with hip bones up high. Cat stretches are fine during pregnancy and can provide a nice release across the shoulders and back, but cow stretches should be avoided. The weight of your bump places too much pressure on the rectus abdominis (abdominal) muscles and can aggravate the sacroiliac joint. Also if new to practising downward dog (supreme mountain pose), particularly in the latter part of the pregnancy, it is advised not to straighten the legs completely, leave the knees soft so it lowers ‘the mountain’ and does not strain the ligaments around the uterus that attach to the pubic bone.
- Your blood pressure – most ladies experience higher blood pressure in pregnancy because the body creates approximately 40% more blood flow to build the uterine wall. Inverted postures where the head is lower than the heart, such as downward dog, should be practised with caution. However, if you feel dizzy, faint or overly hot at any point during exercise it’s normally as a result of low blood pressure. If you do feel this way then your natural inclination will be to sit down – just don’t sit cross-legged as this traps your increased blood flow into the lower half of your body. Similarly, don’t do any exercises that leave your arms above your head for too long, as that can also affect your blood pressure levels.
- Listen to your body – Listening to the instructor’s voice throughout the classes is important in order to follow the exercises correctly, but it is also just as vitally important to listen to your own internal voice and how your body is feeling. Only you can know what feels good and what doesn’t, ensuring you do not to push yourself in areas you don’t feel comfortable with. The weight of your baby and the relaxin hormone released in pregnancy will both cause your ligaments to be pulled into deeper stretches than you would normally experience, so it’s not a time to push the boundaries of what you can do!
Approaching your due date
Many ladies ask when they should stop exercising or coming to classes. My answer is always to carry on until you feel you can’t, or don’t want to! I’ve had mums-to-be at classes while in the early stages of labour, and ladies whose waters have even broken at class! It’s all totally fine. The most important thing is to do what makes you feel happy and comfortable, and that you listen to your body if you experience any feelings of strain or dizziness – it’s always fine to stop and take a break during a class!
Best of luck with your pregnancy and do get in touch if you have any questions.