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Being pregnant is physically demanding in itself so having a reasonable level of fitness throughout your pregnancy is a good idea -but as with anything to do with this time of your life, there are caveats.

But the general rule of thumb – backed by research – shows exercise while expecting is not only safe, but beneficial.

The benefits of physical activity while pregnant include:

  • the easing of lower-back pain and leg cramps;
  • maintaining and improving posture helps support the spine and reduces back strain;
  • smaller gain of body fat;
  • resistance to fatigue;
  • improved sleep and management of insomnia;
  • reduced risk of diabetes;
  • improved circulation;
  • reduced risk of varicose veins;
  • stress relief;
  • better ability to cope with labour; and
  • faster recuperation after labour.

However, there are obviously certain certain exercises that are not recommended during pregnancy. And as each woman's pregnancy is different, any more vigorous fitness plans should always be discussed with your medical professional.

The following information is provided as a guide for mums or mums-to-be. It does not replace your family doctor or obstetrician in any way.

Pre-activity considerations

  • Have you seen you obstetrician or family doctor?
  • It's a great idea to talk to your medical team first. Discuss with them any fears or concerns you may have along with any previous or existing medical conditions they may be unaware of.

Individual considerations

  • Individuals will differ in what they are capable of completing and what exercise they can enjoy. Remember to listen to your own body and only exercise when you feel healthy, energetic and safe. If you do not feel like exercising then don't.

Your environment

  • Heat stress is especially dangerous in the first trimester to both mother and baby. Dehydration can trigger a premature labour and therefore exercise or physical activity should be avoided in hot, humid or poorly ventilated areas. During any exercise or activity wear cool, loose-fitting clothing and drink plenty of hydrating fluids. Water is the best!

Position

  • Lying on your back can block or slowdown blood flow and should be avoided in the second and third trimester. Roll to the side and eliminate the exercise if any of the following occur while lying on your back, even during the first trimester: dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, spots before eyes, tingling fingers, feeling of suffocating or general discomfort.
  • Standing in one spot for long periods in the second and third trimester can also reduce the flow of blood to the foetus.

Balance and coordination

  • During the second and third trimester your centre of gravity moves forward, affecting balance. Coordination will also often be adversely affected. Blood pressure drops in the second trimester; this has an additional impact on balance especially when moving quickly. Activities which may threaten balance are probably best avoided during the second and third trimester.

Relaxin and joint health

  • Relaxin is a hormone released during pregnancy which loosens joints. This will increase your risk of injury if you're not careful, especially if a joint is under load during exercise or while lifting weights.
  • Stretching should not be taken beyond a comfortable range; this especially important in the second and third trimester.

Things to look out for

  • If you decide to exercise during pregnancy, which is completely okay if you're happy with the decision, there are several warning signs to be aware of. If any of the following present during exercise, the activity must be discontinued:
  • straining;
  • becoming excessively fatigued;
  • breathlessness, dizziness and faintness;
  • nausea;
  • feeling of illness;
  • headache;
  • fever;
  • muscle weakness;
  • chest pain or tightness, rapid heart rate or heart palpitations;
  • swelling of the face, hands or feet, calf pain or swelling;
  • back pain;
  • pubic pain, vaginal bleeding, amniotic fluid leakage, contractions, cramping in the lower abdomen;
  • walking difficulties; or
  • insufficient weight gain or an unusual change in the baby's movements.

After pregnancy

  • Many of the changes that occur to a women's body during pregnancy continue until approximately six weeks postpartum (post birth). Hence if you are less than six weeks postpartum it may be best to wait.

If you're ready to get back into some exercise have had a six-week check-up, and discussed your plans with your health professionals then you are ready to gradually reintroduce a more normal pre-pregnancy exercise regime. C