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Exercise in pregnancy: what’s best for you and baby?

We are often told that staying healthy during pregnancy is important for both mother and baby. But how does exercise factor into pregnancy health? Dr. Dora Ng obstetrician, gynaecologist and mother, gives her insights.

The general rule? Do as you have done

Regular exercise in pregnancy can be good for your physical and mental wellbeing. It can also help to maintain a healthy weight during pregnancy, which can assist in avoiding some pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes.

Knowing what type of exercise is okay can be difficult. As a general rule, always ask your healthcare professional before undertaking any exercise while pregnant but, if you are usually fit and have an established exercise routine, you can generally continue this as your changing body allows. You might find you need to alter the intensity or duration of your routine as the pregnancy progresses.

Always make sure to tell trainers or group exercise instructors that you are pregnant. It is best to avoid core exercises such as abdominal crunches, as these can increase abdominal muscle separation, also known as diastasis recti.

How much exercise is recommended in pregnancy?

Regular exercise in short bursts is ideal and 150 - 300 minutes of moderate exercise per week is recommended. For example, 30 minutes of brisk walking, where you can comfortably hold a conversation, 5 days a week. Riding an exercise bike or swimming are other pregnancy-friendly options.

Prolonged activity may increase body temperature, so try to limit exercise duration to around 60 minutes at a time. You should also avoid heated spas and saunas during pregnancy for this reason.

Target heart rate is about 60-80% maximal aerobic capacity but depends on your age, weight and pre-pregnancy fitness level. For example, a 20-29 year old may aim for 135-150 beats per minute. Take it easy and be kind to yourself.

Strength conditioning during pregnancy

Strengthening exercises, such as those using light weights, body weight or elastic resistance bands, are recommended twice a week.

To protect your pelvic floor and joints, avoid heavy weight-lifting. During pregnancy, your joints may become more lax and are more prone to injury which may occur with heavy weights.

Pelvic floor exercises can help strengthen the pelvic floor. If you need help, you can see a physiotherapist who can teach you these techniques.

Also, beware of prolonged periods of lying flat on your back in the second half of pregnancy, as this affects the circulation of blood back to your heart.

Look after yourself and your baby

Your individual exercise needs may vary depending on your pre-pregnancy exercise routine and if there are any complications in your pregnancy. Please check with your doctor if you have any medical or pregnancy conditions that may affect your exercise regime.

If you would like to learn more about exercise in pregnancy, visit the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists website.

Editor’s note: This article is of a general nature only and is not intended as personal advice. Ramsay Health Care recommends seeking medical advice specific to your individual circumstances.

Exercise in pregnancy: what’s best for you and baby?