Pregnancy and baby

Exercise in pregnancy

The more active and fit you are during pregnancy, the easier it will be for you to adapt to your changing shape and weight gain. It will also help you to cope with labour and get back into shape after the birth.

Keep up your normal daily physical activity or exercise (sport, running, yoga, dancing, or even walking to the shops and back) for as long as you feel comfortable. Exercise is not dangerous for your baby – there is some evidence that active women are less likely to experience problems in later pregnancy and labour.

You can read the whole article, or use the links to go directly to the topics:

Exercise tips

Exercises to avoid

Exercises for a fitter pregnancy (stomach-strengthening exercises, pelvic tilt exercises, and pelvic floor exercises)

Exercise tips for pregnancy

Don’t exhaust yourself. You may need to slow down as your pregnancy progresses or if your maternity team advises you to. If in doubt, consult your maternity team. As a general rule, you should be able to hold a conversation as you exercise when pregnant. If you become breathless as you talk, then you're probably exercising too strenuously.

If you weren't active before you got pregnant, don’t suddenly take up strenuous exercise. If you start an aerobic exercise programme (such as running, swimming, cycling, walking or aerobics classes), tell the instructor that you're pregnant and begin with no more than 15 minutes of continuous exercise, three times a week. Increase this gradually to at least four 30-minute sessions a week.

Remember that exercise doesn't have to be strenuous to be beneficial.

Exercise tips when you're pregnant:

  • always warm up before exercising, and cool down afterwards
  • try to keep active on a daily basis: half an hour of walking each day can be enough, but if you can't manage that, any amount is better than nothing
  • avoid any strenuous exercise in hot weather
  • drink plenty of water and other fluids
  • if you go to exercise classes, make sure your teacher is properly qualified, and knows that you’re pregnant as well as how many weeks pregnant you are
  • you might like to try swimming because the water will support your increased weight. Some local swimming pools provide aquanatal classes with qualified instructors. Find your local sport and fitness services
  • exercises that have a risk of falling, such as horse riding, downhill skiing, ice hockey, gymnastics and cycling, should only be done with caution. Falls may risk damage to the baby

Exercises to avoid in pregnancy

  • don't lie flat on your back, particularly after 16 weeks, because the weight of your bump presses on the main blood vessel bringing blood back to your heart and this can make you feel faint
  • don't take part in contact sports where there's a risk of being hit, such as kickboxing, judo or squash
  • don't go scuba diving, because the baby has no protection against decompression sickness and gas embolism (gas bubbles in the bloodstream)
  • don't exercise at heights over 2,500m above sea level until you have acclimatised: this is because you and your baby are at risk of altitude sickness

Exercises for a fitter pregnancy

If you are pregnant, try to fit the exercises listed below into your daily routine. They will strengthen your muscles so that you can carry the extra weight of pregnancy. They'll also make your joints stronger, improve circulation, ease backache, and generally help you feel well.

Stomach-strengthening exercises

As your baby gets bigger, you may find that the hollow in your lower back increases and this can give you backache. These exercises strengthen stomach (abdominal) muscles and may ease backache, which can be a problem in pregnancy:

  • start in a box position (on all fours) with knees under hips, hands under shoulders, with fingers facing forward and abdominals lifted to keep your back straight
  • pull in your stomach muscles and raise your back up towards the ceiling, curling the trunk and allowing your head to relax gently forward. Don't let your elbows lock
  • hold for a few seconds then slowly return to the box position
  • take care not to hollow your back: it should always return to a straight/neutral position
  • do this slowly and rhythmically 10 times, making your muscles work hard and moving your back carefully
  • only move your back as far as you can comfortably

Pelvic tilt exercises

  • stand with your shoulders and bottom against a wall
  • keep your knees soft
  • pull your tummy button towards your spine, so that your back flattens against the wall: hold for four seconds and release
  • repeat up to 10 times

Pelvic floor exercises

Pelvic floor exercises help to strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor, which come under great strain in pregnancy and childbirth. The pelvic floor consists of layers of muscles that stretch like a supportive hammock from the pubic bone (in front) to the end of the backbone.

If your pelvic floor muscles are weak, you may find that you leak urine when you cough, sneeze or strain. This is quite common and you needn’t feel embarrassed. It's known as stress incontinence and it can continue after pregnancy.

By performing pelvic floor exercises, you can strengthen the muscles. This helps to reduce or avoid stress incontinence after pregnancy. All pregnant women should do pelvic floor exercises, even if you're young and not suffering from stress incontinence now. 

How to do pelvic floor exercises:

  • close up your anus as if you're trying to prevent a bowel movement
  • at the same time, draw in your vagina as if you're gripping a tampon, and your urethra as if to stop the flow of urine
  • at first, do this exercise quickly, tightening and releasing the muscles immediately
  • then do it slowly, holding the contractions for as long as you can before you relax: try to count to 10
  • try to do three sets of eight squeezes every day: to help you remember, you could do a set at each meal

As well as these exercises, practise tightening up the pelvic floor muscles before and during coughing and sneezing.

Find out about preventing, living with, and treating incontinence.

Find out more about keeping fit and healthy after you've had your baby.  

Need activity ideas for the rest of the family?

Get a free personalised activity plan from Games4Life to help get your family more active this summer. Please bear in mind that the activity plans are not designed for use during pregnancy, but can be useful for your partner, children and other family members.


Page last reviewed: 12/02/2013

Next review due: 12/02/2015

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Comments

The 15 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

breezypea said on 27 October 2014

Hi there,
Question about exercise with placenta praevia-
Just wondering is it advised to continue with pregnancy yoga until the 32 week scan?
Thanks

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Rukhsar Patel said on 10 December 2013

I'm 16 weeks and found out at 12 weeks I'm expecting. Before I used to do a lot of heavy impact exercises and now I've completely stopped. I've noticed my flexibility and stamina have reduced, so I'm considering to start exercising again.
Will I be okay to continue my really intense cardio, since I did for the first 3 months that I was unknowingly pregnant and I was completely fine.
I used to do weight training also, so I think that's a no no, but for my cardio which include the bike, treadmill and cross trainer will I be okay to continue? Of course I know my limits and know when to stop, but any comments on if they cause any strain to the unborn, especially running?

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Baronessdegallo said on 18 November 2013

Not sure if this actually counts as exercise! But I'm 5 weeks and wondering if its safe to go ten pin bowling?

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DebsM34 said on 25 September 2013

I'm 30 weeks pregnant and had been doing Pilates for 2 years before that. Pilates is amazing during pregnancy as long as you attend a pregnancy Pilates class. Lots of the core work is done on your back which isn't good for pregnant women. Even in the early stages of pregnancy when you feel 'normal' you should really avoid a few of the exercises. But I do really recommend carrying on with it if you find a good teacher and a good pre- natal class!

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frankiepants1445 said on 24 September 2013

Is pilates or yoga safe to do during pregnancy? I usually do a pilates class once a week but just found out I'm pregnant, can I ontinue as usual?

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Natalie YF said on 18 September 2013

Thanks for the advice about exercise in pregnancy. According to major guidelines, barring any personal or obstetric medical issues, it is safe to continue with the regular activity you were doing before pregnancy, during your pregnancy (except for anything that has a chance of trauma to yourself of the baby - eg. chance of falls - riding, climbing, chance of trauma - contact sports, other - scuba diving). I exercised throughout my pregnancy with minor modifications and consequently did not suffer from the usual 'pregnancy ailments'. Good luck all and keep active!

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Kathryn at NHS Choices said on 14 August 2013

Bairbre2013 and sasha011:

It's great that you're trying to stay fit and active during pregnancy - that's recommended - but for specific queries on the risks/benefits of exercise it's best to speak to your midwife, or other health professional as every woman's circumstances will be different.

Thanks,
Kathryn, NHS Choices editor

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User786065 said on 07 July 2013

I have a query about what exercises to avoid. The website says:

•don't go scuba-diving, because the baby has no protection against decompression sickness and gas embolism (gas bubbles in the bloodstream)

Is there any evidence this is different for mum & baby?

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Bairbre2013 said on 20 June 2013

I am 12 weeks pregnant and want to continue my usual gym routine. I was too tired the past few weeks but am feeling great now and anxious to keep fit while I am pregnant. I've been told things like not to allow my heartbeat exceed 130 per minute while exercising, not to sweat excessively and that I should leave the gym feeling like I've had a brisk walk not a good workout - also forbidden to use even light weights for arm exercises - is any of this true? I am very fit and feel great when I exercise and again afterwards - I dont see how I can do to the gym and not break a sweat! Would love your advice?

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sasha011 said on 04 April 2013

I am 14 weeks pregnant and still continuing at the gym but just wanted to check it is still ok to exercise my abdominal muscles when pregnant.

I have stopped doing sit-ups (laying on the floor) as heard this is not good but am still doing them without laying on the floor.

So can you confirm it is ok to exercise abdominal muscles and that it will not harm the baby.

Thanks

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2littletjs said on 10 March 2013

I am 29 plus 2 days. I lost about 7 stone before falling pregnant on weight watchers over a period of 18 months. I was determined not to put on an excessive ammount of weight in this, my third pregnancy. As part of losing this weight i was doing 8 or 9 gym classes a week, ranging from legs, bums and tums, to aerobics, dancercise and step aerobics. Although i have taken the classes from high impact to low impact, i am still doing all of my regular classes and have no plan to stop any time soon. My consultant tells me i can carry on till i deliver. I am hoping to carry on till 36 weeks, and then have some time off to prepare for birth. The thought that is killing me is not being able to attend the gym for 6 weeks after birth. :-((

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Susie said on 02 July 2012

Hello, I'm sorry to hear you're having issues with your pelvis. You can find out more information about pregnancy related pelvic pain (also sometimes called SPD, or symphysis pubis dysfunction) here:

http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/pelvic-pain-pregnant-spd.aspx

I hope that helps.

Susie at NHS Choices

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Hannah Parker said on 31 May 2012

I'm 30 weeks pregnant today, and despite an issue with my pelvis which makes walking a bit more difficult, I'm still enjoying exercise.

So far I've mainly been doing some jogging, weight exercises for arms and legs, and home DVDs. I have had to scale it back a bit but I find the cross trainer is a nice replacement to the jogging and I'm still doing my weight training as it relies less on my pelvis for movement and still gives you a good workout!

I've been keeping track of my exercise progress on my blog, including tips, DVD reviews and routines, which some of you may be interested in. See here and happy exercising!

http://www.mumsdays.com/category/exercises/

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Rose82 said on 19 July 2011

Before I got pregnant (I’m only 6 weeks so that’s not too long ago!) I was going jogging at least twice a week for about 5k each time. One of the signs I was pregnant was definitely feeling more tired and not being able to jog as far or as fast as before. I’m desperate not to give up completely but know my aim to do a half marathon in the Autumn are a tad too adventurous given my current exhaustion! So I’ve scaled back to a home exercise DVD and pilates at my local leisure centre. Pilates is so good for core strength and we used a lot of the exercised in my post natal exercise class. I’m keen to have strong stomach muscles to help prevent back pain and so I don’t end up a blob after baby number 2! Also – exercise for me as a mum is a treat as even a half hour jog is valuable time to myself with just my ipod and some fresh air!

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kelseysmum said on 08 April 2010

I have just found out that im pregnant and for the last 2 months I have been eating healthier and excersising regularly at the gym or on the wii fit

I am going to continue to excersise and have so much more energy than I used to have, dispite being pregnant now. I have recently started going to Aqua Beam on a Tuesday night and its great fun and provides a good all over workout. I also swim with my daughter every weekend. I have lost nearly a stone in the last 12 weeks and am determined not to pile on too much baby fat throughout my pregnancy. It would be good to get back into shape pretty quickly after the baby has been born.

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