Physical activity is important for health. Your decision to improve your lifestyle during pregnancy may be the first step toward developing a healthier way of life for you and your baby. The current recommendation is 30 minutes of activity, five to seven days of the week. Activity does not have to be done all at once. You can slowly add up the minutes by doing little things during the day such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, going for a walk at lunch, gardening, house cleaning and shopping.
Being active during pregnancy can improve:
- circulation during pregnancy
- digestion and decrease constipation
- your fitness level, strength and flexibility
- your mood and help you feel better
- your stamina for labor, delivery and parenthood
- your recovery after giving birth
Being active during pregnancy can reduce:
- leg cramps
- pregnancy symptoms such as nausea and lack of sleep
- backaches, muscle and joint discomfort
Exercise can help you:
- control your weight
NOTE: Pregnancy is not a good time to start a new strenuous exercise program. Your exercise and physical activity should match your fitness level, your health history and your stage in pregnancy.
Guidelines for physical activity
- Visit your healthcare provider so that they can fill out a PARmed-X for pregnancy (PARmed-X PDF). The PARmed-X for Pregnancy is a four-page guideline for health screening prior to participation in a prenatal fitness class or other exercise program and also contains other useful information.
- Unless you have medical reasons for not being active, you are encouraged to be physically active during pregnancy. If you have not been active, check with your healthcare provider. If you experience nausea, vomiting and fatigue as sypmtoms of pregnancy, try walking to stay healthy and to help you feel better.
- If you were active before you became pregnant, continue during your pregnancy. However, you may have to modify or avoid certain activities such as horseback riding, skiing and snowboarding, etc. Check with your healthcare provider before doing these types of activities.
- If you are just starting to be physically active, begin with 15 minutes of activity and increase gradually. Try to be physically active 5 to 7 days a week.
- Find an activity that you enjoy. Consider brisk walking or stationary bicycling as they are low impact and can be continued after your baby is born. Walking can be done at a convenient time and you can do it with your partner or a friend. Also, consider swimming or water aerobics as water can support you and reduce swelling in your legs.
- Listen to your body. Adjust the amount of activity to how you feel. Stop when you become tired or if you do not feel well. Talk to your caregiver if you have any pain, dizziness or feel faint.
- The recommended effort is one that allows you to be able to talk to someone while doing the activity. It should not be harder than what you feel is “somewhat hard”.
- Drink fluids such as water or juice before, during and after activity.
- Be sure to breathe out when lifting.
- Avoid doing exercises on your back after the fourth month of pregnancy. When you lie on your back, your baby and uterus put pressure on the blood vessels that carry blood to and from your heart. This can reduce blood flow and may make you feel dizzy, light headed, or faint. Putting a small pillow under your right hip can help move the weight of your baby off the blood vessels and help maintain blood flow to you and your baby.
- Choose safer activities. Activities with a high rate of speed and/or rapid changes of direction, such as racket sports or skiing, may lead to a loss of balance and danger of abdominal injury. Avoid activities that involve jerking, bouncing, jumping or sudden starts and stops. Activities such as scuba diving or hiking at high altitudes may lead to a reduction in oxygen.
- Try to be active in safe, cool surroundings. Avoid getting too hot, particularly in the first trimester of pregnancy. Overheating can interfere with your baby’s physical development.
- Avoid lifting heavy weights. A heavy weight is any weight that is more than you can comfortably lift. For example, a bag of groceries or your child may be comfortable for you to lift, but a couch or other furniture will be too heavy. If you are weight training, speak to your caregiver before continuing your program.
Abdominal muscle separation
- Check your abdominal (stomach) muscles for separation. Sometimes the abdominal muscles will separate during pregnancy due to the increased pressure of the growing baby. Certain abdominal muscle exercises can make the separation worse. If you think that your abdominal muscles have separated, contact your healthcare provider, they may suggest a referral to a pelvic floor physiotherapist. You may be able to correct the separation with different types of abdominal exercise.
- To check for separation of the abdominal muscles: Lie on your back with your knees bent, put your little finger of your hand in your navel between the two abdominal (rectus) muscles and your other three fingers in a line towards your chin. Lift your head slowly until your head comes off off the floor (like a sit up). Feel for any separation. If you feel a gap between the muscles turn your fingers 90 degrees to measure how many fingers can fit in the gap. If you can fit 3 or more fingers in the space you should do the exercises recommended to correct the separation.
Exercises during pregnancy
The above handout contains some exercises that can be helpful during pregnancy. You may want to print and use it as a handy reference guide. If you want more information about prenatal and postnatal exercises, talk to your healthcare provider.
Listen to your body
Remember that no two pregnancies are alike. What may be comfortable for one person may not be comfortable for you. Listen to your body as it changes from one month to the next and do what feels comfortable for you.
Prenatal exercise programs might be offered in your area. Check online for programs and services offered by the local parks and recreations department and leisure centres.