The benefits of exercise during pregnancy

Why should you exercise during pregnancy?
Apparently we got the idea that exercise is bad for pregnant women from the Victorians, who would faint at the idea that anyone would have a sexual encounter, let alone get pregnant from it! They would secrete away any woman who was pregnant until the whole messy episode was over with. In the 1960s a sexual revolution took place but still exercise was still deemed too risky just in case one should shake lose the fetus leading to miscarriage. It wasn’t until the 1970s that a Professor Clapp started research to find out if there was any substance to the old notions regarding exercise and pregnancy. There are lots of reasons why he found one should exercise, and these include:

  • Growth of new blood vessels
  • An increase in oxygen delivery to tissues
  • Pregnancy alters a woman’s reaction to physical exertion in a way that protects her fetus
  • Exercise helps the body prepare for pregnancy and birth, for both the mother and the baby
  • Midwives, doctors or nurses who became concerned about the baby’s condition during labour, only did so half as often for women who exercised than those who did not
  • After birth, the babies of women who exercised were slightly leaner than those who did not
  • Women who exercise have shorter and easier births at the ‘pushing stage’
  • Women who exercise report feeling more positive and have more energy after the birth

Why you should exercise in your first trimester:

As mentioned earlier, exercise will increase blood supply and help tissue growth so the placenta will grow more quickly and the blood supply will increase more rapidly. If you want to get the benefits of exercise during pregnancy, now is the time to start. It will be harder if you are just beginning an exercise program, but start slowly, keep at it, progress gradually and seek expert advice from ante natal fitness professional. As well as watching your temperature and staying hydrated make sure your blood sugar levels don’t fall too low. Begin gradually, choosing activities you believe suit your capabilities. Hormonal changes often cause a sensation of increased flexibility.

However, this does not protect against strained muscles and ligaments if you try to exceed your natural limits. You should not stretch longer than 10 seconds. Listen to your body, if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. It is advised to avoid sports involving contact with another person or a flying object that may cause pressure or impact, and those with high risk of falls or dramatic position changes, such as gymnastics, diving, downhill skiing, and skating. Examples of safer alternatives include aerobic exercise or swimming. As your body adjusts to changes in blood volume, breathlessness and faintness are signs to make adjustments – whether you need to reduce intensity or time, change format, or simply rest.

Why you should exercise in the second and third trimester

To get an idea of whether you are exercising too much at this stage, a regular check up to show that the fetal growth is normal should show that you are doing fine with the exercise. The things you have to be careful of during mid and late pregnancy are much the same as during early pregnancy, except that now your abdomen is making its presence felt. Particularly as it pushes up on the lungs and makes it harder to breath. As the pregnancy progresses you should spend more time resting; staying comfortable is also necessary, so use a sports bra when training.

As long as you monitor your progress and observe the few conditions under which exercise is still not a good idea, then you can stay in shape all the way through pregnancy, creating the finest support system possible for the child growing inside you. With each week, it becomes more important to ensure blood flow to your womb and baby.

Sports with a high potential for hard falls or ones where you might be thrown off-balance are not a good idea for pregnant women as, during pregnancy, your sense of balance changes. These include horse riding, downhill skiing, gymnastics and water-skiing.

Dan Thompson is a leading personal trainer in the UK. His fitness program ‘The pregnancy exercise plan’ available to download from

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