Exercise in pregnancy

Serena Williams won a tennis tournament while pregnant  – so too can you..?

What you need to know about exercise in pregnancy

The modern way to announce a pregnancy – via social media!

Serena Williams was apparently 10 weeks pregnant when she won the tournament.

At the extreme, in 2011, Amber Miller (no relation) finished the Chicago Marathon while 39 weeks pregnant – then went into labour and delivered a baby girl only 7 hours later! “The race was the easier of the two,” she is quoted as saying…

So is exercise safe in pregnancy?

Yes.

But don’t start running marathons unless this is what you normally do.

Keeping active in pregnancy is important to make you feel good, keep your joints mobile, and avoid blood clots. Physiological changes in pregnancy mean you will not be as fit as before and pregnancy complications can limit your mobility but it is still possible to keep active.

Many people pause their gym membership when they find out they are pregnant but it may be possible to keep going to the gym well into the third trimester – with some modifications.

Before my first pregnancy, I was going to the gym at least three times a week doing weights and cardio – I loved the lat pulldowns (being a keen kayaker) and would do the stationary bike or the rowing machine – I was at my peak of fitness!

Then I fell pregnant. In the first trimester, I kept up the fitness but cut out bouncing, jumping, and anything that strained the pelvis. But I could still do lat pulldowns!

By the second trimester, I had to cut down on the weights and cardio was a chore.

By the third trimester, I had to quit the gym. My exercise tolerance was in the pits. Trudging up the hill of Wickham Tce to see my Obstetrician was like climbing Mt Everest.

If you were already going to the gym or doing other exercise, you can still do it while pregnant. But as the pregnancy progresses, listen to your body, and cut it down to what your new body will tolerate. In pregnancy, exercise tolerance is lower and joints are more flexible and liable to injury.

If you don’t normally exercise, be careful about taking up new exercise as you can risk injury even with apparently innocuous exercise.

Warning signs that you may be doing too much include: excessive shortness of breath, overheating, dizziness, feeling faint, and chest pain.

What kind of exercises should I do while pregnant?

Walking is generally a safe bet. Swimming is also a good choice in pregnancy as the buoyancy of water takes the strain off joints. There are often pregnancy-specific swimming and aqua-aerobics classes at your local swimming pool.

Other options include yoga and pilates and fit-ball exercises – pregnancy-specific classes are available in most areas.

What exercises should I avoid while pregnant?

It is best to avoid activities that have a high risk of trauma or falls. These include contact sports such as rugby and high risk activities such as rock climbing. If you simply must do it, it is probably ok in the first trimester but by the second and third trimester, it would be a good idea to cut down or stop.

There are a number of reasons why pregnancy affects what you can do. With the increasing weight at the front, your balance may be affected and falls more likely. The joints are looser and it is far easier to injure yourself. In pregnancy, exercise tolerance is lower – tiring quicker and easier. The consequences of trauma or a fall are also greater. There is quite a bit of cushioning protecting your baby but a sharp blow to the belly could damage the baby or placenta.

When should I not exercise in pregnancy?

There are some situations where exercise in pregnancy is not recommended. For example, if the placenta is low, especially if it is covering the cervix (placenta praevia), it may be an idea to limit activity to just walking. There is a chance of even minor activity causing separation of the placenta from the uterine wall resulting in vaginal bleeding and a risk of compromising the blood supply to the baby.

Another relatively common condition is a short cervix with a risk of miscarriage or preterm delivery. While ‘bed rest’ is no longer recommended for many conditions as it has shown no benefit, excessive activity may trigger preterm delivery.

Twenty years ago, we were still recommending that pregnant women ‘rest and put their feet up’ but in  modern times, the advice is to keep active if possible. Speak to your health professional if you are unsure – they may also be uncertain but that’s because there are no set guidelines for how much exercise is needed or safe for pregnant women and it very much needs to be individualised.