What exercise should I do during pregnancy?
We all know exercise during pregnancy is important for a healthy mum and healthy baby – but how much and what kind?
Rebecca Liberatore is a pelvic floor physiotherapist at Melbourne Pregnancy and Pelvic Floor Physiotherapy.
She says it’s one of the most common questions she gets asked by her pregnant patients.
While every woman is different, here is her general advice.
Women can safely push themselves on a stationary bike to get a real ‘huff and puff’ workout, which helps reduce blood sugar levels, lower levels of anxiety, depression and pre-eclampsia.
Working out on a stationary bike also keeps the pelvis stabilised, which is important for women with pelvic pain. It strengthens the gluteal muscles, which maintains pelvic stability and reduces the chances of pelvic pain during pregnancy.
The stationary bike is also my number one recommendation for a low-impact return to exercise post-baby. If you have one at home, you can exercise when the baby is asleep during the day rather than having to worry about getting to the gym. This is something I personally found helpful.
Swimming is a fabulous low-impact option for exercise. It’s fantastic for fitness and great if you have upper and lower back stiffness.
Swimming has the added benefits of allowing women to feel weightless while exercise - this is a big relief later in pregnancy.
Swimming can also be modified for women with pelvic pain by putting a pool buoy between the legs if kicking is aggravating their pain. I also recommend that women don’t do breaststroke kick as this can cause pelvic pain.
Clinical Pilates is a great for increasing strength and awareness of your deep abdominal muscles, as well as other important muscles groups such as the pelvic floor muscles. It’s also great for improving flexibility, posture and postural awareness.
A specialist women’s health clinician can work with you to target individual weaknesses to prevent or treat musculoskeletal conditions of pregnancy.
One common misconception is women who feel if they are doing Pilates, they are doing their pelvic floor exercises and their muscles should be strong.
This is not necessarily the case. Since the pelvic floor muscles are internal, it’s impossible to tell if a woman is doing these exercises correctly unless they have been assessed by a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist.
Unfortunately, there is no exercise you can perform that will automatically get the pelvic floor muscles working - you need to be consciously contracting these muscles to ensure they are working.
Walking is free and doesn’t require any equipment, which means you are more likely to do it regularly. It’s low-impact and intensity can be increased by adding hills and increasing speed.
It’s a great option early in pregnancy but as the pregnancy progresses, walking isn’t always comfortable and it’s difficult to push yourself hard enough to get up a ‘huff and puff’.
Women with pelvic pain may find walking aggravates their pain, in which case it’s recommended they limit walking and perform other forms of exercise.
Listen to your body
Most women can exercise in all stages of pregnancy but it’s important to take into account how your body is changing and modify your exercise to suit.
Listen to your body and if you experience any of the following symptoms, stop exercising and seek medical help: chest pain, unexplained shortness of breath, dizziness, feeling faint or headache, muscle weakness, calf pain, swelling or redness, sudden swelling of the ankles, hands or face, vaginal bleeding or amniotic fluid loss, decreased fetal movement, uterine contractions or pain in the lower back, pelvic area or abdomen.
Rebecca says a consult with a Women’s Health Physiotherapist is the best way women can get individual advice about the best form of exercise for them
“I always recommend women have their pelvic floor muscles checked in this appointment and start a strengthening program that can be built on during their pregnancy,” she says.
Rebecca Liberatore is a senior pelvic floor physiotherapist at Melbourne Pregnancy and Pelvic Floor Physiotherapy