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Mum-to-be fitness: navigating safe exercise during pregnancy

Bringing life into the world is a unique experience, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle during this time is paramount. In this blog, I’ll delve into the reasons of staying active throughout pregnancy and dispel common misconceptions that might deter expectant mothers from embracing the benefits of exercise.

Let’s break the myth that I feel so strongly against and that is that pregnancy equals fragility. I remember when one of my best friends announced she was pregnant her mother in law ‘congratulations – you’ll have to stop going to the gym now’, it took me a while to convince her that if anything, pregnancy is a reason to go to the gym! While we may not all quite have what Nur Suryani Mohamed Taibi had in her (she competed in the Olympics when she was 8 months pregnant!), pregnancy doesn’t have to stop us from being active. I’m not a superhero Olympian but I kept running for the majority of my pregnancy and did The Pre Mama plan until the day before I was induced.

Pregnant women running dubai marathon
Me when I ran the Dubai Marathon when I was pregnant with Theo, 2020

The Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy

  1. Improved stamina and strength – increased stamina and strength can help you navigate the physical demands of pregnancy and labour.
  2. Reduced back pain and discomfort – stretching and mobility exercises can relieve tight muscles and promote a more comfortable pregnancy.
  3. Enhanced sleep quality – its a well known thing that pregnancy can negatively affect your sleep, between your hormones, an active baby and an ever growing bump (plus I struggled with awful hip pain when I slept) however exercise can help this. It has not been widely studied as to why exercise helps improve sleep but there have been numerous studies that show those who experience poor sleep are less active than those with healthy sleep cycles.
  4. Minimise weight gained – while pregnancy is not the time to be worried about gaining weight, if you can maintain a healthy weight during pregnancy, it will make it considerably easier to embrace your new mama body after giving birth.
  5. Stress relief – not special to pregnancy but we know that being active can provide important stress relief which promotes emotional balance and takes us on to our final bullet point….
  6. Improved mood and mental well-being – when we are active, hormones are released and these improve our mood, plus regular exercise can reduce feelings of anxiety and stress so it is a double bonus. And when you feel more positive and less stressed, its also good for the baby so its a win-win!

Tailoring your workouts to pregnancy

No Sweat Mama approved pregnancy exercises

  • Bodyweight exercises – discover the versatility of bodyweight workouts ( safe for first trimester, second trimester and third trimester) that build strength without the need for additional equipment.
  • Swimming and water aerobics – dive (;-) into the benefits of water-based exercises, they provided a supportive environment which also provide a level of resistance. I always dreamed of swimming length after length while I was pregnant, thanks to Covid that dream never became a reality but it can for you!
  • Pregnancy yoga – explore the gentle yet powerful world of pregnancy yoga, fostering flexibility, mindfulness, and overall well-being.
  • Resistance band workouts – I will put my hands up and admit that I love resistance bands! They enable us to do a full variety of full body workouts and totally remove the need for a gym (unless you have a particular love of the gym). You can workout outside, at home, on holiday or even at the gym! They can add an extra edge to a bodyweight workout je ne sais quoi
  • Walking and brisk walking – embrace the simplicity and effectiveness of walking as a cardiovascular exercise for all three trimesters and with your baby into the fourth trimester.

Things to note when exercising in the first, second and third trimester

  • LISTEN TO YOUR BODY – I know I say this constantly but that is because it is super important, if something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. If something feels fine, then you are probably all good!
  • Avoid holding your breath during exercise or in general.
  • Concentrate on strengthening your core and pelvic floor.
  • Steer clear of activities with a risk of falling, such as climbing or horseback riding.
  • Maintain an active lifestyle during pregnancy unless advised otherwise by your doctor.
  • Refrain from engaging in sports that involve changes in altitude, like diving or skydiving.
  • Modify your workouts as your pregnancy advances.
  • Skip exercising in hot temperatures to prevent diverting blood flow from the baby to your skin in an attempt to cool down.

First trimester workout considerations

  • Continue with your pre-pregnancy exercise routine.
  • Avoid initiating a rigorous new workout regimen.
  • Incorporate low-impact activities like walking and bodyweight exercises, especially if you are new to exercising.

Second trimester workout considerations

  • Avoid exercising while lying on your back to prevent the baby’s weight from compressing the vena cava, the main vein that returns blood to the heart.
  • Stay well-hydrated during your workout routine
  • Refrain from high-impact exercises.

Third trimester workout considerations

  • Avoid exercises that involve your obliques, as they may lead to diastasis recti (abdominal separation).
  • Prioritise mindful breathing and activating your core muscles.
  • Steer clear of activities involving jumping or abrupt movements.

When should you not exercise

If you are healthy then exercising is a good thing to do as part of your daily routine. There are times when its not recommended that you exercise before speaking to your midwife or consultant and these include:-

High risk pregnancy: this needs a whole blog post in itself, luckily for you I have already done one.

Chest pain: exercising during pregnancy should be avoided if you experience any chest pain. Ignoring feelings of pain, pressure, heaviness, or tightness could be risky, as they might indicate an underlying cardiac issue that needs immediate attention.

Bone or joint problems: pregnancy can exacerbate existing bone or joint problems. If you’re grappling with such issues, it’s wise to steer clear of exercises until you have been checked over.

Chronic bronchitis: for those dealing with chronic bronchitis, engaging in intense physical activities might exacerbate respiratory issues. Prioritise your respiratory health and speak to the midwife.

Taking prescription medication: certain medications can interfere with safe exercise during pregnancy.

Unusual shortness of breath: experiencing unusually short breath even with light exertion may signal an underlying problem. It’s crucial to investigate and address the cause before engaging in any physical activity.

Abdominal, Shoulder, or Arm Pain: unexplained pain in the abdomen, shoulders, or arms can be a red flag.

Severe Dizziness or Fainting Episodes: severe dizzy spells or episodes of fainting demand immediate attention.

Lower Leg Pain: persistent lower leg pain can be indicative of various issues, including clotting.

Heart Palpitations or Irregular Heartbeat: exercising with heart palpitations can elevate risks.

Vaginal Spotting: vaginal spotting during pregnancy can be a sign of something serious. ITs probably northing but avoid exercising until your midwife gives you the green light and rules out any potential problems.

Calf Pain or Swelling: calf pain or swelling can be a sign of a clot.

Previous Preterm Labour: if you’ve experienced preterm labour in the past, exercise should be approached with caution.

Low-Lying Placenta or Marginal Placenta Previa: certain placental conditions require careful consideration.

Previous Decreased Foetal Movement: a history of decreased foetal movement warrants caution.

Suspected Amniotic Fluid Leak: suspecting an amniotic fluid leak demands immediate attention.

Dramatic Weight Changes or Noticeable Swelling: dramatic weight gain or loss, along with noticeable swelling or puffiness, might indicate underlying health issues.

Itchiness: while mild itchiness is common during pregnancy, severe or persistent itchiness (especially of the hands and feet) could signal a more serious condition like cholestasis. I have personal experience of this and the itching wasn’t even crazy, I didn’t get diagnosed until the day before my due date, thankfully all was well but don’t overlook this symptom!

Noticeable Increase in Thirst: extreme thirst may indicate gestational diabetes, which requires careful management before doing any exercise.

As I mentioned before, if you are experiencing any of these, speak to your midwife or consultant before doing any physical activity.

Exercising after having your baby

Depending on how your labour and baby’s birth went will dictate how long your recovery will be. Generally, for the first 6-8 weeks you want to slowly build up general movement (not lifting anything heavier than your baby), focus on breathing correctly, and start to re-engage your core and pelvic floor.

I’ll start working on a blog about all this but for now you can check out The Mama Plan which covers all this.