Many women wish to commence or continue with their exercise programmes during and post pregnancy to maintain their health and quality of life. Exercising during this period is completely safe and recommended by obstetricians. However, there are some guidelines to follow to ensure the safety of you and your baby.

—Lindsay Bridgeman, BSc, Licenced Physiotherapist and Owner of Cayman Physiotherapy Ltd.

Prenatal Exercise

Pregnancy is the perfect time to adopt a healthy lifestyle and give your baby a great start to life. Regular exercise during pregnancy helps control excessive weight gain, improves cardiovascular fitness and decreases the risk of gestational diabetes. Exercise can also help you sleep better, increase your energy levels, improve your mood, reduce back pain and help prepare your body for childbirth.

The NHS recommends that pregnant women should aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity each week. This should be spread out over at least three sessions. Even 10 minute sessions are great, and being active every day is encouraged.

If you are experiencing any pregnancy complications you must speak to your obstetrician or midwife first.

What exercise is right for you in your pregnancy?

If you are already active then keep going! Most women will have to adapt as the pregnancy progresses – remember, don’t bump the bump! If you’re not already active then start gradually. This is not the time to start any new strenuous exercise, but it is a good time to get moving and improve strength in preparation for labour and delivery. Remember to stop exercising immediately if you feel dizzy or lightheaded.

Prenatal Exercise Options

Pelvic Floor Exercises

During pregnancy your pelvic floor muscles will loosen due to hormonal changes in your body. This, along with your growing baby pressing on your bladder, may cause you to leak urine when you cough, laugh, sneeze or exercise. Doing daily pelvic floor exercises, such as Kegels, will strengthen these muscles and help reduce the chance of any accidents.

Swimming & Water Workouts

This is the perfect activity for mums-to-be. Not only do you feel weightless, but it takes all the pressure off your joints. Don’t forget that you can still overheat in the water, so be careful not to overexert yourself.

Walking

Walking is one of the best cardiovascular exercises for pregnant women. It strengthens the heart and lungs and builds stamina.

Prenatal Pilates & Yoga

These gentle exercises help increase strength, balance and flexibility. Prenatal Pilates and yoga breathing techniques might also help you reduce or manage shortness of breath later during pregnancy. As a rule of thumb, the ‘talk test’ is a good check when carrying out your chosen sport or activity – you should be able to hold a conversation as you’re participating. And don’t forget to keep hydrated, especially in the Cayman heat!

Exercises to Avoid During Pregnancy

Be sure to steer clear of scuba diving, skiing, climbing, horseback riding, Bikram Yoga and any contact sports. Also avoid exercising on your back after the first trimester as the weight of your bump presses on the main blood vessel bringing blood back to your heart. This could cause low blood pressure and make you feel dizzy.

Postnatal Exercise & Common Problems

Some mums are keen to start exercising soon after pregnancy but it’s important to take things slow. The idea of ‘bouncing back’ is an outdated concept and women need to take the time to heal and recover without any pressure to look or feel a certain way.

Exercising before you’ve healed can also lead to all sorts of problems, from incontinence to even a prolapse. How soon you can exercise again will depend on what type of birth you had.

Current guidelines advise waiting three months before returning to high impact activity. After a caesarean birth mums may be advised to avoid high impact activity for up to six months.

Here is some basic advice for the first six weeks, but remember to listen to your body.

Week 0-2 Pelvic floor exercises, basic gentle core exercises (pelvic tilts) and slow walking.

Week 3-4 Increase the time and speed of your walks and keep doing your pelvic floor exercises multiple times a day.

Week 5-6 Now you can add low impact exercise like the stationary bike (if that feels comfortable) or cross trainer but start gradually. Keep going with the pelvic floor exercises!

After your six week post-natal check up with your obstetrician or midwife, it is a good idea to see a specialist women’s health physiotherapist for an assessment prior to embarking on a vigorous exercise programme. This involves the therapist checking your abdominal and pelvic floor muscles as well as any other post-natal issues. Based on this assessment, you can have an exercise programme tailored to your post-natal needs and you will get personalised advice for returning to the activities you enjoy.

Common Postnatal Problems

Urinary Leakage

This is completely normal after childbirth as pelvic floor muscles are weakened during pregnancy and childbirth. It’s advised that all mothers have their pelvic floor assessed after child birth, no matter how they delivered their baby. One in three women suffer from urinary incontinence after pregnancy but in most cases it can be easily fixed with the correct treatment.

Diastasis Recti

This is the separation of the abdominal muscles that happens when your growing womb pushes the muscles apart, making them longer and weaker. It’s very common but often easily fixable. Getting help from a women’s health physio can help you restore the muscles and prevent problems in the future.

Back, Shoulder & Prenatal Exercise Options

This can be a problem after birth as a result of hormonal changes. It can then be exacerbated by holding a newborn for long periods of time and adopting a bad posture while breastfeeding. Seek specialist advice to prevent back and pelvic pain becoming a long term problem.

Top Tip

Breastfeeding isn’t a barrier to exercising after childbirth, but it is important to wear a well fitted supportive sports bra and to stay well hydrated.