We all know that exercise is good for us – but do you know about the benefits of exercise during pregnancy? In the past, people were told not to start an exercise program in pregnancy if they weren’t already active, but we now know that it is usually safe to exercise during pregnancy, even if you weren’t active before (Cooper and Yang, 2022).
(Disclaimer: It’s advised to always check with your doctor or midwife before beginning a new exercise program.)
For many of us, the knowledge that we will help our baby and potentially make labour and delivery easier is all the motivation we need to get moving!
Benefits of Exercise in Pregnancy
- Help with some of the normal aches and pains of pregnancy, such as low back pain and pelvic girdle pain
- Prepare your body for the baby’s birth
- Lower risk of deep vein thrombosis (blood clots)
- Lower risks associated with obesity in pregnancy (gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, sleep apnea, macrosomia, preterm birth, and even stillbirth)
- Reduce Caesarian delivery rates
- Relieve stress
- Allow you to enjoy nature (if done outside)
- Enhance self-confidence
(Cooper and Yang, 2022)
General Exercise Guidelines:
Almost any form of exercise can be performed during pregnancy, with a few caveats. Sometimes the intensity needs to be decreased. Generally, if you are still able to talk while exercising, that is a good sign of the right level of intensity. If the activity involves physical contact or a risk of falling (ie. Martial arts, skiing, road cycling, horseback riding), then you may need to modify the activity to reduce the risk of injury to your unborn baby.
Aerobic (also known as cardio) exercise is very beneficial in pregnancy. Even simply walking can be enough to reap the benefits of exercise. Aim for a minimum of 150 minutes per week of aerobic activity. This could be walking for 30 minutes, 5 days per week. If you haven’t exercised in a while and need to start slow, try walking just 5 minutes per day and then slowly increase until you can do 30 minutes at a time. Avoid getting overheated while you exercise. Staying hydrated can help with this.
Top Pregnancy Exercise Tips:
Check out your local rec centre or yoga studio for classes tailored to pregnant people. (If you’re in KW, see Encompass Wellness or The Branches.) Often you can find pregnancy yoga, pregnancy dance classes, or water fitness classes. However, the class or activity you choose doesn’t have to be specific to pregnancy, as long as you are modifying the activity as needed for safety and the right intensity.
Lots of people love swimming in pregnancy – the water makes them feel buoyant and can ease low back and joint pain. Stationary cycling can also be more comfortable for some people than walking because of less pressure on the pelvis.
If icy sidewalks are preventing you from walking outside, try walking on a treadmill, on an indoor track (there is a free one at the Waterloo Rec Complex), or at a mall. You can also purchase crampons, which are grips to add to the bottom of your shoes or boots, to help you avoid slips on the ice.
If pain in your pelvic area is stopping you from exercising, talk to your doctor, chiropractor or physiotherapist about exercises or devices that can help. Sometimes wearing a pregnancy support belt can make a big difference. There is also something called a Serola Sacroiliac Belt which can help stabilize your SI joint if you are dealing with pain in that area.
Exercises to Help Labour and Birth
There is evidence that a baby in the occiput anterior position (baby head down and facing your back) can make for an easier birth. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much research into whether certain exercises during pregnancy can help get your baby into that position. However, many birth workers, through experience, recommend certain postures and exercises during pregnancy, and that is what the resources in this section pertain to.
Most babies (72-90%) (Gardberg et al, and Akmal et al.) who are head down, but facing your front (occiput posterior) will spontaneously rotate to an anterior position during the first or second stage of labour. So, if your baby isn’t in the occiput anterior position during the later stages of your pregnancy, there is still hope.
Spinning Babies is an organization that provides free resources for improving labour and birth, and comfort during pregnancy. (spinningbabies.com) There are several exercises they recommend doing during pregnancy to prepare your body for birth, and potentially create more space for the baby to improve their position. They call these the “Daily Activities” and you can access them on their website here.
Note: always talk to your provider before starting any exercise program, including these exercises.
The Miles Circuit:
This is a series of 3 exercises that can be useful to help labour start, or to help labour progress when it seems to be stalled. See this information sheet from the creator for instructions.
Pelvic Floor Physiotherapy:
Having a tight pelvic floor can make delivery more difficult. It can be beneficial to see a Physiotherapist who specializes in Pelvic Health to have them assess your pelvic floor and recommend exercises to prepare for delivery. They can also advise on Perineal Massage, which has been shown to decrease the risk of tearing during childbirth.
Encompass Wellness is a local business that offers both pelvic health physiotherapy and pre- and post-natal exercise classes.
Akmal S, Tsoi E, Howard R, Osei E, Nicolaides KH. Investigation of occiput posterior delivery by intrapartum sonography. Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol. 2004 Sep;24(4):425-8. doi: 10.1002/uog.1064. PMID: 15343598.
Cooper DB, Yang L. Pregnancy And Exercise. 2022 Apr 21. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan–. PMID: 28613571.
Gardberg M, Laakkonen E, Sälevaara M. Intrapartum sonography and persistent occiput posterior position: a study of 408 deliveries. Obstet Gynecol. 1998 May;91(5 Pt 1):746-9. doi: 10.1016/s0029-7844(98)00074-x. PMID: 9572223.