Exercise and pregnancy: Exercising with a bump and beyond

Sarah Davies, consultant in musculoskeletal, sport and exercise medicine at Chiswick Medical Centre


Do you meet the recommended 150 minutes of exercise each week? It has been reported just 58 per cent of women manage this1. Women can find it tricky to undertake regular exercise, alongside juggling the demands of working life and motherhood.

Exercising during pregnancy

Some believe exercise should be restricted as soon as the thin blue line appears. However, moderate physical activity during a healthy, uncomplicated pregnancy can increase fitness, while reducing the risk of complications, including pre-eclampsia and diabetes.

Pregnant woman looking to start a programme of physical activity should consult their doctor for advice. If you were healthy and active before pregnancy, there should be no problem maintaining this into pregnancy. If you were inactive before conceiving, it is recommended low-intensity activity is started.

Staying active during pregnancy makes it easier to adapt to your changing shape and weight. It also helps you cope with labour and get back into shape after the birth. It has been suggested babies born to exercising women tolerate labour better than babies born to non-exercising women.

When it comes to your workout intensity, the rule is you should be able to talk as you exercise. If you become breathless while talking, you may be doing too much, or it could be a sign of something serious. Consult your doctor if you are more breathless than usual.

Stop exercising and seek immediate medical advice if you experience:
  • vaginal bleeding
  • dizziness
  • fainting
  • breathlessness before exercise
  • chest pain
  • headache
  • weakness
  • calf pain or swelling.

How soon can you exercise after giving birth?

After a healthy pregnancy and normal vaginal delivery, it is usually safe to start increasing your physical activity a few days after giving birth. Focused and monitored post-partum exercise programmes can start around three weeks post-delivery for vaginal births and five to six weeks after caesareans.

After a caesarean, or other complications, your doctor should assess when it is safe for you to begin. While the majority of women should ease back into exercise gradually, if you followed a vigorous exercise programme pre-pregnancy, it may be possible to return to your usual activities sooner rather than later.

When you feel ready, start your cardio workout with short walks; building pace, duration and frequency according to how you manage. Faster walking should get you moving enough to raise your heart rate, get a little breathless and begin sweating, while able to talk. Alongside stimulating the heart and lungs, walking outdoors gives you and your baby the sunlight you need to boost vitamin D levels.

It is equally important to focus on strengthening after pregnancy. Muscles are likely to have stretched, weakened and possibly separated. Separation of the abdominal muscles, or diastasis recti, happens when your growing womb pushes and pulls them apart. This usually resolves by eight weeks but if worried, contact your doctor to check your abdomen  six to 12 weeks after delivery, before you progress abdominal exercises.

As well as strengthening abdominal and core muscles – including the pelvic floor, it is beneficial to join group classes, like Pilates or yoga. Aim to get a healthy balance between looking after your baby and looking after yourself.

Exercise after pregnancy

Post-pregnancy, regular physical activity benefits a woman’s overall health. Moderate-intensity activity combined with appropriate calorie restriction helps to achieve a healthy weight. Seek specialist help to develop a bespoke programme focussed on you and your needs.

Stop exercising and seek immediate medical help if you feel pain or you increase or restart bleeding from your vagina or caesarean wound.

To learn more about exercising at any stage of your life please call 020 8712 1806 to book an appointment.


1 NHS Digital

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