What You Need To Know About Staying Active During Pregnancy

The indredible Hazel Anderson from SHE Physiotherapy Adelaide joins us to share on exercise during pregnancy. Hazel is a Womens Health Physiotherapist and a wealth of knowledge and empowerment for women at all stages of life. Over to Hazel…

Let’s face it, when it comes to physical activity and pregnancy, just about every second person on Instagram seems to have an opinion on what you should be doing and how often you should be doing it. It’s no surprise then, that many women end up at our clinic confused, overwhelmed and worried about exercising during pregnancy.  Thanks to a huge (and ongoing) amount of research into the benefits and safety of physical activity during pregnancy in recent years, the tide is starting to change. We are shouting loudly and proudly about what the latest evidence says in the hope of empowering, educating and encouraging more women to stay active during pregnancy! 

Before we walk about the benefits of physical activity, it’s important to note that throughout this article we will use the term physical activity and not exercise. That’s because when it comes to pregnancy, we take the approach every minute counts. At She Physiotherapy we are BIG believers in making exercise approachable and making a routine that easily integrates into your life. When you take away the need for an “all or nothing” approach it can make starting a new exercise routine or changing your current routine feel less daunting and a little more achievable! 

Firstly, let’s start with the WHY? Why exactly should you stay active during pregnancy? Luckily, we now have a lot of research showing that in the absence of complications, not only is physical activity SAFE and RECOMMENDED, it has huge health benefits to both mother and baby! Some of the biggest reasons to get more active throughout pregnancy include:

  • Women who exercise have been shown to have a LOWER risk of gestational diabetes (Ming et al. 2018)
  • Women who exercise have been shown to have a LOWER risk of pre-eclampsia (Zhu et al. 2022) 
  • Women who exercise have been shown to have LESS SEVERE back and pelvic pain (Davenport et al. 2019)
  • Women who exercise have a LOWER risk of incontinence (Johanessen et al. 2020)
  • Women who exercise report BETTER mental health including a LOWER risk of postnatal depression (Watson et al. 2018)
  • The duration of active labour has been shown to be SIGNIFICANTLY SHORTER in women who have higher levels of physical activity (Watkins et al. 2021) 

In very exciting news, the current Australian Government Guidelines for Exercise and Physical Activity in Pregnancy have recently been changed to include a recommendation for vigorous physical activity for the first time!! This means that pregnant women no longer have to only exercise to the point of holding a conversation and can be advised to exercise at a higher intensity if this is safe and appropriate to do so (always check with your healthcare provider). The guidelines now recommend that pregnant women who don’t have any underlying health conditions should aim to meet the following physical activity guidelines: 

  • 2.5 – 5 hours of MODERATE intensity physical activity OR
  • 1.25-2.5 hours of VIGOROUS intensity physical activity OR
  • An equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous intensity. 

So where does strength training fit? The Australian Government Guidelines recommend that pregnant women should undertake muscle strengthening activities at least two days a week. The key muscle groups a strengthening program should address include: 

  • Your pelvic floor – including regular pelvic floor exercises as part of your routine during pregnancy can prevent the onset of urinary incontinence! (Johanessen et al. 2020)
  • Your glutes – postural changes during pregnancy can cause your glutes to become a little weaker. Strong glutes are a very important part of your pelvic support system! 
  • Your abdominals – contrary to popular belief you CAN and SHOULD train your abdominal muscles during pregnancy. It just might look a little different. Traditional sit-ups and leg-lowers are changed for exercises in sitting or 4-point kneeling
  • Your upper back muscles – postpartum women have a HUGE requirement for upper body strength. From feeding to carrying to long hours spent holding a baby we want to prepare your body for this in pregnancy by strengthening your upper back muscles to help support you and reduce neck/shoulder tension later on! 

Muscle strengthening activities can incorporate a huge variety of exercise types including lifting weights, reformer pilates, aqua -classes and bodyweight circuit exercise. What is important is that the dosage, amount of resistance and frequency is appropriate for you! Seek the guidance of a trained health professional (such as an Exercise Physiologist or Womens Health Physiotherapist) to help put together a plan and work out the best place for you to start. Remember that you should never feel pain or discomfort when performing muscle strengthening activities – if you do this is a sign that exercise is not right for you! 

To find out more information about exercise in pregnancy and check whether you are performing your pelvic floor exercises correctly, She Physiotherapy offers a specialised Pregnancy Body Check appointment covering everything from pelvic floor to core! 

Bookings are available online via our website www.shephysiotherapyadelaide.com.au or by calling 0452 152 253. 

Hazel Anderson | ​Women’s Health, Pelvic Health and Exercise Physiotherapist | She Physiotherapy Adelaide