How to keep fit and healthy during the first, second and third trimester of pregnancy.
Expecting a baby and not sure how much exercise you should be doing? Although pregnant women are encouraged to keep fit, it’s normal to be cautious about exercising during pregnancy. After all, your body is constantly changing as your baby grows inside you, affecting everything from your expanding midriff to your mood.
To bring you peace of mind and help keep your confidence in the gym throughout pregnancy, we speak to Professor Greg Whyte, Director of Physical Activity at Harley Street Based Clinic, CHHP, and author of Bump It Up.
Exercise during the first trimester
The recommended amount of exercise for optimal health and wellbeing is 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week (that’s 30 minutes, five days a week), alongside two strength-based sessions. While this does not change during pregnancy, you will find yourself having to adjust workouts to accommodate your body’s changes.
• Aerobic exercise during the first trimester
Generally speaking, it’s possible to continue a normal exercise programme throughout these first three months, as the foetus inside your uterus is very small at this stage and well protected. ‘During the first trimester, you have almost free reign to choose any type of aerobic exercise from walking to swimming, and cycling to rowing; even running is acceptable during the first trimester, and beyond if you were a runner before you became pregnant,’ says Whyte.
However, if you’re into extreme sports then you might want to consider a change of regime. Scuba diving carries an additional risk due to the increased pressure, while skiing carries an increased risk of impact injury.
• Strength exercise during the first trimester
Maintaining muscle strength is particularly important throughout pregnancy, as it will improve your ability to cope with the anatomical changes that take place as your baby grows.
Similar to aerobic exercise, you pretty much have free reign when it comes to strength exercises in trimester one, but Whyte does have some recommendations: ‘In general you should aim to lift low weights with higher repetition. You can progressively increase the number of repetitions to improve your strength, but ensure you maintain the correct techniques to avoid injury.’
Maintaining muscle strength is important throughout pregnancy.
‘It is a good idea to use the first trimester as an opportunity to work on your core muscles, especially your abdominals (or abs) as these will be stretched and placed under increased pressure as your bump expands later in the pregnancy,’ explains Whyte.
‘During the first trimester you are unlikely to experience any issues with your abdominal muscles, as the growth of the foetus does not cause significant enlargement of your uterus,’ he adds. ‘However, it is important to maintain the condition of your abdominals and core muscles throughout the first trimester to ensure you are fully prepared for the future expansion of your uterus.’
• Pelvic floor exercises during the first trimester
Pelvic floor exercises will be your best friend both before and after pregnancy, which is why we’re giving them their own section! The increased weight of the uterus pressing on the pelvic floor and bladder means it’s not uncommon for women to experience leaking during pregnancy, which can significantly affect your confidence and emotional and psychological health.
‘In addition to reducing incontinence, exercising your pelvic floor muscles will help you during the delivery of your baby, as you’ll be able to better control your pelvis during labour,’ says Whyte.
Pelvic floor exercises will be your best friend both before and after pregnancy.
‘Exercising the pelvic floor muscles can be difficult and they are often neglected while we instead engage the abdominals, gluteals (buttocks) and quadriceps (thighs),’ he adds. ‘In order to focus on the pelvic floor muscles, we should think of these muscles as the ones we contract to stop us weeing. Specifically activating the pelvic floor muscles without contracting other muscles is the most efficient way of ensuring you are targeting and improving the strength of the pelvic floor.’
The good news is you don’t even have to be in the gym to do this – you can engage your pelvic floor when you’re sat down at work, cooking at home or doing just about anything!
Exercise during the second trimester
As your bump begins to grow more rapidly, the importance of maintaining your aerobic conditioning, strength and mobility increases.
• Aerobic exercise during the second trimester
‘The duration of exercise required to maintain health ands performance remains at around 30 minutes; however you may, on occasion, feel 30 minutes is too long,’ says Whyte. ‘But don’t worry – rather than giving it a miss, simply divide the session into smaller, more manageable chunks. ‘
With the increasing weight of your uterus placing pressure on your pelvic floor and your back, you might want to think about reducing and eventually stopping, intense bouncing or jumping type exercises, such as skipping, by the end of trimester two,’ he adds. ‘Even running might be a bit too much, so think carefully and listen to your body before continuing to run.’
Even running might be a bit too much, so think carefully and listen to your body.
If you’re looking for a lower impact alternative to your usual workout, swimming is ideal for mums-to-be.
‘Water workouts become increasingly enjoyable as your bump grows,’ Whyte explains. ‘In water, you and your bump feel considerably lighter than on land, which can make swimming, aqua-aerobics, deep-water walking or even running an escape from the work of carrying your extra cargo.’
• Strength exercise during the second trimester
You will only need to make minor modifications to your weight regime in trimester two, notably a further reduction of weight. However, do make sure you keep those muscles strong in order to support increasingly lax joints, decrease associated pain and generally make everyday living with your bump an easier and safer experience.
• Pelvic floor exercises during the second trimester
‘If you do nothing else, make sure you continue with your pelvic floor exercises. As the weight of your uterus increases, the stress on your pelvic floor intensifies, leading to an increasing incontinence problem. And remember, your pelvic floor is not just for now; you’ll be thankful for a strong pelvic floor during and after the delivery!’
If you need an extra incentive to keep up those pelvic floor exercises, know that your interest in sex is likely to peak during trimester two, and a strong pelvic floor makes for increased sensitivity between the sheets!
Exercise during the third trimester
During trimester three, your baby triples or even quadruples in weight, from 1kg at the end of the second trimester to around 4kg at birth, meaning your bump will really start to balloon. However, despite these increasingly rapid changes, the benefits of exercise at this stage of pregnancy are probably greater than in the previous two trimesters.
• Aerobic exercise during the third trimester
On paper, all the exercises you were doing in trimester two remain safe in the third trimester. That said, the elevated pressure on your pelvic floor will likely bring to an end any serious, high-impact exercises.
‘The alterations in your balance and coordination due to the changes in your centre of gravity may make rapid changes in direction or complex choreographed exercises difficult to carry out. Combined, the increased weight on your pelvic floor, your altered posture and shifted centre of gravity tend to dictate a move away from high-impact, weight bearing aerobic exercise such as running, step or dance classes towards low-load-bearing alternatives such as walking, swimming, cross trainer or cycling.’
Elevated pressure on your pelvic floor will likely bring to an end any serious, high-impact exercise.
Water-based activities are likely to become your go-to workouts, as the extra buoyancy will really take that weight off your feet (and your mind!).
‘Because you can easily control how hard you are working and how long you swim for, it is a great way to exercise if you have any worries about overdoing it. It is important to note that due to the ongoing effect of relaxing on your joints and the increased size of your bump, a little more are is needed with the breast stroke leg kick in trimester three (particularly if you are already suffering from pelvic girdle pain, PGP).’
• Strength exercise during the third trimester
Given the increased stress on your back, hips and abdominals, good posture and good technique during exercise become your main focus in trimester three. If you feel as though your technique is deteriorating, consider reducing the weight, number of reps or the number of sets.
Good posture and good technique during exercise become your main focus in trimester three.
Don’t feel guilty if you need to adapt your exercises to meet your body’s needs in trimester three. For example, using a wall to lean against or a chair to hold on to while lifting can provide you with the stability and peace of mind to exercise safely. Machine weights might be a nice alternative, offering built-in stability, but make sure you speak to an expert first if you are not used to using machines.
The main things to think about in trimester three:
- Avoid exercises lying on your back or your tummy.
- Avoid exercises that directly work your abdominals.
- Avoid exercises that require a rapid twisting or rapid changes in direction.
- Avoid excessive range of motion.
- Listen to your body and work at your own pace.
• Pelvic floor exercises during the third trimester
The pelvic floor muscles will be rapidly over stretched and weakened under the ever increasing weight of your baby in trimester three, so if ever there was ever a time to do your pelvic floor exercises, it’s now! You’ll also be thankful for them in the delivery room, as a strong pelvic floor with help you out with all the pushing.
The postpartum period (the six weeks after birth) is all about listening to your body as it recuperates. It will take time to readjust physically and mentally to post-pregnancy life with a new baby and, while these things can’t be rushed, there are steps you can take to optimise your recovery.
• Aerobic exercise postpartum
Staying as active as possible in the days following delivery is vital when is comes to reducing the risk of potential complications in the postpartum period. Just be sure to take things nice and slowly, building activity levels gradually.
Staying as active as possible following delivery is vital when is comes to reducing the risk of complications.
‘While you may not feel up to formal exercise sessions at this time, it is important that you are as active as possible. Invariably, this means walking in the days and first few weeks following delivery, which is perfect to support your return to full fitness and health. Walking is a wonderfully social activity postpartum that you can share with your baby (pushing your buggy or carrying them) and your family and friends. Take it slowly at the start, only walking for short periods of time, interspersed with rest.
• Strength exercise postpartum
Whether you have given birth vaginally or by Caesarean section, you won’t be returning to any core strength or stability exercises instantly, as your body needs to heal and should not be put under increased stress. If you have had a C-section, it may take a little longer as your scar heals and your digestive system settles.
• Pelvic floor exercises postpartum
Good news: you can start working that perfect floor again within the first 24 hours after delivery.
‘Pelvic floor exercises are important to help stabilise your pelvic floor, improve control and reduce incontinence. They can also speed up the rate of healing following tearing or an episiotomy.’