Exercise is a part of any healthy lifestyle, and this holds true during pregnancy too. There is furthermore evidence to suggest that the risk or severity of postnatal depression and gestational diabetes may be reduced through regular, moderate exercise during pregnancy.

“Exercise during pregnancy holds many health benefits for both mother and baby, provided that it is not too strenuous and certain established guidelines are followed,” says Netcare’s medical director, Dr Anchen Laubscher.

“It is essential to take every precaution during pregnancy, and therefore pregnant women should consult a healthcare professional about their proposed exercise programme before getting started. Certain types of exercise are not advisable when you are pregnant and you should discuss all possible risk factors with your doctor,” she adds.

“Consistent exercise during pregnancy can be very helpful in minimising common pregnancy-related discomforts such as constipation. It may also assist in improving your quality of sleep, lowering your risk of depression, gestational diabetes and other pregnancy-related conditions. It has been suggested that regular, moderate exercise may help to promote shorter, less complicated labour and has been proven to positively impact the recovery after giving birth.”

It is generally recommended that pregnant women exercise for up to 30 minutes per day. However women carrying multiple pregnancies (twins or triplets), or who have experienced vaginal bleeding in this pregnancy or a previous pregnancy, have a history of recurrent miscarriages due to cervical problems or a history of preterm labour should be particularly vigilant and should get the go-ahead from their obstetrician before beginning an exercise programme.

“It is also especially important to seek the advice of your healthcare provider on exercising if you suffer from any chronic non-pregnancy related conditions such as hypertension, or a heart or lung condition,” Dr Laubscher warns.

Recommended exercise
Recommended types of exercise for pregnant women include swimming, stationary cycling, brisk walking, moderate strength training and low impact aerobics. “While aqua aerobics can provide a good, low-impact workout, it is imperative that the temperature of the water does not exceed 32˚C. Yoga and Pilates may also be good exercise options for pregnant women, however it is crucial that you inform your instructor that you are pregnant because certain positions and movements should be avoided,” Dr Laubscher explains.

In the interest of keeping both mother and baby safe, pregnant women should avoid any sports that are strenuous and overly demanding, including contact sports, horseback riding, skiing, boxing, gymnastics, scuba diving, cycling and mountain biking. Exercises that entail lying flat on your back should also be avoided from the second trimester onwards, as this position could result in hypotension due to the position of the enlarged uterus in relation to major blood vessels carrying blood to the heart.

“If you have any doubt as to whether a certain type of activity could potentially be too strenuous or demanding, it is simply not worth the risk of pursuing it until you have consulted a doctor,” she advises.

“Remember to warm up and cool down before and after every exercise session and do not overexert yourself so that your body does not overheat, as this can be particularly dangerous during pregnancy. Drink plenty of water to make sure that you stay well hydrated during exercise,” Dr Laubscher concludes.

To access more useful and reliable pregnancy information, the Netcare Pregnancy App can be downloaded free for either iPhone or Android smartphones. The app features a dashboard for quick reference to aspects such as the size and gestational age of the unborn baby, a count-down calendar, and information and tips on a number of pregnancy related topics. A week-by-week guide gives insight into the physiological and emotional changes that moms-to-be are likely to experience and things to be on the lookout for during every stage, as well as detailed information on a baby’s development.