How Much Exercise Is The Right Amount In Pregnancy?

Why moving your body during pregnancy could be just what you need to feel better

Pregnant Pilates

by Hollie Grant |
Updated on

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How many times have you seen images of pregnant women waddling down the street rubbing their lower backs, or sat on the sofa with their feet up looking absolutely shattered? We are often fed this dialogue that pregnant women are weak, fragile and delicate and I personally think this can have a detrimental effect on women’s experience of pregnancy. Tell someone they are fragile and they will believe it to be the case. Imagine how scary it feels to be told you are fragile and how nervous you would be to exert yourself – even if you wanted to.

For the first 16 weeks of my pregnancy, I felt horrific. I had terrible nausea and was commuting from Oxford to Fulham most days, to then spend ten hours teaching Pilates. Initially, exercise wasn’t the first thing on my list of ‘things I long to do on my weekend off’. But, when I started to feel a little more like ‘me’ again, exercise was a powerful, positive part of my pregnancy. After nine years of working with pregnant women, I knew that an active pregnancy would be a huge benefit to me, particularly since I came to Pilates because of a history of back ache. I also knew it would speed up my postnatal journey and, since I ended up with an emergency caesarean, being physically strong really helped my recovery.

Yet, for many women, exercising during pregnancy comes with worry and caution. Somewhere along the line, an incorrect rumour has circulated that exercising during pregnancy is unsafe, but there is no evidence to suggest this is the case. However, there is plenty of evidence to show that, if you can stay active during pregnancy, it will have numerous physical and mental health benefits. I have seen time and time again the empowering effect that exercise can have on a pregnant woman - after all she is about to go through one of the most challenging endurance events ever: labour and motherhood!

You wouldn’t tell someone approaching a marathon that they were weak, so why are we using this language around pregnant women heading into the marathon of labour? We need to support them, empower them, and give them the facts and evidence so they can make informed decisions around how they choose to move their bodies during pregnancy.

So what are the official guidelines? The department of health recommend that pregnant and postpartum women aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week. This should include some strength work (such as weight training or Pilates) and something that has a cardiovascular effect (ie. increases breath and heart rate).

Many women may be anxious about how hard they can work during exercise – after all we want to protect our babies and our bodies. The guideline of ‘moderate intensity’ is the key here. When you are working at a moderate intensity, you would still be able to talk, although it might sound a bit breathy. I like to imagine working at around 6 out of 10, from an effort point of view.

I want to stress that there will be many women who simply cannot exercise during pregnancy, or just don’t want to. If you are a high-risk pregnancy for example, you may have been advised by your consultant to avoid exercise and, if exercise is usually a large part of your daily routine, that can be hard to hear. Please don’t ever berate yourself if you don’t stay active during pregnancy – everyone’s pregnancy, birth and postpartum journey is different. There is always space for you to get active postnatally. You have to do what works for you – but please don’t ever think you are too fragile, too late in your pregnancy, or too weak to stay active during your pregnancy. It might just be the thing that helps you feel like you again.

Hollie Grant is a pre- and postnatal Pilates instructor and creator of The Bump Plan

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