Exercise and sport during and after pregnancy

Being physically active with a baby

Sport and exercise are good for your body and your mind, whether you are visibly pregnant or a new mum. However, insecurities regarding sport and physical activity are widespread, both during and after pregnancy, and cling on tenaciously. During pregnancy, you frequently hear phrases like: “You must take it easy – don’t tire yourself out”. Women mostly answer: “I’m not ill, I’m pregnant!”. Does this sound familiar? :-)

In this article, we want to investigate the advantages of physical activity and sport during and after pregnancy. We’ll give you a few takeaway tips on how you can integrate exercise into your daily routine while you are pregnant or as a mum, and suggest a few types of sport that are particularly suitable for this stage in life.

Exercise and sport during pregnancy

Regular exercise and sport are essential for our health and wellbeing. This is also true during and after pregnancy. You will benefit from regular exercise as a mum-to-be, and so will your child.

Regular exercise and sport while pregnant are good for your blood pressure and your body weight. They further reduce the risk of gestational diabetes and boost mental wellbeing and quality of sleep. Studies have shown that physically active women are less likely to suffer from birth complications and that they have a significantly shorter recovery time after the birth. What’s more, there are indications that regular exercise during pregnancy is good for your child’s behavioural development and tolerance of stress. Provided your pregnancy is free of complications, you have no need to fear that taking exercise will negatively affect your child. However, it is important to talk regularly to your gynaecologist and tell them about your sporting activities.

How much exercise should you take during pregnancy?

The World Health Organisation (WHO), and Gesundheitsförderung Schweiz (Health Promotion Switzerland) recommend that healthy women with an uncomplicated pregnancy do at least 2 ½ hours of exercise per week, in the form of everyday activities or moderate intensity sport.
Moderate intensity physical exercise means that you get at least a little out of breath, but don’t necessarily break a sweat. Activities such as cycling, Nordic walking, brisk walking, dancing, aqua aerobics or swimming all count here. Many everyday or leisure activities and sports are moderate intensity. Depending on what you enjoy, you could combine different activities and vary them. Ideally, you should spread your exercise of at least 2 ½ hours over several days in the week and you should additionally take care to avoid sitting still for a long time, e.g., at work.

If you already did sports before you got pregnant, and took a lot of exercise, then you can continue your usual exercise or sporting activities at previous levels during your pregnancy – provided you feel good when you do.

“Every step to more exercise is important, and boosts the health of both mother and child.”
- Gesundheitsförderung Schweiz (Health Promotion Switzerland) -


If you didn’t take regular exercise before, but would like to do something good for yourself and your child during pregnancy, then ask your gynaecologist for some advice. Basically, it is recommended that you start exercising at low intensity or duration and gradually increase this, until you reach the base-line recommendation of 2 ½ per week. Remember: “every step counts towards more exercise!”

Strength training during pregnancy – go or no go?

Both endurance training and strength training contribute to our health and wellbeing. But how does this look during pregnancy? Provided there are no medical reasons not to, Gesundheitsförderung Schweiz (Health Promotion Switzerland) recommends light strength training without the Valsalva manoeuvre (forced breathing) at least twice per week. It is important to develop and maintain muscle mass, particularly the core and back muscles, but also the legs and arm-shoulder region. On the one hand, these muscles will help you to support the increasing weight of your baby belly during pregnancy, and on the other, you will be grateful for good core and arm muscles after the pregnancy, when you will carry your baby in your arms for several hours a day. Babies put on weight rapidly, which is extremely important, but you will quickly feel this in your back and upper arms.

Pregnancy and sport – what should you avoid?

Exercise entailing a high risk of falls (e.g., skiing, riding) or collisions (e.g., team sports or martial arts) are generally not recommended. As your pregnancy advances, any exercise on your back should be done with caution, and with adjustments if necessary, due to vena cava syndrome (a drop in blood pressure due to reduced venous return). To play it safe, it’s better not to do such exercises and incorporate others into your training instead.

Attention, scuba divers! As your baby’s foetal pulmonary circulation is not protected against decompression sickness, it’s best to avoid this type of sport while you are pregnant.

What about a trip to the mountains? Pregnant women can climb to an altitude of up to 2500 metres above sea level, and stay there for a short while, or remain at an altitude of up to 2000 metres and exercise there, without any problems. If you live on the plains, then caution is required during a quick ascent on the mountain railway to altitudes of over 2500 metres. This is also true if you intend to spend longer than a few hours at this altitude. In such situations, Gesundheitsförderung Schweiz advises a prior medical examination, to ensure that your health and that of your baby will not be endangered and that you can enjoy your stay in the mountains.


“Listen to your gut instinct and do only what is good for you and your baby.”


Exercise and sport after the birth

After many long months in maternity clothes, many women want to fit into their old jeans as quickly as possible. Frequently, however, images of the toned, ripped bodies of celebrity new mums on social media make normal mums feel bad about their own. That’s why you should use social media wisely, in the post-partum period too, and don’t allow anything to put you under pressure. Remember that everyone’s body is different and yours has, in the last few months, delivered peak performance and worked a small miracle, whom you may be holding in your arms right now, or who is peacefully sleeping beside you. Be proud of yourself and of what your body has done, and allow it and yourself the time necessary to recover.

The post-partum period is when the first important regeneration processes after the birth take place – such as the womb returning to its normal size or the healing of any birth injuries. After a normal birth, this period lasts for approximately four to six weeks. If there were complications, or you had a Caesarean section, the regeneration process takes around six to eight weeks.

But sufficient physical exercise is important for your health and wellbeing after the birth too. First consult your midwife, but then you can start with some gentle exercises in the post-partum period to get your circulation going again and to boost blood flow: try circling your feet, moving your toes backwards and forwards, and short walks on flat surfaces. You should avoid other sporting activities during the post-partum period.

Sport with a baby – when can I start?

Depending on the birth type and pelvic floor stability, women who were already physically active before the birth can resume their previous exercise levels, step by step, as soon as they feel up to it and provided they are no longer restricted by any birth injuries. In general, it is recommended that you wait for 6-8 weeks after the birth, until you have had the follow-up check with your gynaecologist. This waiting period may be longer in some instances, particularly for high-impact exercise such as jumping/skipping and running.

What types of sport are suitable for re-entry?

It’s best to re-start with sports such as (Nordic) walking, swimming or cycling, which are gentle, particularly on the pelvic floor. Talk to your gynaecologist or midwife about which sports are most suited to you after the post-partum period.

As you resume your previous sporting activities, you will probably quickly discover that your fitness no longer corresponds to your usual level of performance. However, don’t let this discourage you! Your pregnancy, and the birth of your child, have made certain demands on your body. With a little time, and some consistent training, you will soon notice clear improvements.

Types of sport in which both legs leave the ground, or which involve jolting or collisions (“high impact”) or an intensive stop-and-go pattern, such as jogging, skipping, trampolining, skiing or riding, need to wait for a while longer after the birth. In general, the advice is to re-start them four to six months after the birth at the earliest. Prior to this, you run (no pun intended) the risk of urinary incontinence or uterine prolapse, because your pelvic floor muscles are still weak.

Pelvic floor and recovery training

Pregnancy and birth put great stress on the muscles, particularly those in the abdomen, pelvic floor and back. Post-natal gymnastics is designed to re-strengthen and tone these body parts. Pelvic floor strength is the most important thing here. Your midwife will definitely show you the first important exercises in post-natal gymnastics to strengthen your pelvic floor. What’s more, attending a course of post-natal gymnastics is recommended by many midwives and gynaecologists. It’s best to seek out a healthcare professional whom you trust and get advice from them. Zug Cantonal Hospital also runs regular post-natal gymnastics courses.

Your baby as your training partner

Sport with a baby opens up a huge number of new options. Training with your baby may initially sound inefficient and challenging, especially for mums with sporting ambitions. However, it’s worth trying it out for one training session in two. On the one hand, it’s valuable early education for your baby, and on the other, it boosts the mother-baby bonding process. You can find different options for you and your baby on the internet. The choice ranges from baby gymnastics, baby pilates, baby yoga, through baby swimming to various different workouts. You don’t necessarily need a course to exercise with your baby! Many types of sport, such as jogging, (Nordic) walking, hiking, cycling or cross-country skiing are easy to adapt to baby mode with the right equipment. Sporting baby slings, baby joggers and the like will take you and your offspring into the fresh air, with nothing preventing you from enjoying some sport together.

Breastfeeding and sport – is it possible?

First, some good news: breastfeeding is no reason why you should avoid mid-intensity sport. It’s important to ensure sufficient intake of fluids and nutrients. That means drinking plenty before, during and after your sport session, to replace any fluids you lose as sweat, so that your milk production is not affected.
To prevent the unpleasant feeling of tight breasts during sport, you could breastfeed or express milk before exercising. Furthermore, a good, supportive sports bra can contribute to your wellbeing during exercise.

 

References:
Gesundheit.GV.AT. Sport nach der Geburt. Available on: https://www.gesundheit.gv.at/leben/eltern/nach-der-geburt/sport-nach-der-geburt.html
Kahlmeier S., Hartmann F. & Diener, M. E. (2018). Nationale Bewegungsempfehlungen für Frauen während und nach der Schwangerschaft. Hintergrundbericht. Im Auftrag von Gesundheitsförderung Schweiz. Zürich: Universität Zürich

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