Sport and Pregnancy: Benefits Trimester by Trimester

A few years ago, doctors recommended that pregnant women rest and limit their activities. This applied to all stages of pregnancy. However, it has been shown that staying active during pregnancy relieves back pain and reduces the risk of depression, gestational diabetes and high blood pressure. You should consult your doctor regarding whether you can practise the sport of your choice and until what stage of pregnancy. However, exercise will help you in many ways. Read on to discover all the benefits of sport during pregnancy.


Why exercise during pregnancy?

During pregnancy, exercise can :

- Reduce back pain, constipation and bloating;

- Improve your mood and increase your energy levels;

- Help you sleep better;

- Prevent excessive weight gain;

- Tone and strengthen every muscle in your body;

- Reduce your risk of diabetes and a caesarean section.

Additionally, being physically active does not increase your risk of miscarriage or premature delivery. Nevertheless, you should consider some safety tips.

How do you exercise during pregnancy?

If you are starting to exercise (and are not a keen sportswoman), your heart rate should remain below 150 beats per minute. Also, remember to stay well-hydrated before, during and after exercise. If you are cycling, take a water bottle with you.

Drink a fresh fruit juice 15–30 minutes before you exercise to ensure you have energy throughout your workout. Stop if you feel dizzy or breathless or if bleeding occurs. Do not exercise outside if it is humid or extremely hot. This will make it difficult for you to breathe as well as being unpleasant. Use an air-conditioned room or exercise in the morning and evening outside if it is extremely hot outside.

As your body makes room for your growing baby, you may wonder what exercises are safe during each trimester. We have created a guide to sports that are acceptable and recommended for each trimester of your pregnancy.

First trimester

In the first trimester, it is fine to exercise at a steady pace, even with the nausea and fatigue often experienced in the first trimester. However, it is not advisable to prepare for a triathlon, even at this stage. If you are used to running, you can switch to brisk walking, for example. If you are not used to regular exercise, walk for 10 to 15 minutes a day and gradually increase to 30 minutes of walking three to five times a week.

For women with no pre-existing health problems, moderate activity is not risky regarding the heart rate. This is especially true for women who were active before pregnancy. If you were extremely active before you became pregnant and remain healthy, you can continue.

Second trimester

Has your morning sickness and fatigue decreased? You may find that you have more energy in your second trimester. However, as your joints become looser, you are at greater risk of injury (such as sprains and strains).

Therefore, at 14 weeks, we recommend that you avoid skiing, contact sports, karate and other activities that increase your risk of falling.

You can continue to walk, swim and do exercises before pregnancy as long as they are not too strenuous and do not involve lifting more than 10 kilos. Prenatal yoga and stretching can also be beneficial and help you to increase your strength and flexibility in preparation for childbirth.

Third trimester

The best workouts for your third trimester are swimming, walking and exercise cycling. Prenatal yoga or pilates are acceptable options at this stage as you prepare to deliver your baby. 

If you continue to do weight resistance exercises, you can lighten the load. With a weight of approximately 2 to 3 kilos for each bicep, you can keep your arms toned.

Some women exercise until the end of their pregnancy, while others prefer to stop. Whatever you decide, it is important to listen to your body and talk to your doctor if necessary.

Women with the following health problems should ask their doctor before starting exercise: heart and lung conditions, cervical problems, low placenta, high blood pressure, bleeding and vaginal cramps.

Sports to avoid during pregnancy

If you are unsure whether a particular activity is safe during pregnancy, consult your doctor or midwife for guidance. However, it is best to avoid the following:

- Any exercise that requires you to lie on your back after the first trimester;

- Scuba diving, which could expose your baby to the risk of decompression sickness;

- Contact sports, such as ice hockey, football, basketball, handball and volleyball; 

- Activities that carry a high risk of falling, such as downhill skiing, in-line skating, gymnastics and horse riding;

- Activities that might involve you hitting the water with great force, such as water skiing, surfing and diving.

You should also avoid

- Sports at high altitude;

- Activities that could cause direct trauma to your abdomen, such as kickboxing.

If you do any of these sports, consider taking it easy after you give birth.

Combining sport and pregnancy will make you more relaxed 

Combining sport and pregnancy will make you feel more relaxed. However, you need to choose an activity you enjoy that fits into your daily schedule. 

Here are some simple tips for choosing a suitable sport during your pregnancy:

- Start small. You do not need to join a gym or wear expensive workout clothes to exercise regularly. Just start moving. Take a daily walk around your neighbourhood or take the stairs instead of the lift. This will be an excellent start.

- Find a sports partner. Exercise can be more interesting if you use it as an opportunity to chat with a friend. Better yet, involve the whole family.

- Try taking a class. Many fitness centres and hospitals offer classes, such as prenatal yoga, for pregnant women. Choose a class that fits your interests and schedule: 

- Listen to your body.

Although sport is important, it is also important to monitor your health. Stop exercising and contact your doctor if any of these symptoms affect you: 

- Vaginal bleeding; 

- Dizziness; 

- Severe headaches; 

- Shortness of breath before exercise; 

- Chest pain; 

- Painful uterine contractions after sport; 

- Leaking or gushing of fluid from the vagina; 

- Calf pain or swelling; 

- Muscle weakness affecting balance. 

Sport and pregnancy: to conclude

Combining sport and pregnancy is an excellent idea and a healthy choice as long as you listen to your body. Regular exercise can help you cope with the physical changes of pregnancy and build up stamina. If you are not used to exercising regularly, use pregnancy as a motivation to begin.