A physiotherapist answers common pregnancy and postpartum exercise questions

The most common questions associated with prenatal and postnatal movement.
Written by
Ashleigh Ormond
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Last updated on
October 16, 2023
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There are many dos and don’ts to watch out for when it comes to exercising during pregnancy and the postpartum period. And, you probably have a lot of questions about this topic — from the best type of exercise to do while pregnant, to when it’s considered safe to start moving your body again following birth.

To help answer your burning questions, we’ve teamed up with our friends at Keep it Cleaner.

Ashleigh Ormond, KIC’s resident physiotherapist, has lent us her expertise in all things exercise and answered 10 of the most common questions associated with prenatal and postnatal exercise.

Q: Is exercising during pregnancy safe?

A: There are so many amazing benefits of exercise for both you and your baby. In fact, research from the Royal Australian New Zealand College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (RANZCOG) states that the benefits related to exercising while pregnant extend to both psychological and physical health.

Regular exercise during pregnancy is associated with improved body image and reduced symptoms of depression while also helping to prevent complications like gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia. It has also been linked to shorter and less complicated labours and fewer neonatal complications [1].

However, it’s also important to note that the RANZCOG 2020 guidelines recommend avoiding exercise in hot climates in all trimesters, and avoiding extreme sports or sports where the risk of falling is high. 

Q: When should I start prenatal pilates?

A: You can start whenever you feel ready. Keep It Cleaner’s pre and postnatal program, KICBUMP, is designed for all stages and phases of pregnancy and includes Pilates, meditation and educational videos.

Your KIC Pilates instructors provide modifications along the way to help you feel confident and comfortable, and to ensure you’re getting what you need out of the session. 

There is no perfect time to start KICBUMP so whenever you’re ready and have received clearance from your healthcare professional, feel free to dive in. 

Q: How often should I work out when I’m pregnant?

A: While this will differ for every person based on their individual circumstances, it is recommended to be physically active most days of the week. RANCOG recommends aiming to accumulate 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity each week, which averages out to about 30 minutes per day. 

Try aiming for two strengthening exercises per week on non-consecutive days and on the other days, engage in movement that you enjoy. As long as you have clearance from your doctor, you’re good to go!

Q: What signs do I need to be cautious of to stop exercising?

A: There are a few signs to watch out for when exercising during pregnancy. The 2020 RANZCOG recommendations for prenatal exercise lists the following signs:

  • Chest pain
  • Unexplained shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling faint or headache
  • Muscle weakness
  • Calf pain, swelling or redness
  • Sudden swelling of the ankles, hands or face
  • Vaginal bleeding or amniotic fluid loss
  • Decreased foetal movement
  • Uterine contractions or pain in the lower back, pelvic area, or abdomen (potentially indicating pre-term labour)

If you experience any of these, please cease exercising immediately and seek the advice of your healthcare professional straight away. 

Q: Why should I follow a prenatal program?

A: Safety is incredibly important when it comes to physical activity during pregnancy and following a prenatal program that has been designed by a physiotherapist in line with evidence-based practices will help ensure that you’re working out safely, while also focusing on moving areas of the body that are most important in the growing of your baby. 

I would love it if everyone could see a Pelvic Floor Physio during their pregnancy, but I know that’s not always accessible. That’s why we created the KICBUMP program!

Q: Is seeing a women’s health physiotherapist really necessary after giving birth?

A: If it’s possible, yes! New birth parents have a check up with their GP around six weeks postpartum but these appointments are often only to check the external healing and don’t take into account your pelvic floor internally. 

For that reason, I always recommend seeking the advice of a Women’s Health Physiotherapist around four to six weeks after birth. If there is one thing I urge people to prioritise in the weeks after having a baby, it’s this, wherever possible.

Q: When should I start exercising again after having a baby?

A: This varies from person to person and depends on a range of factors. These include the type of birth you had, the size of your baby, how active you were before and during pregnancy and the strength of your core and pelvic floor. If you do see a women’s health physiotherapist after birth, they will be able to provide you with personalised advice on your return to exercise. 

This common question is also why we have a whole range of educational content within the KICBUMP program, which is designed to help you feel more confident as you return to moving your body. 

My biggest advice is to start slow, with only very gentle walking (if and when you feel up to it) and pelvic floor strengthening in the first six weeks. Once you’ve reached the six weeks mark, you may want to start incorporating the KICBUMP postnatal Pilates program.

This is designed as a graduated exercise program, so you start at session one and work your way up over time. There is no need to rush this phase and be sure to listen to your body and take things slow. 

Q: What are the biggest misconceptions around exercising during pregnancy?

A: According to the most current evidence, exercising during pregnancy is safe and incredibly positive for the health of both the mother and baby. 

Unfortunately, I find that a lot of the advice from health professionals can still be very outdated and women often come to me with information that is incorrect. 

Q: Can I still lie on my back and my side during pregnancy?

A: Unfortunately, lying on your back during pregnancy is off-limits. According to new research, you should definitely not lie on your back after the first trimester of pregnancy as it significantly restricts blood flow to the baby. 

It’s also important to note that blood flow can be reduced to your baby without you feeling any changes so it’s best to stick to side sleep after the first trimester. 

Interestingly, we previously would have also said to avoid laying on your left side while pregnant, but new research has also found that there is no difference between laying on your left side versus your right side. 

In saying this, it’s best to consult your doctor or healthcare professional for personalised advice on sleeping positions. 

Q: Is it normal to leak when I laugh or sneeze?

A: With up to 38 per cent of pregnant people experiencing leakage or urinary incontinence, it is considered common but not normal exactly. Whatever causes the leaking — be it sneezing, coughing, laughing or exercise — this is generally a sign of a weak pelvic floor. 

If you are experiencing leaking during pregnancy or after you’ve given birth, I’d recommend getting in touch with a pelvic floor physiotherapist for advice. They’ll be able to help determine the cause of the bladder leakage, because it is NOT normal, and certainly not something you have to put up with.

For workouts, exercise tips and healthy recipes, head over to our friends at KIC

Photo credit: Getty Images

References

  1. https://ranzcog.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/Exercise-during-pregnancy.pdf 
  2. Mattola et al., (2019). Is supine exercise associated with adverse maternal and fetal outcomes? A systematic review. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2019, 1:53(2): 82-9
  3. Jeffreys et al., (2006). Uterine blood flow during supine rest and exercise after 28 weeks gestation. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 2006, 113(11)1239-47
  4. Cronin et al., (2019). An Individual Participant Data Meta-Analysis of Maternal Going-to-Sleep Position, Interactions with Fetal Vulnerability, and the Risk of Late Stillbirth. EClinical Medicine 10, 2019, 49-57
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