The WHO guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour recommend regular physical activity, as it provides health benefits during both pregnancy and after the birth. Exercising during this period promotes a better state of health for women, reducing the risk of preeclampsia, high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, excessive weight gain and postnatal depression. It is also beneficial for the foetus, as it reduces complications in childbirth and the risk of stillbirth.
How should the exercise be done?
Physical activity should be done according to the FITT (Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type) Principle. Exercise should be done at a frequency of 3-5 days a week at a moderate intensity (which allows you to talk and exercise at the same time). For time, a minimum of 150 minutes a week of aerobic and strength exercises is considered necessary.
If a pregnant woman is competing in a sport or exercise is performed above the recommended level, the supervision of a specialist should be requested.
If you are not used to exercise, start with short sessions then gradually increase their duration, frequency and intensity. Rather than be inactive, it is always better to do some exercise, even if it is gentle. After childbirth, exercise should be resumed gradually or under the supervision of a health professional, especially after a caesarean section.
The safest exercises are brisk walking, water exercises or swimming, using an exercise bike, yoga and pilates, with more activities being possible under supervision. Exercise should be in accordance with what was done before pregnancy and according to need.
What guidelines are there?
You should avoid exercising at high temperatures and make sure you are hydrated before, during and after physical activity. You should also avoid contact sports, exercising in conditions where the oxygen supply is limited (e.g., at high altitudes) and where there is a risk of falling. Exercises performed in a stretched position on your back are also not recommended and you should minimise any time spent in this position.
Meanwhile, exercising the pelvic floor muscles correctly prevents urinary incontinence, helps you prepare for giving birth and helps after giving birth.
When should exercise not be performed?
Although the usual recommendation is to exercise and limit sedentary time as much as possible, performing physical activity in certain situations without supervision is discouraged. Some examples are in heart or lung diseases, pregnancies with premature birth risk factors, multiple pregnancies or severe anaemia, among others.
For this reason, having the recommendations of a health professional is essential. This person will inform you about danger signs when you should stop or limit exercise or consult a specialist.
Information documented by:
Dr Eva Ferrer, a specialist in the Sports Medicine Unit at the Hospital Clínic and at Sant Joan de Déu Hospital, as well as a specialist in women's health and sports at the Barça Innovation Hub.